HYDROGEN IS POTENTIAL NEW ENERGY SOURCE
MALVERN, Pa. (Apr 1, 1997 11:02 a.m. EST) - If Dr. Randell Mills is right, the way the world produces and uses energy is about to be radically transformed, along with science's understanding of the physics involved. If he is wrong, he will join a long line of failed seekers for the holy grail of cheap, safe and non-polluting energy. Mills has developed, and begun to demonstrate in laboratory tests, what he says is a very efficient and non-polluting means of producing energy from hydrogen. He says a fuel cell the size of a desk could in theory supply the electricity now produced by an eight-floor-high coal-fired boiler, and a 200-horsepower car engine the size of a suitcase could power a vehicle four times around the world on a single tank of water. The technology, and Mills's private company, BlackLight Power Inc., have begun to attract investment from the electricity industry and the support of some energy experts. A leading organization of physicists, however, calls his idea groundless, while even some who support the technology say its practical application remains at least a few years away. "Whoever has this technology can potentially dominate the energy industry," said Mills, a Harvard-trained medical doctor with additional education in engineering and chemistry. The technology is based on a theory of quantum physics that challenges principles that have governed the science for decades. Mills says the theory has been supported by experiments and observation. It holds that hydrogen can exist at a lower energy state than its common "ground" state, and the heat energy released in the transition to the lower state can be captured. FROM QUARKS TO THE COSMOS Mills told Reuters the theory explains phenomena ranging in scale from "(sub-atomic) quarks to the cosmos." In using it to make power, the cost of hydrogen, easily obtainable from water, would be minimal compared with fossil fuels, and there is more than enough water to last until "the end of the earth," he said. Capital costs also could be signifcantly lower than conventional power technology, Mills said, although others familiar with the technology said that remains to be seen. The by-product of the non-nuclear process is a hydrogen atom with a lower form of energy -- called a "hydrino" -- that floats off into space, he said. The other key ingredient in the process is potassium, which serves as a catalyst and can be constantly reused. The process takes place in a vacuum and instantly stops if the vacuum is breached, making it inherently safe, Mills said. Some experts, including a former top Reagan Administration nuclear energy official, say Mills is on the right track. The electricity industry has begun to get involved, investing money in the company and negotiating licensing deals. "I'm convinced that there is something of enormous impact here and it's only a question of time until we can garner the capital and infrastructure to take it into commercialization," said Shelby Brewer, assistant energy secretary under Reagan and former head of ABB Combustion Engineering, one of the world's largest makers of electrical generation equipment. REVOLUTION PREDICTED "If we can engineer this into the marketplace ... it will revolutionize energy production both for electricity and mobile applications," said Brewer, who now heads an energy consulting firm. He said he overcame his skepticism, born of thousands of unfounded new-power ideas he has seen, to work as an outside financial and strategic adviser to Mills. Others, including the country's leading organization of academic physicists, dismiss Mills and his hydrino theory out of hand. "It has no credibility whatever ... as far as I'm concerned Mills is not a scientist," said Robert Park, director of the Washington office of the American Physical Society. "There is virtually nothing that science does not know about the hydrogen atom," Park said. "The ground state is defined as the (energy) state below which you cannot go. ... The thought there is some state below the ground state is kind of humorous." But a Penn State University test done for BlackLight of a small fuel cell designed by Mills recorded heat production 100 times greater than that produced by "burning" hydrogen, another technology being studied as an energy source. The result was promising and consistent with his theory, the unpublished findings said. "The evidence presented in this report clearly suggests that an extraordinary phenomenon takes place ... this phenomenon appears to generate a tremendous amount of 'excess' heat." But the report urged a cautious approach be taken and said additional experimental work was required. Similar results have been obtained in other laboratories, including in a test run by Peter Jansson, an engineer and manager of market development for Atlantic Energy Inc. Jansson, who conducted the test independently of his company, said Atlantic Energy was "strongly considering" what he called a "strategic investment" in BlackLight Power. Last year, Oregon-based utility holding firm PacifiCorp invested $1 million in a stake in BlackLight Power, according to documents filed with Pennsylvania regulators. Mills has obtained a patent on his technology in Australia and said he expects to receive U.S. and European patents this year. In the process he has had to explain to patent examiners why his technology is not the same as "cold fusion," a low-temperature nuclear technology that also promised vast, cheap power, but which failed to stand up. His early work was watched by the cold-fusion camp and some research findings supporting his hydrino theory were published in a peer-reviewed journal of the American Nuclear Society, which has been an outlet for cold-fusion related research. TURNING IDEAS INTO BUSINESS Now is a timely moment to try to commercialize a new energy technology, experts say. The electrical industry worldwide is moving from tight regulation to a highly competitive market in which the producer of the cheapest power wins. "We are definitely willing to put some time and money into it (the technology)," said Tom Cassel, president of Reading Energy Co., a Philadelphia firm that commercializes advanced power-plant technology. "Is it at this point a fail-safe deal? It's still early to tell," he said. "The laboratory work is compelling (but) it's yet to be demonstrated on a large, self-sustained basis." Mills said plans are underway to build with another firm a test plant to produce about one megawatt of energy, equivalent to the amount needed to light a small shopping center. Cassel said he is negotiating a deal with BlackLight for Reading to retrofit older plants, shuttered because of expensive anti-pollution requirements or other economic factors, with the BlackLight hydrogen cells. He said he was at first skeptical of the technology and was warned by a senior Ivy League scientist who started reading Mills' theory that "these type of people are dangerous." But he said he and others who have studied the entire theory and seen the test results are convinced of its potential. "This is very real," he said. "It's a development which, if it keeps going in the way that a number of very qualified people think it's going to go ... it will be on the magnitude of the Edisons, the Einsteins, that type of scientific revolution." More information on Mills's theory and power process can be found on BlackLight Power's World Wide Web site.
BlackLight Power's World Wide Web site
Their intro and background page is, indeed, a good place to start.