free energy - general skeptical rant
I got one of those questions again, why can't you sink a deep pipe
into the ocean and harness the high pressure water down there?". The
problem is as soon as you stuck a pipe down there - water would flow
in until it's level reached the top of the pipe. Then the pressure
at the bottom of the pipe would be equal to that at the bottom of the
ocean and the flow would stop. Actually there is a similar problem
with "Zero Point Energy" claims. It's true that space it's self
probably has amazing levels of energy - but you probably can't harness
it until you have a lower place to dump it. The heat all around us
can't be harnessed unless it can flow to a colder place (or at least
according to mainstream physics)
The following is an excellent bit of advice for kooks:
Here's a skeptical writing on Free Energy I found at:
by John Blanton
First lets run down what this is all about.
People have long known that it takes effort to get anything done. Long ago a few
smart people got concerned with what it took to do work. People like Watt and
Joule. And Carnot.
And, they had some bad news for usthere is no free lunch. This was called the
First Law of Thermodynamics. Energy is conserved.
If you wanted to pump so much water up from the mine shaft you had to burn so
much coal (and more). This was good news for the coal company but bad news for
people who wanted to get things donewhich is what work is. Somehow there had
to be a better way.
First there were the perpetual motion machine cranks who looked holes in the first
law. For example, they might hope to have a water wheel that operated a pump. The
pump supplied water to power the water wheel. A lot of inventors went crazy trying
to get these devices to work Most of these people have since been replaced by a new
groupthose who can live with the first law but think it can be finessed. Here is the
Joule, for example, developed a concept called the mechanical equivalent of heat. So
much work was equivalent to so much heat. You do the work, and you produce an
equivalent amount of heat.
This gave the entrepreneurs a great idea. Why not use the energy manifested by all
this heat and stiff the coal company. The stockholders would be pleased.
The problem with this was the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The second law
allows for the conservation of energy (and matter) and goes one step further. Even if
the energy is there (in the form of warm water, for example) you still may not be able
to use it. Physicists have a cute way of restating the laws of thermodynamics in
terms of a poker game: You cant win [first law], You cant break even [second
law], and You cant get out of the game. This last is supposedly a take on the
so-called Third Law of Thermodynamics. I wont get into explaining that here,
because it always appeared to me that the third law was just a restatement of the
In short, the second law just says you cant do work by extracting the heat energy
from something at or below the temperature at its surroundings. This doesnt keep
us from doing work by extracting heat from hot (or even warm) bodies of rock or
water. Geothermal power is a practical implementation of doing just this, although
the energy ultimately comes from nuclear fission.
This brings us to the matter of Joseph Newman. John Thomas previously told about
Joseph Newman here in 1997. 1 Since then we have come into the possession of
Newmans book The Energy Machine of Joseph Newman. Its an impressive
volume, 8-1/2 by 11 format running over 350 pages.
Like all good books, it starts with a bold statement by the author.
In my search for Absolute Truth over the last nineteen years, I have often questioned
why the conclusions I drew from present physics, electrical engineering, and
astronomy teachings were not in accord with the scientific communitys
A quick view of his book seems to indicate Newman is a free energy crank of the
first type. That is, he wants to violate the first law of thermodynamics.
I havent had a chance to go over all of Newmans ideas, but it appears he bases his
theories on a number of serious misconceptions about physical principles. Take a
look at this drawing from his book and follow along with his explanation:
Lets examine a typical batteryan electro-chemical cell. These devices operate
according to Faradays Laws. Faradays First Law states that the quantity of
electricity that passes through a solution is proportional to the quantity of substance
decomposed. You will note that this action is solely dependent upon the current
(gyroscopic particles) completing the circuit. If the current (gyroscopic particles)
does not complete the circuit, there will be no quantity of substance decomposed.
The first thing you may notice is Newmans reference to gyroscopic particles. He
states early in his book his impression that
a magnetic field consists of particles with a mechanical gyroscopic-type action
which can be understood and predicted and which occurs at the speed of light.
Furthermore, the energy in a magnetic field is the energy which comprises the atoms
of the material from which the energy comes and is literally Einsteins Equation of E
= MC2. Consequently, the mass (in the form of a gyroscopic particle) must move in
a given direction at C, or the speed of light, and it must also spin at the speed of light.
From The Energy Machine of Joseph Newman
He goes on to explain how the current from the battery would traverse the many
windings of the coil and produce a magnetic field of great energy. However, he
proposes to reverse the current at point X in the diagram, after it has traversed the
coil and before it can return to the battery to deplete energy from the battery.
Now, I have left out a lot of Newmans explanation, but I think I have given the
essence of it here. So, what are the problems?
First, he has the wrong view that electricity flows at the speed of light in wires.
Actually most people believe this. In fact, electrons travel only a few millimeters per
second in a wire. The high speed is an illusion caused by the transmission of
electrical signals down wires at nearly the speed of light. What really happens is that
the mobile electrons in a wire are lined up like cars in a train, and they all get going
together in quick order when you start pushing somewhere along the train.
He also indicates that he sees the current flow in the wire as a horse race starting out
from the battery. Hook up the battery and a bunch of horses, rather, electrons, start
off down the wire and through the coil. He wants to turn the pack around at the
commutator before they can reach the battery and effect chemical decomposition.
As explained by the train analogy, this is not what happens in real life.
Zero point energy
After serving ten years in the Korean War Alan Alda finally came home and started a
new career explaining science on TV for Scientific American. In Austin he
interviewed physicist Harold Puthoff, who seems to have given up on remote viewing
and is now pursuing zero point energy.
Zero point energy is possibly a valid idea, and it comes from the notion that empty
space is not empty at all. Even in a perfect vacuum, particles may momentarily
appear and then return to nothing from whence they came. Energy (really equal to
matter) can do the same. We have Werner Heisenberg to thank for this.
In the Scientific American episode on pseudo-science we saw Puthoff exploring a
device to coax zero point energy from the bubbles formed when an ultrasound source
induces cavitation in a container of water. Even in far out empty space theres
enough energy in the volume of a coffee cup to, for example, evaporate all the
worlds oceans, he explains.
That appeared a bit extreme, so Alda stopped by to consult with another physicist,
Steven Weinberg, who also lives in Austin. Weinberg never got involved in remote
viewing, but he did become famous for writing a book titled The First Three
Minutes, which recounts the history of the universe, but only up through the first
three minutes. He also shares a Nobel Prize with Sheldon Glashow and Abdus Salam
for developing the theory that unified the weak and electromagnetic forces.
Yes, zero point energy is real, says Weinberg. However, dont sell your Exxon-Mobil
stock just yet. Puthoffs expectations not-with-standing, in the space the size of the
Earth there is likely less energy than a gallon of gasoline.
So, is energy free? Well, sort of.
Its not inexhaustible, but youre never going to run out of it. Its free only in the
sense that once you have gotten the first kilowatt hour, the second and every one
thereafter incurs no additional expense. That source is solar power, of course.
Down the street from my house a light flashes to mark the boundary of a school
zone. The light and the timer that regulates it both run on solar power from a silicon
cell array above the light.
So why is OPEC still in business? Its unfortunately that first kilowatt hour I spoke
of. Solar cells are expensive, and that makes the first KWH prohibitive, except in
special cases such as the school zone signal.
The source of all this energy is the Sunthat giant hydrogen bomb thats been
blasting away for over 4 billion years now. Now theres an idea. The oceans are full
of hydrogen, even the heavy kind needed for fusion. Wouldnt it be great if we could
harness the power of hydrogen fusion?
It sure would, and that was the origin of the name of a project back in the 1950s
project Sherwood. The pun was intended. Sherwood used a twisted tubular
container in an attempt to confine and compress the hydrogen magnetically to induce
fusion. Its lack of success is indicated by the fact that I am having to explain it to
In the late 1960s (twentieth century technology, again) the Russians invented a device
they called tokamak. We even built one at the University of Texas Center for Plasma
Physics (below where Weinberg was sitting when Alda interviewed him).
Artist Tony Bell produced this drawing of the UT tokamak from the engineering
drawings. The hydrogen got heated and compressed within the quartz inner torus.
The big slab-like sections radiating out from the center are really electrical coils. The
conductors for the coils were flat copper sheets that momentarily carried 30,000
amps. It goes without saying that this device consumed more power than it
The University of Texas tokamak. (art by Tony Bell and John Blanton)
Tokamaks seem to hold out more promise than Sherwood did, but after more than 30
years they still have not reached the break-even point. Furthermore, nobody expects
successful operation for another 50 years.
Throw another log on the fire.
John Thomas. Perpetual Nonsense in The Skeptic, May 1997
Eric Krieg eric@...