Quantum leap in physics?
Monday, January 02, 2006
By ELIZABETH LANDAU
EAST WINDSOR - Traversing the long, sterile white corridors of BlackLight Power's offices here, technicians in lab coats and safety goggles are hard at work on what they believe is a scientific revolution.
They meticulously examine tubes of gray powder, generate purple plasma in a tube and measure the temperature changes in large water baths. In warehouse-like rooms, each filled with various gadgets and experiments, a controversial new form of energy sizzles.
According to BlackLight's founder, a cheap, non-polluting energy is generated 1,000 times more efficiently than conventional power sources.
However, there is considerable skepticism in the scientific community, and to many, BlackLight's claims defy the laws of physics.
Within months, company officials say, they will offer critical information and possibly even a prototype of an energy generating device that functions according to the principles that BlackLight's founder, Randell Mills, says he has discovered.
With enough financial and marketing support, the energy could be available for use worldwide in just a few years, BlackLight researchers say.
Park read Mills' 900-page tome explaining his "hydrino" generation theory and was not impressed.
"A lot of it has just been lifted from standard textbooks, but twisted to make his point," said Park, who wrote about BlackLight in his 2000 book, "Voodoo Science." "It is impossible for their (BlackLight's) quantum mechanics to be right."
According to standard quantum mechanics, in a hydrogen atom there is one proton (positive charge) and one orbiting electron (negative charge) that are separated by a fixed distance between the electron and the atom's nucleus.
Mills recognizes that skepticism abounds, but stands firmly behind his theory.
"People get very defensive because they've set up a belief system," Mills said. "They say they're standing on shoulders of the great minds. Well, they're going to be standing in the unemployment lines wishing they'd studied engineering."
Unlike some scientists viewed as cranks, Mills is not some spiky-haired guy in a T-shirt operating out of his garage. The confident, 6-foot 5-inch scientist studied electrical engineering at MIT and earned a medical degree from Harvard.
The company has already raised $40 million, he said, and operates on about 53,000 square feet in the former Lockheed-Martin assembly plant.
Mills got the idea for the BlackLight process when he was working on a project at MIT on free-electron lasers, in which individual electrons emit laser light. He decided to apply Maxwell's Equations (on electric and magnetic fields) to the level of the atom and found that he could get all of the fundamental properties of the atom to work out. The novel application predicts a new form of energy, he said.
The technology is also environment-friendly, Mills says, since it does not release air pollutants or radioactive waste. Instead, BlackLight scientists say, the chemical process releases new hydrino-based "hydride compounds" that could have commercial applications.
"This technology could eliminate gasoline altogether," said Mills of his radical theory. "I think it will have extraordinary impact."
But if BlackLight is for real, a century of scientific achievement - not to mention every accredited chemistry textbook worldwide - is fiction. BlackLight's energy production relies on Mills' unconventional theory of atoms, one that fundamentally contradicts standard quantum mechanics.
"Quantum mechanics has duped the world that there is . . . all this strange stuff that has never been verified," Mills said. "It turns out you can solve enormously complex problems by treating electrons differently."
One of BlackLight's most outspoken critics has been Robert Park, director of public information for the American Physical Society.
"It makes nuclear energy obsolete, oil-power cars obsolete, solar and wind energy irrelevant," said Kurt Davies, research director at Greenpeace. "We need a miracle to solve global warming. I cross my fingers and hope that BlackLight is part of that solution."
Though Greenpeace does not receive money from BlackLight, the two organizations share a "philosophical partnership," Davies said.
In May, Greenpeace invited researchers at the University of North Carolina at Asheville to check out BlackLight and make independent assessments of the technology. After a week of calculation and experimentation, UNC environmental studies Professor Rick Maas and physics Professor Randy Booker reportedly are convinced of BlackLight's potential.
The researchers examined and played with water lasers, kilns, calorimeters and other gadgets and agreed that in each set-up, it seemed that hydrogen collapsed into hydrinos, creating energy.
"The experiments really speak for themselves; it's overwhelming that they give off excess energy," Booker said. "I saw it with my own eyes and my own calculations."
Though Booker said he continues to keep an open mind and maintains skepticism, he hasn't found "any major boo-boos," and said BlackLight could be a big breakthrough as a non-polluting, renewable energy source.
Mills inspired Jonathan Phillips, national lab professor at the University of New Mexico, to undertake his own experiments using the hydrino-generating principles, and Phillips said he found the same results. "It's a done deal. It's a superior theory by far," he said.
But the very idea that electrons could move closer than normal to the nucleus - that is, in a lower energy state than the minimum set in quantum mechanics - screams of fraud to other scientists.
"It's nonsense, of course; there's no such thing as a lower energy level," said Michael Romalis, professor of physics at Princeton University. "It's basically junk science."
Despite the technological and scientific backlash, BlackLight officials say they get plenty of respect from the corporate world. The company wants to license its technology on a non-exclusive basis, and make it available for use or marketing anywhere in the world.
Companies that reportedly have invested in BlackLight include Atlantic City Electric and Delmarva Power - formerly known as Connectiv - and PacifiCorp, a West Coast electricity company. But representatives of these companies with knowledge of the investments were unavailable to comment on the status of their companies' relationship with BlackLight.
BlackLight officials said that in their laboratories on Old Trenton Road, the calorimeter boxes are running at commercial power intensities right now, generating over 100 times the energy of combustion of hydrogen gas, and in just a few years the technology could go commercial.
Mills envisions gas stations being operated on this technology, gleaning hydrogen from breaking down water into hydrogen and oxygen, and using the hydrino generation to fuel cars. This would cut the cost of fuel for cars by one-third, he said.
The company is privately traded, and has no public shares.
BlackLight was issued a U.S. patent in February 2000 for the hydrino process, but the patent office would not approve another BlackLight patent application after Park harshly criticized the science behind it in the press.
The company responded by taking legal action against the patent office. The court decided in favor of the patent office, as did the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2002.
Some speculated that the blow to the patent curtailed BlackLight's entrance into public trading. "The long-awaited IPO may have to wait a little longer," Park wrote in a published article about the 2002 court decision.
Some scientists are not as candid as Park, apparently fearing what Park said were BlackLight's published statements threatening to sue anyone who criticized the company in the media.
Though the lawsuits never materialized, two Princeton University scientists refused to comment about BlackLight for this article because of the lawsuit scare. A spokesperson for the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory also declined to comment.
Park said he is "too old" to fear lawsuits at this point, and doesn't mind speaking his mind about BlackLight. "It's clearly fraudulent, I don't hesitate to say that," he said.
Others who are just learning about BlackLight remain skeptical, but do not rule out the possibility that BlackLight has promise.