For several years a Chicago entrepreneur has labored quietly building a company to create an alternative to batteries for powering cell phones and other small gadgets.
The company, Lattice Energy LLC, deliberately kept a low profile because its core technology, first called cold fusion 18 years ago, has long been ridiculed by mainstream scientists. Lewis Larsen, Lattice's founder, didn't want his enterprise tainted by the empty promises of unlimited cheap energy surrounding cold fusion.
Larsen, who has had careers in investment banking and consulting, has worked with many scientists doing experiments with what now is called low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR) rather than cold fusion. Even with the name change, he said, many scientists mistakenly still believe they are creating nuclear fusion in a bottle when they thrust palladium or other metals into heavy water and add energy.
"A lot of people are doing very good chemistry experiments, but they don't understand what's happening," Larsen said. "They write fine papers but then add foolish speculation."
A few years ago Larsen began collaborating with a theoretical physicist, professor Allan Widom of Northeastern University in Boston, to help him understand why LENR experiments often give off heat and charged particles.
Before taking on the assignment, Widom was a skeptic, but Larsen showed him enough experimental results from laboratories in Russia, China and Japan, as well as the U.S., to convince him that something important was happening.
The problem soon became apparent to Widom: The experimenters were convinced that atoms of a form of hydrogen called deuterium were fusing together to form helium.
"That kind of fusion requires very high temperatures," Widom said.
Rather than look for other explanations, most experimenters preferred to invent new laws of physics to account for cold fusion, Widom said. But instead of a strong nuclear force like fusion at work, he concluded that a weak force was at the core of the experimental results. Electrons were combining with protons to form neutrons, giving off energy in the process.
The entrepreneur and the professor have published their Widom-Larsen theory of low-energy nuclear reactions and have been meeting with business executives and government officials to build credibility for their ideas.
"Our model invokes no new physics," said Widom. "Everything we've done conforms to the Standard Model's predictions for weak interactions."
With advances in nanotechnology, Larsen predicts it will become practical to design devices using LENR to power cell phones that can last 500 hours. The technology also might be used to produce power in other settings, but Larsen said, "We're going for the best available market with lots of demand, and that's electronic mobile devices."
Larsen, who has competitors domestically and abroad also working on the problem, predicts that within five years there will be power sources based on LENR technology.
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