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Rossi’s E-Cat: Exposé of a Claimed Cold Fusion Device

Andrea Rossi’s E-Cat “fusion” device has attracted large investments. This investigation by the Australian Skeptics’ chief investigator critiques the claims—including endorsements from some scientists—and reveals the likely deception used to make investors think it works.

Editor’s note: Physicist Sadri Hassani’s SKEPTICAL INQUIRER article “Why E-Cat Is a Hoax” (Hassani 2019) explained how Andrea Rossi’s claims about his E-Cat (energy catalyzer) device are at variance with well-established laws of physics. But occasionally new observations might suggest modifications to those laws (see three-legged stool test at end). This is especially critical when there is apparent verification of the measurements by independent scientists. This shows the importance of scrutiny by skeptical investigators. In this article, Ian Bryce relates the results of his five-year investigation.

Introduction

The E-Cat (energy catalysis) apparatus is claimed to produce power through nuclear fusion, yet the operators somehow walk around it without any radiation effects. Fusion occurs in the center of the sun, other stars, and a hydrogen bomb, yet this device operates on a bench at room temperature. If it worked as claimed, it would require the rewriting of most physics textbooks. The inventor hopes for a Nobel Prize but lacks any science qualifications and has been incarcerated several times for previous energy schemes that were found not to work. Earlier cold fusion claims reported twenty-six milliwatts of power, but this one claims one megawatt. The evidence strongly suggests that the inventor was smuggling power in past the metering through a retasked earth lead.

On January 31, 2019, Rossi’s company issued a video demonstration and claimed the devices were now ready for the market (see sidebar “Rossi’s Latest Reactor ‘Revealed’ in January Video,” p. 47).

Who could possibly fall for this claim? Many respected nuclear scientists from around the world it seems, some involved in awarding Nobel Prizes. Not only leading skeptics but some NASA officials and investors who poured in tens of millions of dollars (and still are) and promised hundreds of millions more have fallen for it. This has wasted money, time, and effort that could instead have been directed toward real improvements in energy production, with benefits for the planet’s ecosystem and human welfare.

This article traces the history of Andrea Rossi’s E-Cat and the officials who should know better but fell for it. It outlines the efforts of Australian Skeptics and philanthropist Dick Smith to expose the episode and reports on new developments. (Smith has long championed and supported skeptical investigations of extraordinary claims; Australia has designated him a “National Living Treasure” [Frazier 2015].)

Rossi’s Background

Andrea Rossi obtained a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Milan in 1973. He also claimed an engineering degree from the University of Kensington in California, but this was exposed as a diploma mill. Rossi was (and is) an enthusiastic and accomplished long-distance runner. Through working in family businesses, the young Rossi became adept at building industrial plants. He traveled frequently, especially to Sweden and the United States. He now lives and works in Florida.

Rossi’s first major project was called Petroldragon. This was a plant intended to convert industrial waste into useable fuel oil. Despite large investments, it’s not clear if it ever worked. Rossi’s large stocks of waste (60,000 tons), including toxic liquids and rubber tires, burdened him with exorbitant disposal obligations he was unable to meet, for which he was prosecuted and spent six months in jail in 1995.

Rossi’s next project was a thermoelectric generator, intended to convert low-grade waste heat, such as from engine exhausts, into electricity. This is a known technology of very low efficiency, around 2 percent, but Rossi claimed to have achieved 20 percent.

He installed them in various diesel generators he was making and selling in Italy as a background business of Leonardo Corporation. In the United States, the device was promoted by his Leonardo Technologies Inc. (LTI). Twenty-seven units were tested by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), but none worked as claimed (Rossi 2019; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 2004).

Meanwhile, Rossi was being prosecuted in Italy for many other matters, including bankruptcy, accounting fraud, money laundering, and dumping toxic waste. Some charges were dropped, on some he was acquitted, and on others he was fined. He spent a year in jail in Italy again from 2000–2001 (Lewan 2014, 31). Rossi had heard of the 1989 Fleischmann and Pons claims of cold fusion. Cold fusion is now more frequently called Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR). In anticipation of its thirtieth anniversary this spring, cold fusion was recently described and recounted in these pages (Ball 2019). Rossi used his time in jail to study this topic and decided this would be his next project.

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