Journalists have to be very careful when talking about physics. Especially when physics promises the possibility of abundant, cheap, clean energy...but doesn't offer any explanation to those of us without PhDs. These things are holy grails...and extremely exciting, but they generally turn out to be hooey.
That's the whole point of the Holy Grail right? No one ever found it.
So I don't write about these energy Grails, or at least I didn't, until now. I guess there comes a point when we've got to break down and start talking about these things, even if we still aren't really sure whether or not their going to pan out. In terms of physics-defying energy generation, Blacklight power is the first company I've ever written about, and I do it very carefully.
Blacklight Power says that they can knock the electron of a hydrogen atom into a lower energy state than the 1s orbital. Coming from a chemistry background this sounds to me like saying you can throw a noodle at the sky and have it bore through a concrete wall on the surface of Mars. It's not just that it's impossible, it simply doesn't fit into my view of the world. The resulting atom would be a smaller particle which Blacklight calls a hydrino. They claim that the resulting release in energy creates more than enough energy to create more hydrogen, which can then be forced into lower energy states to release more energy.
If true, it would be a cheap, clean way to create electricity from water. The problem is, the entire scientific establishment has rebelled against the idea and believes that Blacklight is run by con men.
But the story is a heck of a lot more interesting than that. Though scientists have almost universally denied Blacklight's claims, veteran investors have taken the bait. Michael Jordan, the former CEO of Westinghouse sits on the board as does the CFO of Credit Suisse and Blacklight has taken over $60 M in investment from mutual funds, utility companies and private investors.
While Blacklight has claimed for over a year to have a working prototype of it's 50 kW reactor operational, they've just cleared another hurdle. Scientists at Rowan University just recreated the 50 kW reactor in their laboratories, and found that it indeed produces more energy than could be explained by any currently understood or studied physical process. Enough energy, in fact, to provide clean power for several dozen homes without putting anything except water in.
So if this is for real...what does this mean? Well, for physicists, I'm not sure. It's possible that the "hydrino" idea is bunk...but if that's true, it looks as if everyone might have some serious explaining to do. As for what it means for the rest of us, it could very well mean cheap, clean, abundant energy for less than half of what we're paying today.
Of course, I'm not willing to make any judgments today. I am obviously neither a theoretical physicist or a CEO of a major energy company. All I can tell you is that I've decided to write about it because it's the first time one of these holy grail ideas has ever seemed to have the possibility of truth in it. Which is pretty exciting, even with a grain of salt.
For more information check out this article at CNN Small Business, this exceptionally good one at Venture Beat and, of course, the Wikipedia page for the hydrino.