As Middle East oil climbs to record highs, research into alternative energy sources is attracting a wave of new science, much of it still experimental and untested. One of the most advanced concepts, scheduled to go live about a year from now, is being watched with optimism in some scientific quarters and scepticism in others.
Within about 14 months, the technology of BlackLight Power, Inc. is expected to go live on a larger scale, and the debate over its value will soon be closed.
Randell Mills, a medical doctor trained at Harvard University, founder of BlackLight, claims to have developed a working fuel cell based on hydrogen, one of the world's most abundant substances. He sees it as both eco-friendly and highly economical.
Mills seems determined to avoid the fate of the many failed schemes over the centuries - ranging from medieval perpetual motion machines to Cold Fusion -- that have tried to bend the laws of physics to attain a source of free energy.
Sceptics from the scientific community are divided on his prospects for success but he is undaunted. "We are scaling up our first prototype now," a spokesperson for Blacklight Power told me last week. "We will have pilot plants generating electricity in the fall of 2009 and we plan to announce the validators (the first utility companies to test the system) in late August or early September."
Mills says he and his team of scientists now have a fuel cell that can generate a chemical reaction that modifies hydrogen atoms and releases extreme heat. The heat can be used to produce steam and turn electricity-generating turbines - the same mechanical principle used by nuclear power plants.
The company calls its process a "paradigm-shifting new primary energy source" derived from a new field of hydrogen chemistry. A recent press release says the firm is developing "computational chemical design technology based on The Grand Unified Theory of Classical Physics (GUT-CP), a revolutionary approach to solving atomic and molecular structures".
A journalist who recently visited his laboratory in Cranbury, New Jersey, on the U.S. east coast, witnessed units already generating 50 kilowatts of thermal power. These test units are being built on a larger scale to be installed in several electric power plants for rigorous independent testing
"This is no longer an academic argument," Mills said. "It's proven technology, and we're going to commercialize it as quickly as possible."
BlackLight calculates its technology will be able to produce electricity costing under 2 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to a U.S. average of 8.9 cents
Mills developed the reaction - from solid fuel made of hydrogen and catalyzed with sodium hydride -- only a year ago, following 18 years of experimentation on the idea.
The process, the company says, depends on the release of latent energy of the hydrogen atom, a reaction it calls the BlackLight Process. "In this process, the electron in an ordinary hydrogen atom is induced to move closer to the proton, below the prior-known ground state, to form more stable hydrogen atoms called hydrinos. The large energy released exceeds that required to extract hydrogen from water, such that water may serve as the hydrogen fuel source for the process."
Mills has complained that establishment scientists have attempted to discredit him in polemical postings on the internet, but in response he has adopted a transparent information policy, even making his patented procedure public on his company's website, www.blacklightpower.com".
He predicts that his company will grow from a group of 11 scientists to a payroll of 500 to 1,000 employees within about two years and that his technology could satisfy a majority of the world's power needs. "The demand is going to be huge," he has said.
BlackLight has been careful not to inflate its claims prematurely, and no effort has been made to woo the media. But now it seems ready to start talking. It has engaged Hill & Knowlton, a leading public relations firm in New York, to handle an expected rise in press interest.
The company has about $60 million in development funds and a board of directors of heavyweight investors and energy executives. The board includes Michael Jordan, former CEO of both Electronic Data Systems and Westinghouse; Neil Moskowitz, CFO of Credit Suisse First Boston; and Shelby Brewer, former CEO of ABB Combustion Engineering Nuclear Power.
Established scientists believe Mills' thinking violates quantum mechanics, a body of knowledge accepted by most of the scientific community as a fundamental set of principles.
Andreas Rathke of the European Space Agency, among many others has published criticism of Mills' technology. But Jan Naudts, a physicist at the University of Antwerp, acknowledges that some investigators immediately found errors in Mills' process but he adds, "That's quite common with new theories. And his hasn't been investigated on a large scale."
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Watch below Randell Mills giving a speech o June 4, 2008 about BLP invention:
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