Cold Fusion and ARPA-E

According to it’s mission statement, the Advanced Research Project Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) is supposed to have more or less the same role within the Department of Energy as DARPA has for the Department of Defense. Quoting from the statement:

ARPA-E focuses exclusively on high risk, high payoff concepts – technologies promising genuine transformation in the ways we generate, store and utilize energy.

A statement of objectives on the ARPA-E website elaborates on this theme:

To focus on creative “out-of-the-box” transformational energy research that industry by itself cannot or will not support due to its high risk but where success would provide dramatic benefits for the nation.

Apparently the source selection guys who picked the first round of 37 projects to be funded by the new office never got the word. Read over the list, and you’ll find they have a distinctly incremental, chewed over flavor.   There are projects to train bacteria to produce biofuels, projects to make better batteries, projects to do a better job of removing CO2 from flue gas, etc.  All very interesting, but the chances that any of this stuff will be “transformational” are vanishingly small.  One project area that really is “high risk, high payoff” and potentially transformational is remarkable by its absence – cold fusion.

They’re taking a very dim view of the situation at the website of Cold Fusion Times. Their take:

Corrupt individuals within the US Patent Office and elsewhere continue to cover up cold fusion applications and other alternative energy inventions. ARPA-E and the DOE tricked scores of cold fusioneers to waste their time on proposals that went into the waste basket. For what reason? It is unethical that this has continued from the crash of the Exxon Valdez through the present disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. People around the world now believe that those involved in this coverup festering since 1989 should finally be held accountable.

I can understand the frustration, but that sort of hyperbole is both counterproductive and wrong.  I have seen no evidence that any of the individuals involved in the selection process are corrupt, or that there has been a “cover up.”  Orthodox energy scientists and bureaucrats would have nothing to “cover up,” because they simply don’t believe in cold fusion.  There was no attempt to “trick” anyone.

What we are really seeing at ARPA-E is hidebound conservatism, ignorance of what has been going on in the cold fusion community, and the time-honored reticence of bureaucrats in all ages to stick their necks out and risk ridicule by supporting anything unconventional.  I wouldn’t describe ARPA-E’s failure to fund a single one of the many cold fusion proposals it received, and its singularly bland choice of awards, as “corrupt” or “trickery.”  A more appropriate adjective that comes to mind might be “pathetic.”  These people have utterly and completely failed to grasp exactly what it is their organization is supposed to be doing. 

“High risk, high payoff?”  Get real!  Let’s hope they do better next time.

2009 Colloquium on Lattice-Assisted Nuclear Reactions (LANR) at MIT

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

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