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A chunk of that money has been earmarked for new energy alternatives to fossil fuels, reflecting mounting concerns about global warming that have coalesced with long-standing unease with North American, European, and East Asian dependency on unstable regions for oil supplies. In the political climate of the U.S. at least, nuclear power isn't an option.
Of course popular "green," or environmentally sensitive, energy sources like solar, wind, and small-scale hydroelectric power don't require revisions to science textbooks. Mills says BlackLight Power is moving first on the energy and materials front, even though he's more credentialed in medicine, mostly because there are fewer regulatory hassles.
Out back behind Mills's laboratories is what is essentially a 150-ton thermos that he says will be the core of his first power plant. Lockheed Martin used it to test satellite components for the cold vacuum of space. But shielding on its one-inch-thick skin could also hold in heat produced by banks of Mills's cells placed inside. Old power plants could be retrofitted with BlackLight Power reactors, which would produce no emissions or hazardous waste, Mills says.
Conectiv has the right to license the BlackLight power process to make electricity, David Blake says. Another board member is Shelby Brewer, former chairman and CEO of ABB Combustion Engineering, a leading maker of power plants and nuclear fuel. Brewer has a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from MIT, and was a top nuclear official in the Department of Energy during the Reagan administration.
"I think he has something here worth taking forward commercially," says Brewer, who now has his own energy company. But even those who say they've gotten positive results from testing Mills's energy cells stop short of endorsing his theory.
Dr. Johannes Conrads, former director of the Institute for Low Temperature Plasma Physics at Ernst Moritz Arndt University in Greifswald, Germany, told a gathering of the American Chemical Society in October that he was able to produce "remarkably high energy" from a Mills cell. But Conrads said he thought the energy could be coming from an effect within dense regions of plasma produced through the BlackLight Power process.
Dr. John A. Spitznagel, chief scientist for Siemens Westinghouse Power Corp.'s science and technology center in Pittsburgh, says that several years ago he too was intrigued by energy he was getting from a Mills cell, but that it wasn't enough to pursue at that time. But he remains "in a sort of monitoring mode" should Mills return with further verifications and the more refined approach that BlackLight Power claims to have developed.
Despite many qualms about the hydrino theory, Spitznagel says that he believes Mills "speaks with honesty and conviction." Spitznagel notes that one reason Mills didn't pursue further energy work with Siemens Westinghouse was that BlackLight Power focused for a time on the novel compounds Mills was producing.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists were also encouraged that the Mills cell seemed to be producing energy, but they couldn't rule out alternatives to the hydrino effect as the cause, says Dr. Janis Niedra of NASA's Glenn Research Center. Niedra broke with many other scientists in a letter following an interview, writing that while Mills's theory butts up against popular interpretations of quantum mechanics, "in fact, however, quantum mechanics may permit such [hydrino electron] levels."
If Mills is right, Niedra wrote, "not only would such transitions give off hard UV light, but also the probability of room temperature nuclear fusion of the shrunken hydrogen, or deuterium, atoms would be greatly increased. The continuation of such processes to higher atomic numbers would of course emulate the power generation of a star! Considering the potential value of a new energy source, it seems worthwhile to restudy the Mills [proto]type cell in configurations allowing an accurate account for recombination and water loss."
When two nuclei are forced to fuse under high temperatures and pressures, copious amounts of energy are released. It's the power behind the hydrogen bomb and the sun. But two generations of physicists have failed to master nuclear fusion despite the billions of government dollars sunk into it.
Attempts to achieve cold fusion, the same result without adding great heat and pressure, have been given the cold shoulder since 1989 when two chemists in Salt Lake City cried "Eureka!" in the media but then couldn't provide others with a systematic way of reproducing their claims. The backlash was so virulent that government and university research grant writers run from anything that smacks of cold fusion.
Mills is adamant that his work is unrelated to cold fusion, even as diehards in the field attempt to claim him as their own. Dr. Charles Haldeman says he also was tripped up in cold-fusion phobia after he produced excess energy from several variations of a Mills cell while a senior staff member at the Air Force's MIT-managed Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts.
"I got pretty good gain compared to the power I was putting in. The effect wasn't as large as Mills was getting, but it was in the direction that was predicted," Haldeman says. Because the results were smaller than he'd hoped, which he now says may have been due to contaminated materials, he wasn't in a position to fight management when funding was stopped.