Cold fusion was announced by Dr. Martin Fleischmann and Dr. Stanley Pons at a press conference at the University of Utah on March 23, 1989. Its potential benefit as a new source of energy was fully realized at the time, and the news was generally greeted with great enthusiasm. On the other hand, the news was also met in some quarters with skepticism and disbelief. The phenomenon proved to be much more difficult to achieve than at first believed. It was also challenging to explain in the context of current scientific understanding. Furthermore, the prospect of a new and displacing energy source, was not universally greeted with warmth and welcoming.

As a result, cold fusion was rejected by mainstream science within a year or so after the announcement. However, it did not die out like rejected scientific claims in the past. Instead, it continued to be pursued by many highly qualified scientists at locations worldwide. Although it became a pariah science, cold fusion emerged as a field in itself more or less alongside mainstream science. The cold fusion community developed processes and structures of normal science, including a journal for publications, a magazine for news articles, semi-regular technical conferences, an online library with a collection of papers, and a variety of funding sources.

People who look into the field at this time are typically astounded at the amount of effort and progress that has been made in the 30-plus years since the announcement and rejection. Yet the primary issues of unreliable reproducibility and lack of theoretical understanding remain unresolved. Empirical attempts to achieve reproducibility have also not resulted in useful devices powered by cold fusion energy. The potential benefits of cold fusion as an unlimited, clean and versatile energy remain. Cold fusion is thus in a paradox. Despite its obvious benefits to society and humankind, and the large and growing evidence for its reality, it continues to be rejected. It remains a pariah science that has the characteristics of normal science in how it is researched and pursued.

Persons who are unfamiliar with cold fusion, and its background and status, no doubt come to the field with many questions. The objective here is to anticipate many of these questions and provide brief answers. The answers are formulated based on Dr. Grimshaw’s foundation of more than 15 years of experience working in the field, primarily in public policy analysis, assisting investigators, and documenting research records. Cold fusion continues to be a controversial field, and there are many opinions about it. The questions and answers provided here are no exception. They are based on the opinion (confidence) that the benefits of the phenomenon are great enough, the evidence is strong enough, and the track record of science in dealing with new claims and discoveries is inconsistent enough, that cold fusion should be rigorously pursued for the benefit of humankind.

The questions and answers are in three categories – origins and rejection, importance and current status, and primary issues and future directions. Each of the answers to the questions is developed independently of the others, which results in many of the answers appearing to be redundant. The questions and answers are being developed and improved as a work in progress, so many of the answers are still “in preparation”. The categories and questions are shown below.

1. Origins and Rejection2. Importance and Current Status3. Primary Issues and Future Directions
1.1 What is cold fusion?2.1 Why is cold fusion important?3.1 What does cold fusion need now?
1.2 Where did cold fusion come from?2.2 What are the advantages of cold fusion?3.2 What would a proper cold fusion research program look like?
1.3 What took place at the March 23, 1989 press conference?2.3 What is the status of cold fusion?3.3 Has cold fusion been financially supported since it was rejected?
1.4 Where did the name “cold fusion” come from?2.4. Who are some of the salient participants in the cold fusion field?3.4 Is cold fusion a good field for a career choice?
1.5 What is the cold fusion reaction?2.5. What are the characteristics of the cold fusion community?3.5 What are cold fusion’s main challenges?
 1.6 What is the evidence for cold fusion?2.6. What are good sources of information on cold fusion?3.6 What will be the impact on society when energy from cold fusion comes about?
1.7 Why was cold fusion rejected? 3.7 What are the technical issues for cold fusion?
1.8 Why does cold fusion continue to be rejected? 3.8 What are the public policy issues for cold fusion?
  3.9 What are the intellectual property concerns for cold fusion?
  3.10 What should the role of governments be with respect to cold fusion?
  3.11 What are the sociology of science issues for cold fusion?

1.       Origins and Rejection

Perhaps the first questions a person unfamiliar with cold fusion would be: “What is it?” “Where did it come from?” “Why was it rejected?” “Why is it important?” “Why should I take an interest?” The first three questions are addressed in this section, and the second two are in the next section.

1.1     What is cold fusion?

Cold fusion means different things to different people. To some it is an exciting new branch of science, or at least an extension of current understanding. It is a nuclear phenomenon induced by chemical conditions. It has major potential benefits to society and may be essential to the long-term habitability of the earth because of global climate change driven by carbon emissions from fossil fuels. The rejection of cold fusion was a major mistake that must be corrected.

To others, cold fusion is a premier example of “science gone awry”. It is characterized as bad science – a mistake without malevolent intent – or worse, as pathological science. Its rejection was necessary and entirely appropriate.

Many see cold fusion as a major illustration of science processes at work, particularly the boundary work of what is accepted in the province of legitimate science and what is not. As such, it may be a prime demonstration of consistent scientific rejection of radical new claims, which, with more evidence, are subsequently brought into accepted science. A salient example is continental drift, which was claimed in 1912[1] but was rejected by earth science for nearly 50 years before gaining legitimacy with the discovery of plate tectonics in the 1960s and 1970s.

Another group might view cold fusion as emblematic of government efforts, at least in Western democracies, to find the right course in serving the public interest. Most governments have routinely sponsored or supported scientific R&D for the public interest, particularly since World War II. The question remains open, at the least, of whether the adoption of negative policies for cold fusion R&D – in line with its rejection by mainstream science – was in the public interest. Furthermore, the failure of governments to provide sufficient intellectual property protection for cold fusion has retarded private-sector support for pursuit of the phenomenon and its benefits.

When, or if, the benefits of cold fusion as an energy source are realized, it will almost certainly have major disruptive impacts on society, at least in the short term, as well as beneficial effects. Governments may well need, also in the public interest, to clearly identify these impacts and proactively develop plans to mitigate them.

[1] Wegener, A., 1912. Die Entstehung der Kontinente. Geologische Rundschau, Volume 3, Issue 4, p. 276-292.

1.2      Where did cold fusion come from?

As it is widely known today, cold fusion began on March 23, 1989 at a press conference held at the University of Utah in which Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons announced its discovery. The phenomenon was achieved in electrochemical cells. There is a fascinating back story to this announcement.

Fleischmann and Pons apparently became acquainted when Pons was a graduate student at the University of Southampton, England, where Fleischmann was on the faculty. By that time Fleischmann had a reputation as one of the world’s leading electrochemists. In 1986 he became a member of the Royal Society, the highest scientific honor available in Britain, in recognition of his accomplishments in that field. They began their collaboration after Fleischmann retired from the University. Their joint work took place at the University of Utah, where Pons was chair of the chemistry department. They worked together for several years before making the 1989 announcement.

The cold fusion story actually has its roots much earlier in 1866[1], many decades before 1989, of the discovery of the remarkable property of some metals, notably palladium, to absorb hydrogen into the lattice of the solid metal. This absorption, called “loading”, can proceed to the point that there are nearly as many atoms of hydrogen as palladium in the lattice. The hydrogen may either protium, with a single proton in the nucleus, or deuterium, with a proton and a neutron. The natural occurrence of these two isotopes in the world’s oceans is about one atom of deuterium in 6240 atoms of hydrogen.

Nuclear fusion generally refers to the combination of the nucleus of hydrogen atoms to form helium, a natural process that takes place in the sun and other stars. Man-made nuclear fusion takes place in hydrogen bombs, the first of which was exploded in 1952. Nuclear fusion gives off immense quantities of energy and takes place at very high temperatures.

In a paper published in 1926, Paneth and Peters claimed to have observed helium that was produced by nuclear fusion at much lower temperatures by absorption of hydrogen into the lattice of palladium. The claim was subsequently withdrawn when the authors concluded that the helium may have come from leakage from the atmosphere rather than being produced by nuclear fusion. It is interesting to note parenthetically that Martin Fleischmann and Kurt Peters held positions at the University of Durham, England, at the same time in the 1950s. It is apparently not known what, if any, ideas they shared during that proximity.

[1] Graham, T., 1866. XVIII. On the Absorption and Dialytic Separation of Gases by Colloid Septa. The Royal Society, Philosophical Transactions, Volume 56, p. 399. (January). Relevant portion at p. 426-431.

1.3      What took place at the March 23, 1989 press conference?

The decision to announce the discovery of cold fusion by press conference may have resulted from concerns about intellectual property protection. The conference was preceded by a University of Utah press release. The event had two parts – presentations with questions and answers at a podium followed by a tour of the laboratory where cold fusion experiments were underway. The first part took place in a foyer area of the Henry B. Eyring chemistry building. The lab was located somewhere in the same building.

James Brophy, Vice President of Research, kicked off the meeting with introductions of President Chase Peterson as well as Fleischmann and Pons. Peterson then spoke for a few minutes about the discovery and related topics. First Pons and then Fleischmann gave brief descriptions of their discovery and how the experiments were performed. Both held glass containers for electrolytic cells for demonstration.

Brophy then fielded questions from the audience and referred them to Fleischmann or Pons. In their responses, both referred to potential useful applications of their discovery. Pons: “It would be reasonable within a short number of years to build a fully operational device that could drive… produce electric power… or drive a steam generator or a steam turbine for instance.” Fleischmann: “It does seem that there is a probability of realizing a sustained (reaction) in a relatively inexpensive device, which could be (brought) to some sort of successful conclusion pretty early on.”

Following the question-and-answer period, Peterson spoke again, describing the phenomenon and its advantages, the role of the University, and a few other topics, including reading a letter of congratulations from the Governor of Utah. After the meeting came to an end, the press was invited to a tour of Fleischmann and Pons’ laboratory. Marvin Hawkins, a graduate assistant helping with the research, led the lab presentations. (Hawkins was also shown as a co-author of the original cold fusion technical paper by Fleischmann and Pons[1].)

Hawkins began with a description of the electrolytic cells that were operating in a water bath. Subsequently he described the electronic support system and the setups for measuring tritium and detecting emissions from the cells. Fleischmann and Pons were present for the lab tours and assisted with clarifications and responses to questions.

A videotape of the event, apparently made by an attendee, is available on YouTube[2]. It includes about 30 minutes for the podium and audience portion and eight minutes for the lab tour part.

Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann Giving Presentations at the 1989 Press Conference[2]

[1] Fleischmann, M., S. Pons, and M. Hawkins, 1989. Electrochemically Induced Nuclear Fusion of Deuterium. J. Electroanal. Chem., Volume 261: p. 301 and errata in Volume 263.

[2] 1989 – March 23 – Cold Fusion Press Conference at University of Utah. Posted by Steven Krivit, April 24, 2011. [Learn more.]

1.4      Where did the name “cold fusion” come from?

The energy from cold fusion is generally attributed to (and was by Fleischmann and Pons) nuclear reactions because it is greater – sometimes it’s far greater – than can be attributed to energy from chemical reactions. The term, of course, refers to the contrast in the temperatures at which the phenomenon occurs with those of hot fusion, such as within the sun. It was not used by Fleischmann and Pons in the press conference announcement, but was applied later, apparently by a member of the press covering the events afterward. It is widely credited to Jerry Bishop, who was with the Walt Street Journal at the time.

The term was actually used earlier, in 1987, for muon-catalyzed fusion, which is a different reaction from cold fusion[1]. It involves fusion of nuclei when a very short-lived artificial particle, the muon, substitutes for an electron in an atom.

Many other names have been applied to the phenomenon since 1989. Dr. David Nagel[2] has compiled a list of more than 30 names for cold fusion that have been introduced over the years. LENR, for low energy nuclear reaction, is undoubtedly the most widely used alternative. Condensed matter nuclear science, CMNS, is based on a previously established branch of physics, condensed matter science, with the addition of “nuclear” to the phenomenon. It is perhaps the second-most used alternative to cold fusion.

CANR and LANR, chemically-assisted and lattice-assisted nuclear reaction also presume a nuclear source and are used by some investigators. A more neutral term regarding the source of the energy is AHE – anomalous heat effect – which refers to the cold fusion signature having great potential benefit to humankind. FPE, Fleischmann-Pons effect, has the advantage of not presuming the nuclear origin of the phenomenon and giving credit to its discoverers. It is now also prevalent in the field.

[1] Rafelski, J., and S. Jones, 1987. Cold Nuclear Fusion. Scientific American, vol. 257, no., 1 (July).

[2] David Nagel, Personal Communication, February 2022.

1.5      What is the cold fusion reaction?

When Fleischmann and Pons announced cold fusion, they proposed that it resulted from fusion of hydrogen in the lattice of palladium, a relatively straightforward explanation. Palladium has the unusual property of absorbing hydrogen into its lattice – both protium, with a single proton, and deuterium, which has a neutron as well. In their experiments Fleischmann and Pons forced the absorption of deuterium nuclei (deuterons) to the point where the number of deuterons approached the number of palladium nuclei in the lattice. They surmised that under these conditions, the Coulomb barrier of the deuterons – the repulsion of the positive charges of the protons – was overcome. The deuterons, in pairs, then fused to form helium, with a large release of energy. However, this straightforward explanation has not withstood the test of time, and many other hypotheses have been proposed.

In traditional physics there are very few phenomena involving interactions at the atomic level between the nuclei and the electron shells. Cold fusion explanations in general require much more involvement of the electrons in fusion of the nuclei. In other words, the phenomenon requires “bridging the gulf” between the nuclei and the electron shells of the fusing atoms. This requirement for new or expanded understanding of physics was one of the reasons the phenomenon was rejected.

When cold fusion was announced, the effect was achieved in electrochemical cells. Since then, other methods have been introduced, such as gas loading of deuterium into the metal lattice. Gas discharge is another experimental technique in which the phenomenon has been observed. The primary signature is “excess energy”, which means that there is more energy output from an experiment than the amount of energy input.

When cold fusion occurs, the energy produced is greater, often far greater, than can come from chemical reactions. This excess energy is attributed to nuclear reactions by default since no other qualified sources are known to exist. Many researchers, including Fleischmann and Pons, have also claimed to observe nuclear signatures such as emission of neutrons and creation of tritium.

The lack of an adequate explanation continues to be a profound challenge for guiding cold fusion experiments and realizing its potential benefits – as well as regaining its acceptance in mainstream science. Most of the current cold fusion theories fall into one of two groups – reactions within the lattice (like that of Fleischmann and Pons) and reactions in cracks or gaps at or near the surface of the metal. A popular idea of the first group is the role of “super-abundant vacancies” (SAVs) in the reaction. Resonant vibration of hydrogen (and deuterium) atoms in the gaps is important to the ideas of the second group. The interplay of insufficient reproducibility and inadequate explanation has resulted in the current uncertainties about cold fusion.

1.6      What is the evidence for cold fusion?

Because of the major issue of the lack of reproducibility of cold fusion, it is difficult to point to definitive evidence for the phenomenon. The evidence is nevertheless overwhelming. For example, Beaudette[1] described seven examples of verifications, two of which were confirmation of the findings of the original work of Fleischmann and Pons. The other five were experimental confirmations by McKubre, Oriani, Huggins, Miles and Arata.

Referencing a paper by Storms, Beaudette then listed, with references, 22 additional researchers in seven countries who reported excess power in their experiments during the period 1989 to 1995. He then notes, “The variety of the experiments (has) made any attempt to refute these reports a daunting task as it must be done without exception” (p. 205).

In 2007 Storms[2] reviewed reports for 1989 to 1994 and noted positive findings for several cold fusion experiments based on three signatures. The results showed 184 reports of excess heat, 84 for elemental transmutation, and 55 for anomalous radiation, for a total of 323 successes.

The reality of cold fusion is also indicated by statistical analysis of early reports, successful and not, of the phenomenon. Using methods and the statistical model of Johnson and Melich[3], Grimshaw[4] assessed the probability of cold fusion based on early experiments, both successful and failed attempts. Cravens and Letts[5] had identified (qualified) early experiments that were successful in achieving excess heat in relation to four criteria. Johnson and Melich applied Bayesian Theorem analysis to 12 of the 20 Cravens and Letts successes and concluded that experiments that met the criteria had a 28-to-1 probability of success. Working with Johnson, Grimshaw applied their model in a somewhat different way to 10 qualifying experiments (six of which were successful and four not). He found that if one posits just a 5% probability of cold fusion before considering the 10 experiments, the probability increases to nearly 60% after the Bayesian analysis. If one begins with a 50-50 (50%) probability of cold fusion, after the Bayesian analysis the probability increases to 95%.

Another way to look at the evidence for cold fusion in the absence of reliable reproducibility is to observe what happened after it was rejected. Unlike most rejected scientific phenomena (N-rays and polywater are notable examples) cold fusion did not die out. On the contrary, a rigorous community of researchers and other interested parties has continued to pursue the phenomenon. For example, LENRIA[6] (for LENR Industrial Association) identified 54 entities in the “LENR Ecosystem” as of 2015. Draper and Ling[7] stated that at the beginning of 2017, 114 entities across four continents were actively engaged in LENR R&D.

It seems clear – based on lines of evidence of many types and sources – that cold fusion is a real phenomenon. Regarding research funding, cold fusion appears to be in a classic case of Catch 22: I know that you must have funding for research to develop the evidence I need to provide the funding, but I cannot give you the funding until I see the evidence.

LENRGY has investigated the need for cold fusion policy changes based on evidence-based policymaking (Learn more.)

[1] Beaudette, C., 2002. Excess Heat: Why Cold Fusion Research Prevailed. Oak Grove Press.

[2] Storms, E., 2007. The Science of Low Energy Nuclear Reaction : A Comprehensive Compilation of Evidence and Explanations about Cold Fusion. World Scientific Publishers. [Learn more.]

[3] Johnson, R., and M. Melich, 2011. Weight of Evidence for the Fleischmann-Pons Effect. J. Condensed Matter Nucl. Sci., Vol. 4, p. 225-240.

[4] Grimshaw, T., 2008. Evidence-Based Public Policy Toward Cold Fusion: Rational Choices for a Potential Alternative Energy Source. Unpublished Professional Report, LBJ School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin.

[5] Cravens, D., and D. Letts, 2008. The Enabling Criteria of Electrochemical Heat: Beyond Reasonable Doubt” 14th International Conference on Cold Fusion (ICCF-14), Washington, DC, August.

[6] Katinski, S., and D. Nagel, 2015. Industrial Association for LENR. Presentation at the 19th International Conference on Cold Fusion (ICCF-19), Padua, Italy. April. [Learn more.]

[7] Draper, G., and F. Ling., Undated. LENRaries: A New Era of Renewable Energy. Unpublished Report, Anthropocene Institute, Menlo Park, CA.

[8] Heller, J., 1961. Catch-22, A Novel. The Modern Library. New York, NY.

1.7      Why was cold fusion rejected?

(In preparation)

1.8      Why does cold fusion continue to be rejected?

(In preparation)

2.       Importance and Current Status

Cold fusion is a fascinating topic as a possible new scientific phenomenon and how it was dealt with by the scientific community when it was announced. Even more interesting is its potential as a boon to humankind as a new source of clean energy. Why is cold fusion important, and what is its current status? Who is working in the field, and what are the characteristics of the community? Where can I get more information?

2.1      Why is cold fusion important?

Energy Source

The potential benefit of cold fusion as a new energy source was fully realized when it was announced. It has many energy advantages, including virtually unlimited supplies, low cost of materials, few if any emissions or effluents, and versatility in deployment. At the time of the announcement, the main energy concerns were over adequate supplies, particularly in the long term. The U.S., for example, had been through oil embargoes and long lines at gas stations within recent memory. Before being rejected, cold fusion was hailed as a solution to the then perceived acute energy shortages.

Global Climate Change Abatement

In recent years cold fusion’s promise for energy supply has been eclipsed by its potential for dealing with the threats of global climate change. Its ability to provide energy without carbon emissions has become even more important than its virtually limitless energy supply. The very habitability of the earth depends on drastically reducing carbon and other emissions, particularly methane. Global warming has triggered the accelerated release of methane from natural sources, especially from the permafrost, which stores vast quantities of carbon as methane hydrate. The rising global temperatures of the atmosphere are also causing drastic weather changes, such as more frequent and intense hurricanes. Increased temperatures of the oceans are resulting in a higher sea level, which threatens not only island nations, but also coastal cities worldwide. Cold fusion’s potential to displace fossil energy sources is now more important that providing limitless cheap energy.

New or Extended Science

One of the main reasons for cold fusion’s rejection was the fact that it could not readily be explained within nuclear physics. In particular the postulate that nuclear reactions could be induced by chemical conditions or processes was very difficult for many physicists to accept. Unfortunately, representatives of the physics and chemistry fields were unable at the time to collaborate and fully explore the claims of Fleischmann and Pons. Mainstream science rejection of the phenomenon ensued.

A major hope of cold fusion is its prospect of a new branch of science and understanding of nature from cold fusion. The benefits to humankind from applications of new scientific understanding are unknown but potentially immense. It is widely believed in the cold fusion community that the person who figures out the reaction and the conditions in which it occurs would likely be a candidate for the Nobel Prize.

2.2      What are the advantages of cold fusion?

(In preparation)

2.3      What is the status of cold fusion?

(In preparation)

2.4      Who are some of the salient participants in the cold fusion field?

(In preparation)

2.5      What are the characteristics of the cold fusion community?

(In preparation)

2.6      What are good sources of information on cold fusion?

(In preparation)

3       Primary Issues and Future Directions

The main issues of cold fusion are the intractable problems of insufficient reproducibility and inadequate explanation as well as its continued pariah status. Most of the other issues flow from these problems. What are the issues with respect to public policy and the future role of government? What would a good research program look like? What about intellectual property issues and financial support? What sociology of science concerns emerge from why and how cold fusion was rejected?

3.1     What does cold fusion need now?

(In preparation)

3.2      What would a proper cold fusion research program look like?

(In preparation)

3.3     Has cold fusion been financially supported since it was rejected?

(In preparation)

3.4      Is cold fusion a good field for a career choice?

(In preparation)

3.5      What are cold fusion’s main challenges?

(In preparation)

3.6      What will be the impact on society when energy from cold fusion comes about?

(In preparation)

3.7      What are the technical issues for cold fusion?

(In preparation)

3.8      What are the public policy issues for cold fusion?

(In preparation)

LENRGY has investigated the need for cold fusion policy changes for cold fusion (Learn more.)

3.9     What are the intellectual property concerns of cold fusion?

(In preparation)

3.10      What should the role of governments be with respect to cold fusion?

(In preparation)

3.11     What are the sociology of science issues for cold fusion?’

(In preparation)