The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced up to $10 million in funding (DE-FOA-0002784) to establish clear practices to determine whether low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR) could be the basis for a potentially transformative carbon-free energy source. The funding is part of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) LENR Exploratory Topic, which aims to break the stalemate of research in this space.
A goal of this Exploratory Topic is to establish clear practices to rigorously answer the question, “should this field move forward given that LENR could be a potentially transformative carbon-free energy source, or does it conclusively not show promise?”
ARPA-E acknowledges the complex, controversial history of LENR beginning with the announcement by Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons (FP) in 1989 that they had achieved deuterium-deuterium (D-D) “cold fusion” in an electrochemical cell. Multiple books recount the history of “cold fusion” (now known as LENR). DOE reviews in 1989 and 2004 both concluded that the evidence did not support the claim of D-D fusion, but that research proposals on deuterated heavy metals should be evaluated under the standard peer-review process. However, few such proposals were submitted, and none were funded by DOE.
Despite LENR being largely dismissed by the scientific research community by 1990, many groups from around the world (including the US, Japan, Russia, China, and the EU) continued to conduct varied LENR experiments and report evidence of excess heat and nuclear reactions (including neutrons, tritium, 3He, 4He, transmutation products, and isotopic shifts) in hundreds of reports/papers. However, repeatability of the key evidence over multiple trials of seemingly the same experiment remains elusive to this day. This may be due to limitations in experimental or diagnostic techniques, a lack of awareness and/or control of the key triggers and independent variables of LENR experiments, and/or other reasons. Furthermore, results were typically not reported with the level of scientific rigor required by top-tier research journals. As a result, LENR as a field remains in a stalemate with uncertain prospects for scientific advances and impact.
Based on its claimed characteristics to date, LENR may support a form of nuclear energy with potentially low capital cost, high specific power and energy, and little-to-no radioactive byproducts. If LENR can be irrefutably demonstrated and scaled, it could potentially become a disruptive technology with myriad energy, defense, transportation, and space applications, all with strong implications for U.S. technological leadership. For energy applications, LENR could potentially contribute to decarbonizing sectors such as industrial heat and transportation (~50% of U.S. and global CO2-equivalent emissions). Within the past decade, there has been renewed interest in supporting LENR research activities in the US, with prominent sponsorship (e.g., Google, DARPA, NASA), that has advanced LENR-relevant state-of-the-art capabilities and methodologies. Some of the teams are reporting preliminary evidence of LENR that are possibly consistent with past observations but that do not yet meet the program metrics presented below in Section 2, the fulfillment of which could help break the stalemate surrounding LENR.
This ARPA-E Exploratory Topic aims to build on the recent progress with strong emphases on testing/confirming specific hypotheses (rather than focusing only on replication), identifying and verifying control of experimental variables and triggers, supporting more comprehensive diagnostics and analysis, improving access to broader expertise and capabilities on research teams, and insisting on peer review and publication in top-tier scientific journals.—DE-FOA-0002784
LENR Exploratory Topic awardees will pursue hypotheses-driven approaches toward producing publishable evidence of LENR in top-tier scientific journals by testing/confirming specific hypotheses (rather than focusing only on replication), identifying and verifying control of experimental variables and triggers, supporting more comprehensive diagnostics and analysis, and improving access to broader expertise and capabilities on research teams.
ARPA-E held a Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions Workshop in October 2021.