FMBR Editorial: May, 2005
William C. Gough
The world has only a few energy sources that are effectively infinite in their ability to meet our long term energy needs. They are solar which is very diffuse and intermittent; fission which has the issue of nuclear runaway and fission products; fusion which is not yet demonstrated and requires large size plants; and the zero-point energy of the quantum vacuum which is currently only a gleam in the eyes of physicists. On the web there exists much discussion about the tapping of zero-point energy. However, in two proprietary provisional patent applications I found the most exciting possibility because of 1) the scientific credibility of the researchers and 2) the proposed experiment's foundation in an accepted scientific framework. (Note: The two provisional patents have since been combined into one formal patent application currently pending.)
In quantum physics the zero point field represents the sea of essentially unlimited energy that underlies all of our physical world of space and time. It is a direct consequence of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle applied to electromagnetic radiation. Although an essential element of current scientific models of physical reality, zero-point fluctuations are usually considered random and unviable for practical energy extraction. Yet there are studies published in top-level physics journals that point to the possibility that some amount of this unlimited energy supply may be converted to usable energy. A specific experiment to tap this energy supply has been proposed by Dr. Bernard Haisch, an astrophysicist who was funded by NASA and Lockheed Martin to investigate zero-point physics, and Prof. Garret Moddel, an engineering professor at the University of Colorado.
One would expect these scientists to choose quantum physics as the theoretical model for extracting zero point energy, but they have not for the following reasons. Quantum theory has a serious problem in the area of zero point energy and simply subtracts it away - a procedure called "renormalization." Therefore quantum theory is not useful for exploring the extraction of energy from the zero-point field of the quantum vacuum. This limitation of quantum physics is why the scientists have chosen to base their approach upon an area of physics called Stochastic Electrodynamics (SED). This is a variation of classical theory with the addition of a zero-point field consisting of classical electromagnetic waves. There is no conflict between quantum theory and SED regarding the existence of a spectrum of zero-point fluctuations in the quantum vacuum. However, SED theory predicts that the waves behave similarly to an ordinary radiation field and that energy can potentially be extracted.
But does this infinite source of energy really exist or is it all theory? In 1982 the frequency spectrum of zero-point fluctuations were measured at very low temperatures using Josephson junctions. The experimental measurement of zero-point fluctuations demonstrates that some tiny amount of zero-point energy has produced work and represents a strong indication that the concept of converting some of the zero-point energy to usable energy is possible. In SED theory, analysis indicates that the state of an atom is being continually maintained via an exchange of energy with the zero-point field. However, science has been neglecting and devoting very limited resources to exploring the potential of extracting usable energy from this "infinite" sea of energy, the zero-point field, predicted by both quantum physics and SED theories. Such energy is available at every location in the physical universe.
The proof of principle experiment proposed by Haisch and Moddel would test the assumption in SED theory that the balance of emission and absorption of zero-point energy field from the quantum vacuum can be altered in a controlled manner using noble gases. The experimenters are estimating for their proof-of-principle experiment a power output of around 1 KW in a car battery sized device. In addition, since the units are module the system is predicted to be scalable to power plant size. They calculate that much more power would be produced than is required to pump the gas through the system. Thus, this experiment might appear to be a "perpetual motion" machine -- a black box in which more energy comes out than is put in. This is not the case. All usable power is coming at the expense of the underlying sea of zero-point energy. Although the energy produced locally comes from the zero-point field, the energy that returns the gas to its original state would be harvested globally from the universal sea of the zero-point field. (Note that while this proposed experiment involves the use of Casimir cavities, the relevant EM wave effect is not the same as the Casimir force against two plates, which is well established but is too small for practical use.)
There is, of course, no guarantee that this experiment will succeed. If the results were as predicted, a new energy source would become instantly available to the world and change the future of life on this planet. If the results were clearly negative, we would have had a great physics experiment that would cause scientists to rethink their theories. However, a more probable result in such cutting-edge research would be a hopeful "maybe" answer. Science would then be stimulated to embark upon a serious quest to understand and tap this incredible zero-point energy.
William C. Gough, FMBR COB, May 2005
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