U.S. Department of Energy (ARPA-E) Announces $10 Million in Funding for LENR Projects
Christy L. Frazier
On September 13, 2022, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced a LENR Exploratory Topic Funding Opportunity. ARPA-E defines an Exploratory Topic as covering “the most innovative and unconventional ideas in energy technology.” The objective of these projects is “to support high-risk R&D leading to the development of potentially disruptive new technologies across the full spectrum of energy applications. These projects will explore new areas of technology development that, if successful, could establish new program areas for ARPA-E, or complement the current portfolio of ARPA-E programs.” Submission deadline for proposed LENR projects was November 15.
On February 17, 2023 ARPA-E announced that eight research teams will receive funding from a $10 million program for LENR research. The press release notes that the teams will be “working to determine whether low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR) could be the basis for a potentially transformative carbon-free energy source.”
ARPA-E Director Evelyn N. Wang said in the press release, “The teams announced today are set out to answer the question ‘does this area show promise, and if so, how? Or can we conclusively show that it does not?’ While others have shied away from this space, ARPA-E wants to break through the knowledge impasse and deepen our understanding.” (In recent years, ARPA-E has shown interest in LENR, including holding a Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions Workshop in October 2021 and some focus on LENR at its Energy Innovation Summit, an annual conference/technology showcase that “brings together experts...to think about America’s energy challenges in new and innovative ways.”)
Funding for the eight projects ranges from just under $300,000 to $2 million (a total of $9,956,549). Among the recipients are one private business (Amphionic) and one national laboratory (Lawrence Berkeley National Lab). The majority of the funding was given to universities: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Energetics Technology Center (which is part of the Center for Energetics Concepts Development at the University of Maryland), Stanford University, Texas Tech University and the University of Michigan (which received two separate awards).
ARPA-E released the following descriptions of the projects:
Amphionic LLC — Dexter, MI — $295,924
Nanostructured Pd-Anf Composites for Controlled LENR Exploitation
Cathode structure and surface morphology are thought to be essential for LENR reaction rate. Amphionic proposes to optimize cathode design to form Pd-polymeric composites within which the Pd nanoparticle size and shape are varied, and the interfacial separation and geometry are controlled. Experiments will focus on exploring if LENR are produced in potential wells existing between two nanoscale surfaces by controlling metal nanoparticle (NP) geometry, separation, composition, and deuterium loading.
Energetics Technology Center — Indian Head, MD — $1,500,000
Cathode Scintillator Detector for Electrochemistry
Energetics Technology Center will build upon past successes with co-deposition experiments using palladium, lithium, and heavy water together to create an environment in which LENR can occur. These electrolysis experiments decrease the distance from the cathode (location of LENR) to an electronic detector capable of detecting nuclear reaction products to give these experiments the best chance at reliably detecting nuclear reactions, if they are present.
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory — Berkeley, CA — $1,500,000
Quantifying Nuclear Reactions in Metal Hydrides at Low Energies
LBNL team proposes to probe for LENR at external excitation energies below 500 eV, systematically varying materials and conditions while monitoring nuclear event rates with a suite of diagnostics. The team will draw from knowledge based on previous work using higher energy ion beams as an external excitation source for LENR on metal hydrides electrochemically loaded with deuterium.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology — Cambridge, MA — $2,000,000
Neutron Emission from Laser-Stimulated Metal Hydrides
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) proposes a hypothesis-driven experimental campaign to examine prominent claims of low energy nuclear reactions (LENR) with nuclear and material diagnostics, focusing on unambiguous indicators of nuclear reactions such as emitted neutrons and nuclear ash with unnatural isotopic ratios. The team will develop an experimental platform that thoroughly and reproducibly test claims of nuclear anomalies in gas-loaded metal-hydrogen systems.
Stanford University — Redwood City, CA — $1,500,000
Nuclear Product Detection from Deuterated Nanoparticles Under Phonon Stimulation
Stanford University will explore a technical solution based on LENR-active nanoparticles and gaseous deuterium. The team seeks to alleviate critical impediments to test the hypothesis that LENR-active sites in metal nanoparticles can be created through exposure to deuterium gas.
Texas Tech University — Lubbock, TX — $1,150,000
Advanced Materials Characterization and Nuclear Product Detection for LENR
Texas Tech University will develop accurate materials fabrication, characterization, and analysis to attempt to resolve the physical understanding of Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR). Texas Tech will also provide advanced detection of nuclear reaction products as a resource for ARPA-E LENR Exploratory Topic teams.
University of Michigan — Ann Arbor, MI — $902,213
Ionizing Radiation Detection for Exploratory Experiments in Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions
University of Michigan will provide capability to measure hypothetical neutron, gamma, and ion emissions from LENR experiments. Modern instrumentation will be coupled with best practices in data acquisition, analysis, and understanding of backgrounds to interpret collected data and evaluate the proposed signal.
University of Michigan — Ann Arbor, MI — $1,108,412
Systematic Evaluation of Claims of Excess Heat Generation from Deuteration of Palladium-Nickel Nanocomposites
The University of Michigan proposes to systematically evaluate claims of excess heat generation during deuteration and correlate it to nuclear and chemical reaction products. The team plans to combine scintillation-based neutron and gamma ray detectors, mass spectrometers, a calorimeter capable of performing microwatt-resolution measurements of heat generation, and ab-initio computational approaches. The proposed research will experimentally and theoretically explore the origin and mechanisms of excess heat generation and LENR.
One of the researchers with the MIT group, Jonah Messinger, published “Fusion Runs Hot and Cold” on The Breakthrough Institute website. It is a useful perspective on the history of cold fusion, particularly its lack of acceptance in the general science community. In it, Messinger, who is a Senior Energy Analyst for The Breakthrough Institute, links to a version of his team’s grant manuscript (other team members are Florian Metzler, Camden Hunt and Nicola Galvanetto).
Thomas Schenkel, Senior Scientist and Head of the Accelerator Technology & Applied Physics (ATAP) Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s (LBNL) Science & Ion Beam Technology Program, notes that his team “will use a relatively low-energy ion beam as an external excitation source for LENR on palladium hydride samples loaded with deuterium—a stable isotope of hydrogen that also contains a neutron—and then quantify any LENR events using a suite of diagnostic tools.” Schenkel’s team also includes two Staff Scientists from LBNL, Qing Ji and Arun Persaud, and University of California (Davis) Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty Jeremy Munday and William Putnam.
The Stanford University Chemical Engineering department team led by Prof. Matteo Cargnello was seeking two post-doctoral students to participate in their LENR research project. On the site, it is noted: “A successful project would show that tailored nanomaterials, under appropriate stimulation, act as a catalyst for an abundant energy source without dangerous byproducts. This is accomplished through the direct detection of reaction products for a rigorous and reproducible result. This significantly de-risks the technology for industrial energy applications and opens up new avenues for fundamental scientific exploration in optimizing the reaction.”
IE hopes to conduct interviews with all of the groups that have been funded, after some or all research has been completed. The original Funding Opportunity Announcement called for a completion deadline of 30 months after contracting (which was done by late March).
The LENR community had mixed reactions to the ARPA-E funding announcement, and the research efforts funded. The U.S. government has not historically been fair or good to “cold fusion,” so hesitancy is expected from the workers in the field. To those who have been in the field for most or all of the 34 years since 1989, the initial descriptions of the projects may not seem like the correct, current approach needed to move LENR forward. A few of the “elder statesmen” of the field suggest an open-minded positivity about the possible outreach and reward this level of funding might achieve for the field. They encouraged their colleagues to reach out to the various groups, offering consulting, materials, supplies or information. IE will aim to more closely examine some of the critiques and concerns in later reporting.