Cold fusion is widely regarded as being just about as practical a technology as a perpetual motion machine or the Philosopher's Stone.
But at a conference taking place over the next two days in San Francisco, scientists will argue that they're starting to make it a reality.
At the symposium, University of Illinois professor George Miley will report on progress toward a new type of battery that works through a cold fusion process and has a longer life than conventional batteries. It consists of a special type of electrolytic cell that operates at low temperature. The process involves purposely creating defects in the metal electrode of the cell.
Vladimir Vysotskii of Kiev National Shevchenko University will present experimental evidence that bacteria can undergo a type of cold fusion process and could be used to dispose of nuclear waste. He will describe studies of nuclear transmutation of stable and radioactive isotopes in biological systems.
And Tadahiko Mizuno of Hokkaido University in Japan claims he's developed an unconventional cold fusion device that uses phenanthrene, a substance found in coal and oil, as a reactant. He reports on excess heat production and gamma radiation production from the device.
"Overall heat production exceeded any conceivable chemical reaction by two orders of magnitude," Mizuno says.
The term "cold fusion" originated in 1989 when Martin Fleishmann and Stanley Pons claimed they'd achieved nuclear fusion at room temperature with a simple, inexpensive device. The trouble was that nobody else could reproduce the effect. Pons and Fleishmann closed their labs, fled the country, and dropped out of sight.
"There's still some resistance to this field," says Jan Marwan, who organized the American Chemical Society symposium. "But we just have to keep on as we have done so far, exploring cold fusion step by step, and that will make it a successful alternative energy source. With time and patience, I'm really optimistic we can do this!"