Stalking the Elusive Quantum Vacuum
By Bill Moore
Electricity is all round us. It flows effortlessly through the walls of our homes and businesses, in our vehicles and appliances. It's so commonplace that we tend to think little about it, especially how it's created by spinning coils of copper wire in a magnetic field, generating a flow of electrons that we call an electrical current. But why this is so is still largely a mystery.
So when I sat down in a small laboratory off the town center of Sebastipol, California to talk with Mark Goldes, the president of Magnetic Power, I was hoping to be able to not only hear an explanation of how zero point energy works -- one of Goldes many passions -- but also see an actual operating device. I got the explanation and then some. I didn't get to see the device, perhaps with good reason as you'll see as my story unfolds.
Mark Goldes has been investigating sustainable energy technologies for some three decades. In the wake of the first oil embargo in the 1970s, he helped fund the development of one of the first vehicles to combine electric drive and wind power, the Sunwind windmobile. A former Air Force officer who later ran an international consulting business, Goldes moved on from the windmobile idea when he couldn't raise the capital to put the car into production. What he moved on to would seem to many even more outlandish, the pursuit of zero point energy, a hypothetically limitless energy force that theoretically pervades all matter.
As traffic rumbled noisily past the store-front-now-magnetics laboratory, Goldes began to tell me about how in 1984, after the merciful death of Sunwind, he and his associates began to notice unexplained anomalies in their study of magnetics.
This suggested to Goldes and others, including renowned physicist and science fiction writer Robert L. Forward, that, "it might be possible to extract zero point energy by way of magnetics."
"But let me go back," he continued; "back" being before the Second World War when zero point energy was considered what he called "virtual." By this he meant that physicists needed it to help them rationalize the results of certain calculations. According to Goldes, the numbers expressed were so immense that they assumed that such a force simply couldn't exist in reality. It's something akin to modern physic's problem with "dark matter". Much like zero point energy, there's no way to actually measure dark matter, which is believed to make up 99 percent of the universe as we currently understand it. Instead, it's needed to help account for certain inexplicable observations about the nature of space and matter.
It was needed, he asserted, to "balance certain quantum mechanical equations."
It would be Robert Forward who would suggest in a paper for the Physical Review that it should be possible to extract electrical energy from what is also called the vacuum, adding the caveat that we are only now starting to understand how little we understand the workings of the universe.
Forward's 1984 paper would be followed two years later, said Goldes, with an Air Force RFP for an zero point energy propulsion and power system. It's unknown whether anyone ever submitted a successful proposal, but he asserts that NASA is now studying the possibility of interstellar travel via zero point energy.
The chronology of the hunt for zero point leaps back to the future in 1948 when the Dutch theoretical physicist Heinrik Casimir postulated that two mirrors placed in empty space would be attracted to one another. Casimir's theory has now been verified and named after him as the Casimir Effect. Goldes equates the force that causes this strange attraction as zero point energy.
Gradually, the notion of actually tapping the energy of the vacuum started to receive credence in the physics community. Some eleven years before Dr. Forward wrote his paper, world renowned physicist Richard Feynman suggested that if you could extract all the zero point energy found in the volume of a coffee cup, you'd have enough energy to vaporize all the world's oceans.
According to Goldes, after the Air Force issued its RFP, several articles appeared in refereed journals stating that while they couldn't see how you'd extract electrical power from the vacuum, they also didn't see any reason why you couldn't, offering an irresistible challenge that a small cadre of physicists, engineers and inventors simply couldn't resist, though most have tended to keep their activities to themselves.
One individual who has openly declared his intentions to create real devices that take advantage of the Casimir effect and zero point energy is Dr. Fabrizio Pinto, a former NASA JPL scientist who worked on the team that investigated "out of the box" approaches to interstellar travel. Dr. Pinto left JPL to form his own company in 1999 to exploit what he calls the quantum vacuum.
But interstellar space travel, which requires unimaginable amounts of energy to propel a probe to relativistic speeds, isn't the only potential uses for vacuum energy. Goldes told me that Pinto also believes it can be used to treat cancer and create solar cells that are 90 percent efficient. Eventually, Pinto believes we can even dispense with the solar cells and extract power directly from zero point energy.
But Pinto's work, and those who labor more quietly, is only the most recent manifestation of both deliberate and accidental investigations of this mysterious force. Goldes continued building the historical framework by jumping back more than 100 years to 1876 when an American inventor by the name of Wesley Gary received patents on an electric motor technology that Goldes believes utilized the quantum vacuum.
The next stop on the vacuum energy discovery time line is Germany in 1925 when Hans Coler accidentally invented several small solid state magnetic machines that are now considered working zero point energy generators. By 1937, he is alleged to have scaled up his invention to a 6kW version with which he powered his home.
It was while he was working with the German Navy during the Second World War, presumably on ways to adapt his technology to military use, when an errant Allied bomb destroyed his home and his machine. But his efforts attracted the attention of British Intelligence who interviewed him after the war and had him build two rudimentary devices, one of which inexplicably produced excess energy, according to the official report.
Goldes related that until Robert Forward's essay in the 1980's, there wasn't a solid theoretical understanding of what the force was, much less how to tap into it. A few people appear to have stumbled on it and didn't really understand how it worked. It's his view, that there are many private research efforts going on all over the world like Pintos in Pasadena.
One such enterprise is a small South African company called Perendev that claimed to have developed a ZPE generator, but the company's web site is now offline. A second firm, Pertech, claims to be their US joint-venture partner. Goldes has heard through his network that the technology appears to be real, though he's not seen it. He related a story to me that the inventor, Mike Brady, was sued by an investor who considered the invention a hoax. When hauled into court, Brady purportedly demonstrated the device to the satisfaction of the court.
By now you may have noticed a recurring theme. When it comes to practical zero point energy devices, there appears to be lots of smoke (and maybe mirrors, too) but precious little fire. There are intriguing stories like that of Coler and Gary, but little evidence to verify their claims, which I sensed is as frustrating to Mark Goldes, now in his sixties, as it is to open-minded investigators and hopeful investors.
The fact that mainstream science now accepts the validity of the Casimir effect and even the theoretical existence of the quantum vacuum, doesn't mean we can translate that into useable energy any more than our knowing that gravity exists means we can build anti-gravity devices, though as you might expect, there are people like British inventor John Searl who claim they have succeeded.
But from Mark Goldes' ever-optimistic perspective, where there's smoke, there has to be fire, or more specifically zero point energy.
Speaking of Mike Brady, for example, he commented, "we know that he's a very decent engineer because through our network we've been able to talk about, they say, 'Yeah, we've known this guy for years. He's a good engineer.' So, he's probably doing something real but we believe he's having a great deal of trouble commercializing it, partly because of the way it's designed. We can see flaws that make it a tough design to commercialize."
Obviously, given the secretive nature of most research, everyone involved in quantum vacuum engineering -- including Goldes -- seems to have to rely, to a large extent, on third-hand information; "we know engineers who know engineers who know him." Not the strongest affirmation of the viability of this technology, but perhaps the best that can be expected in the current climate of suspicion and fear; fear that someone will steal your idea or worse, murder you for threatening the oil-soaked status quo.
Rightly or wrongly, paranoia is also part and parcel of zero point energy research. Through the course of our hour and half dialog, Goldes would stop a moment and tell me, "we are now speaking off the record." So there are parts of our discussion that I have been asked to not divulge, not that I learned anything particularly revelatory or earth shattering. His precautions were more in keeping confidential the nature of certain projects his company was financing, one somewhere on the West Coast -- he wouldn't say where, and one on the East Coast, again no location was given.
Yet he continues to exude the confidence of a man who is keeping his fingers crossed that the people working on these projects are genuinely on to something real, something that could revolutionize not only power generation as we know it, but transform the planet in the process.
"So, what we're looking at is the possibility of a world that is at the edge of not needing fossil fuels."
I'll reveal what that world might look like and how it could transform our daily lives, at least from Goldes' perspective, in the concluding second half of our interview, as well as take a closer look at the role Magnetic Power, Inc. plays in his business plans.
TO BE CONTINUED...
blog comments powered by Disqus