Back when I wrote about the whole negative energy rubbish, a reader wrote to me, and asked me to write something about hydrinos.
For those who are lucky enough not to know about them, hydrinos are part of another free energy scam. In this case, a medical doctor named Randell Mills claims to have discovered that hydrogen atoms can have multiple states beyond the typical, familiar ground state of hydrogen. Under the right conditions, so claims Dr. Mills, the electron shell around a hydrogen atom will compact into a tighter orbit, releasing a burst of energy in the process. And, in fact, it’s (supposedly) really, really easy to make hydrogen turn into hydrinos – if you let a bunch of hydrogen atoms bump in to a bunch of Argon atoms, then presto! some of the hydrogen will shrink into hydrino form, and give you a bunch of energy.
Wonderful, right? Just let a bunch of gas bounce around in a balloon, and out comes energy!
Oh, but it’s better than that. There are multiple hydrino forms: you can just keep compressing and compressing the hydrogen atom, pushing out more and more energy each time. The more you compress it, the more energy you get – and you don’t really need to compress it. You just bump it up against another atom, and poof! energy.
To explain all of this, Dr. Mills further claims to have invented a new
form of quantum mechanics, called “grand unified theory of classical quantum mechanics” (CQM for short) which provides the unification between relativity and quantum mechanics that people have been looking for. And, even better, CQM is fully deterministic – all of that ugly probabilistic stuff from quantum mechanics goes away!
The problem is, it doesn’t work. None of it.
What makes hydrinos interesting as a piece of crankery is that there’s a lot more depth to it than to most crap. Dr. Mills hasn’t just handwaved that these hydrino things exist – he’s got a very elaborate detailed theory – with a lot of non-trivial math – to back it up. Alas, the math is garbage, but it’s garbage-ness isn’t obvious. To see the problems, we’ll need to get deeper into math than we usually do.
Let’s start with a couple of examples of the claims about hydrinos, and the kind of favorable clueless press they’ve received.
Here is an example of how hydrino supporters explain them:
In 1986 Randell Mills MD developed a theory that hydrogen atoms could shrink, and release lots of energy in the process. He called the resultant entity a “Hydrino” (little Hydrogen), and started a company called Blacklight Power, Inc. to commercialize his process. He published his theory in a book he wrote, which is available in PDF format on his website. Unfortunately, the book contains so much mathematics that many people won’t bother with it. On this page I will try to present the energy related aspect of his theory in language that I hope will be accessible to many.
According to Dr. Mills, when a hydrogen atom collides with certain other atoms or ions, it can sometimes transfer a quantity of energy to the other atom, and shrink at the same time, becoming a Hydrino in the process. The atom that it collided with is called the “catalyst”, because it helps the Hydrino shrink. Once a Hydrino has formed, it can shrink even further through collisions with other catalyst atoms. Each collision potentially resulting in another shrinkage.
Each successive level of shrinkage releases even more energy than the previous level. In other words, the smaller the Hydrino gets, the more energy it releases each time it shrinks another level.
To get an idea of the amounts of energy involved, I now need to introduce the concept of the “electron volt” (eV). An eV is the amount of energy that a single electron gains when it passes through a voltage drop of one volt. Since a volt isn’t much (a “dry cell” is about 1.5 volts), and the electric charge on an electron is utterly minuscule, an eV is a very tiny amount of energy. Nevertheless, it is a very representative measure of the energy involved in chemical reactions. e.g. when Hydrogen and Oxygen combine to form a water molecule, about 2.5 eV of energy is released per water molecule formed.
When Hydrogen shrinks to form a second level Hydrino (Hydrogen itself is considered to be the first level Hydrino), about 41 eV of energy is released. This is already about 16 times more than when Hydrogen and Oxygen combine to form water. And it gets better from there. If that newly formed Hydrino collides with another catalyst atom, and shrinks again, to the third level, then an additional 68 eV is released. This can go on for quite a way, and the amount gets bigger each time. Here is a table of some level numbers, and the energy released in dropping to that level from the previous level, IOW when you go from e.g. level 4 to level 5, 122 eV is released. (BTW larger level numbers represent smaller Hydrinos).
And some of the press:
- IEEE Spectrum, 1/2009.
- Press release from 2009, claiming commercialization within 1 year to 18 months.
- Slashdot story from 2005, claiming to be months away from commercialization
- Village Voice, 1999, complete with a claim to commercialize a hydrino power generator within a year.
Notice a pattern?
The short version of the problem with hydrinos is really, really simple.
The most fundamental fact of nature that we’ve observed is that everything tends to move towards its lowest energy state. The whole theory of hydrinos basically says that that’s not true: everything except hydrogen tends to move towards its lowest energy state, but hydrogen doesn’t. It’s got a dozen or so lower energy states, but none of the abundant quantities of hydrogen on earth are ever observed in any of those states unless they’re manipulated by Mills magical machine.
The whole basis of hydrino theory is Mills CQM. CQM is rubbish – but it’s impressive looking rubbish. I’m not going to go deep into detail; you can see a detailed explanation of the problems here; I’ll run through a short version.
To start, how is Mills claiming that hydrinos work? In CQM, he posits the existence of electron shell levels closer to the nucleus than the ground state of hydrogen. Based on his calculations, he comes up with an energy figure for the difference between the ground state and the hydrino state. Then he finds other substances that have the property that boosting one electron into a higher energy state would cost the same amount of energy. When a hydrogen atom collides with an atom that has a matching electron transition, the hydrogen can get bumped into the hydrino state, while kicking an electron into a higher orbital. That electron will supposedly, in due time, fall back to its original level, releasing the energy differential as a photon.
On this level, it sort-of looks correct. It doesn’t violate conservation of energy: the collision between the two atoms doesn’t produce anything magical. It’s just a simple transfer of energy. That much is fine.
It’s when you get into the details that it gets seriously fudgy.
Right from the start, if you know what you’re doing, CQM goes off the rails. For example, CQM claims that you can describe the dynamics of an electron in terms of a classical wave charge-density function equation. Mills actually gives that function, and asserts that it respects Lorentz invariance. That’s crucial – Lorentz invariance is critical for relativity: it’s the fundamental mathematical symmetry that’s the basis of relativity. But his equation doesn’t actually respect Lorentz invariance. Or, rather, it does – but only if the electron is moving at the speed of light. Which it can’t do.
Mills goes on to describe the supposed physics of hydrinos. If you work through his model, the only state that is consistent with both his equations, and his claim that the electrons orbit in a spherical shell above the atom – well, if you do that, you’ll find that according to his own equations, there is only one possible state for a hydrogen atom – the conventional ground state.
It goes on in that vein for quite a while. He’s got an elaborate system, with an elaborate mathematical framework… but none of the math actually says what he says it says. The Lorentz invariance example that I cited above – that’s typical. Print an equation, say that it says X, even though the equation doesn’t say anything like X.
But we can go a bit further. The fundamental state of atoms is something that we understand pretty well, because we’ve got so many observations, and so much math describing it. And the thing is, that math is pretty damned convincing. That doesn’t mean that it’s correct, but it does mean that any theory that wants to replace it must be able to describe everything that we’ve observed at least as well as the current theory.
Why do atoms have the shape that they do? Why are the size that they are? It’s not a super easy thing to understand, because electrons aren’t really particles. They’re something strange. We don’t often think about that, but it’s true. They’re deeply bizarre things. They’re not really particles. Under many conditions, they behave more like waves than like particles. And that’s true of the atom.
The reason that atoms are the size that they are is because the electron “orbitals” have sizes and shapes that are determined by resonant frequencies of the wave-like aspects of electrons. What Mills is suggesting is that there are a range of never-before observed resonant frequencies of electrons. But the math that he uses to support that claim just doesn’t work.
Now, I’ll be honest here. I’m not nearly enough of a physics whiz to be competent to judge the accuracy of his purported quantum mechanical system. But I’m still pretty darn confident that he’s full of crap. Why?
I’m from New Jersey – pretty much right up the road from where his lab is. Going to college right up the road from him, I’ve been hearing about his for a long time. He’s been running this company for quite a while – going on two decades. And all that time, the company has been constantly issuing press releases promising that it’s just a year away from being commercialized! It’s always one step away. But never, never, has he released enough information to let someone truly independent verify or reproduce his results. And he’s been very deceptive about that: he’s made various claims about independent verification on several occasions.
For example, he once cited that his work had been verified by a researcher at Harvard. In fact, he’d had one of his associates rent a piece of equipment at Harvard, and use it for a test. So yes, it was tested by a researcher – if you count his associate as a legitimate researcher. And it was tested at Harvard. But the claim that it was tested by a researcher at Harvard is clearly meant to imply that it was tested by a Harvard professor, when it wasn’t.
For something around 20 years, he’s been making promises, giving very tightly controlled demos, refusing to give any real details, refusing to actually explain how to reproduce his “results”, and promising that it’s just one year away from being commercialized!
And yet… hydrogen is the most common substance in the universe. If it really had a lower energy state that what we call it’s ground state, and that lower energy state was really as miraculous as he claims – why wouldn’t we see it? Why hasn’t it ever been observed? Substances like Argon are rare – but they’re not that rare. Argon has been exposed to hydrogen under laboratory conditions plenty of times – and yet, nothing anamalous has even been observed. All of the supposed hydrino catalysts have been observed so often under so many conditions – and yet, no anamolous energy has even been noticed before. But according to Mills, we should be seeing tons of it.
And that’s not all. Mills also claims that you can create all sorts of compounds with hydrinos – and naturally, every single one of those compounds is positively miraculous! Bonded with silicon, you get better semiconductors! Substitute hydrinos for regular hydrogen in a battery electrolyte, and you get a miracle battery! Use it in rocket fuel instead of common hydrogen, and you get a ten-fold improvement in the performance of a rocket! Make a laser from it, and you can create higher-density data storage and communication systems. Everything that hydrinos touch is amazing
But… not one of these miraculous substances has ever been observed before. We work with silicon all the time – but we’ve never seen the magic silicon hydrino compound. And he’s never been willing to actually show anyone any of these miracle substances.
He claims that he doesn’t show it because he’s protecting his intellectual property. But that’s silly. If hydrinos existed, then just telling us that these compounds exist and have interesting properties should be enough for other labs to go ahead and experiment with producing them. But no one has. Whether he shows the supposed miracle compounds or not doesn’t change anyone else’s ability to produce those. Even if he’s keeping his magic hydrino factory secret, so that no one else has access to hydrinos, by telling us that these compounds exist, he’s given away the secret. He’s not protecting anything anymore: by publically talking about these things, he’s given up his right to patent the substances. It’s true that he still hasn’t given up the rights to the process of producing them – but publicly demonstrating these alleged miracle substances wouldn’t take away any legal rights that he hasn’t already given up. So, why doesn’t he show them to you?
Because they don’t exist.