Aug. 23, 2006 -- "Imagine
A world with an infinite supply of pure energy.
Never having to recharge your phone.
Never having to refuel your car."
Those are the words of an advertisement from a Dublin, Ireland, company that claims to have developed a way to produce free, clean and constant energy and at the same time re-write the book on modern physics.
The ad, which appeared in last week's issue of The Economist, challenges the scientific community to debunk the company's findings. The company is seeking 12 of "the most qualified and the most cynical" scientists to test its technology and report their findings.
Steorn is a company that specializes in developing technology to prevent counterfeiting and fraud in the plastic card and optical disc industries. But at least one of the world's most prominent scientists says that with its claims of finding the Holy Grail of energy, the company may be perpetrating a fraud of its own.
'It's a Fraud'
Though the company's Web site is light on details, Steorn CEO Sean McCarthy revealed that the device is essentially an "all-magnet motor with no electromagnetic component involved" in an interview with Pure Energy Systems News earlier this week .
Without being connected to a power supply and without using existing energy surrounding the device -- like heat -- the motor creates energy from nothing, Steorn claims.
"It's a fraud," said Dr. Michio Kaku, a leading theoretical physicist, author and professor whose accolades, awards and acknowledgments are too numerous to list here. "The irony here is that this is a company that makes anti-fraud technology. It's [their claim is] not possible … you can't sue me for quoting the rules of physics."
One of the fundamental laws of physics and the first law of thermodynamics is the "Principle of the Conservation of Energy," which states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only change form.
"This company here does not use fancy superconductors or lasers, it's just a simple magnet machine," Kaku giggled. "And so there's usually a slight of hand. Usually, you know, in the back some place energy's coming in but you can't see it and it's energizing their machine."
Kaku said that because these are technology experts and not physicists and that magnetic fields are invisible, Steorn may not have any idea that its machine is a fraud.
But he said the company's challenge to the scientific community is not necessarily the way to prove him wrong.
"Most reputable scientists don't want to be part of something like this because they realize it's a hoax," he explained. "But what happens is, shady scientists, you know, scientists who want to get their names in the paper or get a piece of the action, they sign up for the challenge and there's a lot of hoopla, television cameras come and say, 'Look, here is the scientist.' The scientist says, 'Oh my gosh, this guy's going to revolutionize the energy situation -- change the world.' Then they get headlines that way."
McCarthy said that the doubts of Kaku and others in the scientific community are precisely why they had to get their challenge into the public domain.
"Our company either had to drop the project or find another way to get science involved -- clearly dropping a project of this impact was not an option," McCarthy wrote in an e-mail. "With respect to the fraud allegation we have made our position very clear: the company will not pursue or accept any funding while this process is in place, we will under no circumstances attempt to commercialize the technology in anyway until the 'Jury' have delivered their verdict."
As a sign of their confidence in the device, McCarthy has invited Dr. Kaku to participate in the validation process.
There was no word on whether or not Kaku will accept.
Nothing Would Ever Be the Same
To understand the sensationalism of Steorn's claims, you need to understand what it would mean if they turned out to be true.
Steorn said its research has shown that the device it claims to have created can be scaled to almost any size. That would mean it could power anything that requires energy, from a flashlight to an airplane.
"Hypothetically, assuming that their claims are true -- which I don't think is possible -- it would represent one of the greatest discoveries of humanity, going back to the discovery of fire," Kaku said.
Kaku pointed out that in many ways, human history can be seen as the slow, progressive effort to control energy.
"From the taming of fire, the horse, gunpowder, explosives, and nuclear weapons," he explained. "Free unlimited energy would revolutionize society almost instantly. The oil executives would be on the unemployment lines. It would change the [Middle East] crisis forever. Every aspect of society would be overturned, from transpiration, heating, electricity, factories, etc."
But, Kaku cautioned, "These guys in Ireland will not make this happen."
Cold Fusion and Other Fairy Tales
Wild claims and even malicious schemes to convince the world of impossible innovations are nothing new.
"Similar claims have been made repeatedly over the last 200 years and all of them have been disproved," wrote Dr. Eugene Chudnovsky in an e-mail. Chudnovsky is a distinguished professor of physics and astronomy at Lehman College in New York and an expert on magnetism and superconductivity. "They violate the most fundamental law of nature -- conservation of energy -- which has been tested in physics laboratories with accuracy that Steorn will never achieve."
In March 1989, scientists in Utah claimed to have discovered a clean, free, constant energy source from nuclear materials known as cold fusion.
Laboratories across the globe raced to replicate the process and even the Energy Research Advisory Board submitted a report on the science to the U.S. Department of Energy.
While there are still programs to develop cold fusion, to this day it's widely considered to be impossible -- a mistake at best.
"I've spoken to cold fusion people and they say 'it works, it works,' but they haven't been able to recreate it," Kaku said. "If your car were powered by cold fusion, you don't want it to work 20 percent of the time, you want it to work all the time."
Only time will tell if Steorn has truly reinvented the wheel, or just tried to sell the public a bridge.