Free energy is to physics was creationism is to evolutionary biology. Both offer a teaching moment when you try to explain why proponents are so horribly wrong.
Free energy proponents have been abusing the laws of thermodynamics (come to think of it, so have creationists), and more recently quantum effects ala zero-point-energy. Now they are distorting a new principle of physics to justify their claims – the Casimir effect. Apparently this was a hot topic at the Breakthrough Energy Conference earlier this month.
Before I get into the specifics, I do want to address the general conspiratorial tones of the free-energy movement. I wonder if anyone influential in the free-energy subculture realizes that their conspiracy-mongering over free energy is perhaps the greatest barrier to their being taken seriously. There is also the fact that they get the science wrong, but if they think they are doing cutting edge science (rather than crank science), then convince us with science and ditch the conspiracy nonsense.
Here is the opening paragraph from a recent blog pushing the Casimir effect as a source of free energy:
Who is benefiting from suppressing scientific research? Whose power and wealth is threatened by access to clean and free energy? Who has the desire to create a system where so few have so much, and so many have so little?
OK – you lost me right there. This is a naive child’s view of the world, where “the adults” form a monolithic inscrutable force controlling the world. When you actually become an adult you may realize that no one has total control. No one and no institution is that competent, powerful, and pervasive. It would take an obviously totalitarian state to exert that much control.
If free energy were real, someone would be making it happen. Ironically the very existence of the free-energy movement proves their own conspiracy theories wrong. If a company could produce a genuine free-energy machine, they would, and they would become the wealthiest company in the world. Further, free energy would improve everyone’s quality of life. No matter who you are, your life would become better with free energy.
Free energy proponents, apparently, would rather believe the world is run by megalomaniacs who are simultaneously brilliant (in executing their conspiracy) and idiotic (in wanting to execute their conspiracy) rather than entertain the possibility that they have the science wrong.
The Casimir Effect
Scientific American has a good quick discussion of what the Casimir effect is. The Casimir effect is related to zero point energy, which refers to the fact that a perfect vacuum in space still contains energy in quantum fluctuations. This is sometimes referred to as the quantum foam, out of which virtual particles are created and destroyed.
This quantum vacuum energy exists as various wavelengths – in fact, infinite wavelengths. When you place two mirror facing each other in a vacuum, some of these waves will fit in the space between and some will not. This creates a situation in which there is more energy in the vacuum outside the mirrors then between them, which in turn results in a tiny force attracting the two mirrors together.
This effect was predicted by Dutch physicist Hendrick Casimir in 1948, and later confirmed by experimentation. I must emphasize that this force is extremely tiny.
Here is where the free-energy gurus, however, have their fun. Our current understanding of quantum effects predicts that there is an infinite amount of this zero-point energy in the vacuum. Imagine if we could somehow tap into that energy – infinite free energy. You can see why this is an exciting idea.
There are two problems with zero-point energy as a source of free energy, however.
- Free Energy and the Casimir Effect (theness.com)
- Nanoscale structures could be used to control the Casimir effect (wired.co.uk)
- The reins of Casimir: Engineered nanostructures could offer way to control quantum effect (sciencedaily.com)