A low energy nuclear reaction (LENR) is an experiment where fusion occurs at an atomic-molecular scale that relies on certain chemical processes to create surplus energy from a fusion reaction instead of using the tremendous pressures and confinement processes of magnetic fields, lasers, or electrical pulses upon which traditional fusion energy research is based. The first evidence that low energy nuclear reactions may be possible, originally referred to as cold fusion, was demonstrated in 1989, but quickly discredited when global attempts to reproduce the scientific results of these experiments met with spotty success. Since that time, LENR has received a reputation in the world media as being largely fraudulent, when, in fact, many government and academic research labs have continued to research the process into 2011. Of particular recent interest to the scientific community are experiments carried out in 2011 by Italian engineers Sergio Focardi and Andrea Rossi, who may have used LENR successfully with a small, hand-sized reaction chamber known as an Energy Catalyzer (eCAT).
Though LENR or cold fusion has been a subject of severe scientific and public criticism since it was first theorized to be possible in 1989 by University of Utah researchers in the US, further development work has continued due to the enormous potential that the concept offers by many lofty organizations around the world. These include the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), research by the US military at the Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SSC Pacific), and by organizations such as Osaka University in Japan. Three primary approaches to creating chemically-assisted nuclear reactions are being taken by these research facilities and others. They include the original approach utilizing palladium-deuterium reactions, the Rossi-Focardi approach which uses nickel-hydrogen, and a muon catalyzed approach being looked at in research centers in Australia and Japan.
Based upon the preliminary success of research in Italy where positive energy generation in the range of 2.6 kilowatts to 130 kilowatts was demonstrated, the reactor design is being scaled up to a level that, by 2012, is expected to produce 1 megawatt of excess energy at a facility located in Greece. NASA scientists, while not trying to replicate the Rossi process itself, are intensely interested in it. NASA Langley's Chief Scientist Dennis Bushnell revealed the nature of their interest when he commented in regard to LENR and the Rossi process in particular that “...this is capable of, by itself, completely changing geo-economics and geo-politics...”
Since the details of the Rossi process have not been completely released to the public domain, however, and since it has not yet been replicated under controlled conditions elsewhere, conclusive evidence of its success remains as yet unknown. Facilities like NASA are in the process of verifying the underpinnings of Rossi's theory as of 2011 before they begin the extensive process of trying to replicate his results. As late as 7 October 2011, however, Rossi performed another eCAT reactor test that ran for 9 hours, with the reactor running itself for 4 hours with no energy input from an external source. Plans to duplicate the experiment on 28 October 28 2011 using 52 test nuclear reactor chambers simultaneously are intended to provide more scientific data to verify that the process of LENR is in fact taking place.
Early results for palladium-deuterium reactions were based upon the concept that, under an electrical charge, deuterium atoms naturally pack themselves so tightly among palladium atoms in a metal rod that the hydrogen begins to fuse, releasing energy. Since palladium and deuterium are inexpensive and abundant compounds as well as nickel and other LENR reactants, the process offers enormous potential for clean, inexpensive energy. Researchers at the US Navy SSC Pacific center verified these early results were producing nuclear reactions in 2007, and their verification of the findings was published in June of that year in Naturwissenschaften, literally translated as "The Science of Nature," a prestigious scientific journal in Germany that published research by Albert Einstein a generation earlier.