Mad Teddy's website - some ZPE "contenders", and more terminology

Mad Teddy's web-pages

Mad Teddy's researches
into zero-point energy

Some ZPE "contenders", and more terminology

This page added on Friday, 10th July 2009

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It's not my intention here to give an exhaustive list of all known attempts to access zero-point energy. (Apart from anything else, I'm quite sure that there are some of which I haven't heard.) What I'll do here is make reference to a selection of those I do know about, and indicate features they appear to have in common - which seems a valid way to guide my own thinking on these matters into the immediate future.

At the outset, may I again stress that we are not talking about devices which violate any known laws of physics. There is no suggestion of creating energy here; on the contrary, the energy already exists - in vast quantities - and all we are trying to do is find effective ways of utilizing just enough of it to allow us all to have a modern lifestyle without wrecking our world.

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I first became seriously interested in this matter several years ago, and read avidly anything relevant that I could find - both printed materials (books and magazines) and web-pages. I made an attempt to keep track of relevant sources, but over time it's all become a bit disorganized: I can't find some of the printed articles, and some of the websites may have disappeared. So I'll do the best I can. Please bear with me if it's a bit "scrappy"; if you know some of the sources I'm missing - or, indeed, if you're aware of more up-to-date material which I may not yet have seen - and can help fill in some of the details, I'd be most grateful if you'd contact me so that I can update this page appropriately.

One other point: unlike many of my pages which contain lots of photographs and/or graphics, this page is mostly text, with quite a large number of links to other websites - so it may not be as "entertaining" as some would like. [You may perhaps prefer to visit my highly-visual pages about my monopole motors (here and here) first, and then revisit this page later once you've had a chance to get more of a feel for the subject-matter.] I hope that you will - at some stage - definitely find it thought-provoking, at the very least.

Some years ago, "Nexus" magazine published an article about a special type of transformer which included a strong permanent magnet as part of its core. This is one of the articles I can't find - as just mentioned - and I can't remember the precise details as to what was special about such transformers, or why they were in some way an improvement over ordinary transformers (which, usually, are simply two or more coils of insulated copper wire wound onto a laminated iron core).

What I do remember was that there was a suggestion that some such transformers, along with some electronic control circuitry, could be persuaded to act as "over-unity" energy sources, somehow tapping into a universally-present form of energy in such a way as to keep operating with enough extra output to do useful work. Such a device was known as a "motionless electromagnetic generator", or MEG for short.

As I seem to recall, it was only a short article, and there wasn't a lot of detail - just enough to get me interested. So I started hunting on the web to see if there was anything there about it.

Indeed there was! There are probably lots more pages about it now than there were then - but even then there was no shortage of information.

The MEG's inventor is Dr. Thomas (Tom) Bearden, a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the US army (hereinafter referred to as TB). If you'd like to see the Wikipedia article about him, it's here.

Just a few comments about that Wikipedia article, if I may:

If you've had a look through my website, you've probably seen numerous links to Wikipedia articles. I have no hesitation in linking to them when they discuss matters which I know about and understand well enough to be able to affirm their content. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that I endorse everything to be found on Wikipedia.

I may say that I'm not too surprised to note more than a smidgen of sceptical language in that article about TB. I'm old and cynical enough to recognize the style, and (hopefully) wise enough not to allow it to cloud my own judgment. I've reached a point in my life when I'd rather check something out for myself, than allow anybody else to dictate to me what - or how - I should think.

How you respond to sceptical language is up to you. I'm all in favour of healthy scepticism - basically, not believing everything one hears or reads, at least not without careful evaluation - but when I smell a rat (any kind of rat!), I engage my own perfectly good brain to aid me in making my own judgments, based on my own ability to investigate issues and think through their implications for myself. Enough said on the matter.

By way of being fair-minded, here are two links to pages about the MEG: the Wikipedia article, and the page on Jean-Louis Naudin's website in which he introduces the MEG.

Also, here's a page on Monsieur Naudin's site about version 3.0 of the MEG, complete with a circuit diagram and oscilloscope traces. (I'd like to have a go at building one of these myself eventually, but for the moment I don't feel able to afford the rather expensive special core required. If a second-hand one ever turns up in a Launceston junk shop, we'll see... )

Okay! Having got all that off my chest, may I ask you to adopt an open-minded position and visit TB's own website, whose home page is here. Note the following points:

1. The name of John Bedini appearing in various contexts in TB's home page. John Bedini (to whom I often refer in some of these pages as JB) is the inventor of the monopole motor, a device which he claims can perform at "over-unity", if it's constructed well enough. (So far, I have built two devices of this type, both described in considerable detail in other pages within this site, here and here. I haven't yet achieved "over-unity", but I'm seeing some hopeful signs that I may indeed do so at some stage in the not-too-distant future). TB and JB have been friends and colleagues over many years.

2. TB asserts that what he terms "energy from the vacuum" is not the same as zero-point energy (ZPE). Now, if I were dishonest, I wouldn't draw attention to this, because it appears to undermine my own position. My personal thought on the matter is that, almost certainly, the kind of energy which concerns us is not yet completely understood, so that there is room for some flexibility with regard to nomenclature. I strongly suspect that disagreements about this have more to do with semantics than with actuality, and that - when further research is undertaken - these two terms, along with Nikola Tesla's "radiant energy", will in fact turn out to refer to one and the same thing, or at least to closely-related aspects of the same thing.

3. If you visit this page in TB's website, you'll notice something called quaternions mentioned. This is a concept from the branch of mathematics known as Abstract Algebra. TB's assertion is that the structure of the universe is quaternion in nature, and that James Clerk Maxwell's original electromagnetic theory was expressed in equations couched in quaternion form. I'm sufficiently intrigued by the idea to have included in this website my own introduction to quaternions, which runs to three pages; you may like to click here to see the first of them. (The other two are links within that page.)

Again to be fair to both sides of an argument, this page takes issue with TB's assertion about quaternions. (I must say, from what I've seen there, that some of the points made appear to be more in the nature of quibbles over possible typos or editing errors, than real, substantial criticisms regarding fundamental content.)

I understand that many people will consider this matter of quaternions to be very arcane, and (quite frankly) will not be interested. For that reason, I don't intend to discuss it any further here; however, if you are intrerested in pursuing the matter, this page contains an article by TB which provides a good introduction. (I will refer to it again in a later page, and present some of my own thoughts on its implications.)

I'll return to TB again on a different matter shortly; but first, I'd like to mention another "over-unity" device, which - on the face of it, at least - has little or nothing to do with the MEG, monopole motors - or (even, perhaps) ZPE at all.

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I'm disappointed that, to date, I've never got around to constructing a Wimshurst machine. If you've seen my Electrical stuff page, you may recall that, as a high-school kid in the mid-1960's, I found in the school library an old book entitled "The Boy Electrician" by Alfred P. Morgan, which presented instructions for building all manner of exciting electrical gadgets including a Wimshurst machine, a Tesla coil - even an X-ray machine! - none of which, to my chagrin, I have yet constructed. (To be honest, I think the X-ray machine probably isn't such a good idea for your average home experimenter, because of the obviously major safety issue.)

Well, while researching what I now (without apology) refer to as zero-point energy (or ZPE), at some point I came across a website which mentioned a device which at least appeared to have some things in common with a Wimshurst machine.

If you haven't the foggiest notion what a Wimshurst machine is, I'd better explain. It's a device invented by an engineer named James Wimshurst, late in the 19th century. It utilized two glass discs, mounted vertically side by side with a small gap between them, which - when spun in opposite directions - would separate positive and negative charges. There were metal foil "sectors" glued to the outer surfaces of the discs, and cleverly-positioned "neutralizing rods", which all tended to facilitate the aim of obtaining a positive charge on a conductor at one end of the device and a negative charge on another conductor at the other end. These charges could be put to work to operate (among other things) X-ray tubes. Click here to see the Wikipedia article; and have a look at this rather good MIT video on YouTube which explains the operation of a Wimshurst machine quite well.

So - what, if anything, do Wimshurst machines have to do with ZPE, "over-unity", or anything remotely related to such concepts?

This is a very strange story. Rather than try to do justice to it myself, may I invite you to click on at least some of the following links, and see what you can make of it all. (I know I'm putting a lot of links here, but the story has so many angles and twists that I think it's worth it. If you do visit them all, I think you'll find it fascinating and well worth the effort.)
(Make sure you scroll down to the excellent disgrams!)
(Methernitha's own somewhat irritating website - frames everywhere!  But the content is certainly interesting.)
(More excellent graphics - make sure you have a good look at this.)
(More graphics and photos, and some very interesting historical and speculative material.)
(An open mind required here. Much of what is said here challenges, and will thus be offensive to, much of "mainstream science". It's pretty clear that the "Galilee" mentioned in that page actually refers to Galileo.)

Finally, a couple of YouTube videos:
(This shows one of these machines operating. The video appears to be produced by the Methernitha community themselves. I can't understand the language well enough to understand what's being said, but the visuals themselves speak volumes. The horseshoe magnets, and their associated circuitry and other components, are clearly - and tantalizingly - visible.)
(Be prepared to be "spooked-out" here. There is a mystical quality about this video which is quite gripping. The intention is clear and unapologetic: to tug at the viewer's heart-strings; and the plea at the end is compelling. Don't miss this one.)

I would just love to be able to make a working machine of this type. I'm hoping that the knowledge of how to do so will become freely available soon; I have a couple of big glass discs (purchased for a song from my favourite Launceston junk shop, of course - where else?!) ready and waiting, if and when.

It was several years ago when I first became aware of such items as the MEG and the Thesta Distatica. To cut a long story reasonably short, let's fast-forward to early-to-mid-2008, about a year ago, when climate change was beginning to be understood on a world-wide scale to be a very big problem after all.

I'd become aware by mid-2006 that climate change was a major issue, having not been fully convinced until then. So by the time I launched this site (5th July 2006), I'd already decided that I would do whatever I could to help draw attention to the matter, if at all possible producing my own "over-unity" devices to illustrate and underline my belief that it should still be possible to reverse the damage before it becomes permanent (see my It's never too late page for more on this theme).

So I renewed my web-searching for some device that I could afford to attempt, and that looked as if it shouldn't be too difficult to build. For the moment, I'd ruled out both the MEG (on the basis of the core's price) and the Thesta Distatica (on the basis of difficulty and lack of sufficiently detailed information). I was warming to the idea of something basically electromechanical - somewhat similar in style to the little projects I'd had in the website since its inception (click here to go to my "Electromechanical models" menu page).

After all, I had a track-record of being able to build such things from cheap bits'n'pieces (or "junk", if you insist!) which worked reasonably well. Also, something with moving parts might be more interesting and persuasive to the lay-person than something purely electronic (such as the MEG). So I started to look out specifically for such devices.

The name of Tom Bearden (TB) popped up again, this time in connection with something called the "Magnetic Wankel Engine". This immediately grabbed my interest, because I knew of the work of German engineer Felix Wankel who, in the 1950's, had produced what has come to be known as the "rotary engine". (Click here to see the Wikipedia article about these engines, and here to see a documentary YouTube video which explains their action very well.)

The relevant page I found in TB's website is here. It's about a device which has some resemblance to Felix Wankel's rotary engine, with a row of permanent magnets arranged in a spiral around the inside of the stator repelling another permanent magnet built into the rotor, in a way reminiscent of the power stroke of a Wankel engine. When the stroke is completed, an electromagnet attached to the stator is switched on so as to influence the rotor's magnet very briefly - just long enough to cause the rotor to "bridge the gap" so that the cycle can repeat. (There is a very clear diagram and two photographs of a prototype.)

While looking at that page (which is only very short), click on some of the links within it. I'll say no more about them here - other than to mention the possibility that they may cause you to raise an eyebrow or two.

I'll admit that I had trouble seeing exactly how the electromagnet in the Magnetic Wankel engine could do what was required well enough to achieve the desired result. Perhaps I'm missing something obvious - but it seemed to me that it would be at least desirable, if not absolutely necessary, to have the electromagnet not only attract the rotor's magnet as it approaches, but also to repel it when it had gone past to be sure of sending it on its way.

Last year (2008), when I was looking into these matters, I had in mind to attempt to build a motor of this type at some stage. However, while continuing my web-search for more detailed information, both in TB's web-pages and elsewhere, I kept running across the name of John Bedini, and links to web-pages discussing something called the "Bedini motor".

Eventually, I followed some of these links. As soon as I saw the circuit diagrams, I knew that I had found what I was looking for: a motor whose rotating element contained one or more permanent magnets, and an electromagnet driven by a simple but ingenious circuit which would indeed repel the rotor's magnets at exactly the right moment. From that point on, I was determined to build a Bedini motor of my own, and see for myself just what it was all about.

The following link (which I've already presented in earlier pages) gives a very good introduction; have a look now if you haven't already:

Bedini Simple Science Fair Motor

As mentioned earlier, I have in fact now built two Bedini motors (or "monopole motors"), and produced a web-page about each, whose links are given above. (Those links also appear - along with a link to this page, among others - on my researches into zero-point energy menu page. I have plans to build at least one more, which will also appear as an item on that menu.)

Here's one more link about Bedini motors, before moving on, just to give you some background and a "flavour" of what this exciting topic is all about:

So - what do the devices mentioned above all have in common?

The most obvious thing is that they all involve permanent magnets, in one way or another.

Leaving aside the Thesta Distatica for the moment, consider the MEG, the Magnetic Wankel Engine, and the monopole motor. Reading through some of the web-pages whose links appear above, it can be seen that each of these devices features one or more permanent magnets in ways which seem to suggest that their magnetism plays an essential rôle in their ability to tap into ZPE, as follows:

In the MEG (as I've mentioned before), a strong magnet forms part of the core. In both Wankel and monopole motors, magnets form part of the rotors; in the former (but not in the latter), they also form part of the stator. (I'm a poet and I didn't know it... )

(As I've also mentioned before, toward the end of my second page on electromagnetism, Werner Heisenberg, one of the early researchers into quantum mechanics, once stated his belief that it should be possible to utilize permanent magnets as an energy source.)

What other feature do those devices all share?

Again leaving aside the Thesta Distatica initially, they all involve high-voltage transients.

The MEG's driving circuit provides nearly rectangular pulses to the input coils. In mathematical terms, in a transient involving a coil, voltage is proportional to the derivative (i.e. rate of change) of current with respect to time:

v = L.di/dt      (where L is the self-inductance of the coil, measured in henrys)

If the current changes rapidly, a short-duration high-voltage transient or "spike" is thus produced. [I've made reference to this previously in my page about induction coils: when an electromagnet is switched off, the resulting rapid drop in current causes a high-voltage transient (with the collapsing magnetic field playing a pivotal rôle, in that case, and leading to a rapid series of alternating positive and negative spikes forming a damped oscillation, as a direct consequence of a law of nature known as Lenz's Law). With more modern technology - in a modern car ignition system, for example - the same effect can be produced electronically. If my understanding is correct (and I'm not sure that it is!), this is very similar to what happens in the MEG.]

In the monopole motor, the spikes are produced as a rotor magnet moves away from the coil. Again, a collapsing magnetic field is involved.

This is a frame from a video of my first monopole motor operating. It also features in my page specifically about that motor.

The HV transient spikes are clearly visible in the oscilloscope trace.

Having not actually built a Magnetic Wankel Engine (as yet), I suspect that something very similar happens there also (at least in some versions): a rapidly collapsing current gives rise to a high-voltage spike.

The impression I get is that the combination of the permanent magnet's field and the high-voltage transients provides ideal conditions for some ZPE to be harnessed to keep the device "ticking over", with enough extra - if the device is built well enough - to do some external work (such as charging a second battery, in the case of the monopole motor).

Here are a few more links to interesting web-pages which mention one or more of these three devices:
(Also, follow the numerous links within that page.)
(The YouTube video presented here appears to be a working model of a Magnetic Wankel Engine - most interesting!)
(This one made me chuckle. The guy is obviously a fellow junk-collector.  It's mainly about his Bedini monopole motor, but we get a bit of a look at his Magnetic Wankel Engine too. Amusing commentary - great fun.)
(Basically more background material on the Magnetic Wankel Engine.)

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Now - what can we say about the operation of the Thesta Distatica?

What indeed. Assuming that the reports are correct, and the device really does exist and contains features as depicted in numerous web-pages (some of whose links are given above), there certainly are permanent magnets involved, although (apparently) in a somewhat different manner than in the other three devices discussed here. In this case, there are two horseshoe magnets, each with wire windings and with some kind of plastic block arrangement between its ends.

As for high voltages: assuming that "Wimshurst machine-like" high-voltage static electricity has at least some rôle in the device's operation, perhaps conditions are created to allow ZPE to play its part in a manner basically similar to its action in the other three devices.

Apart from that - I'll admit I'm stumped! I can't add to anything that has already been said by other interested parties, as presented in some of those web-pages whose links are provided above. If I ever find anything more about it, you can bet I'll post it here!

There's a certain delicious irony about all this.

Whilst acknowledging the fact that there may be other ways to access ZPE other than via high-voltage transients, I think that it's highly significant that one of the most easily-accessible means of doing so (for the home experimenter, certainly) does rely on these transients. I'm referring specifically to the monopole motor, which can be built quite easily by anyone with a bit of technical know-how and which provides enough avenues for "tinkering" to allow the amateur scientist to develop a "feel" for how it works, and perhaps make a significant contribution.

For most of the history of practical electricity generation, i.e. the twentieth century, scientists and engineers have spared no effort to eliminate high-voltage transients, considering them to be wasteful of energy.

Indeed, even Tesla himself was the one to pioneer the smoothly-functioning AC power system used throughout the world today, with his invention of the commutator-less induction motor - which for the first time made possible the generation of AC electricity, easily-transmissable with low losses over long distances. However, he knew that this wasn't the final answer, and continued his researches into something even better - something that would provide "free" energy to all, much to the consternation of business tycoons such as J.P.Morgan, who effectively put a stop to his efforts in that direction.

Tesla was aware of the existence of what he called "radiant energy", and he knew that it could be accessed by "disruptive" high voltage discharges. It's worthy of note that this harks back to the physics of the nineteenth century - the era of such devices as the induction coil and the Wimshurst machine.

Don't get me wrong. The twentieth century saw great developments in technology, with the advent of cheap, practical electronic devices, particularly with regard to communications - and, especially, the modern computer and the internet by which you are now reading these words. But it also saw the gradual partitioning of science into special-interest areas, and its stultification by the system of grants and the much-lauded peer-review process, making it very difficult for brilliant thinkers to have an individual input without invoking the ire of their less imaginative colleagues. Wings are clipped; creativity is stifled - and science by committee has become the norm, for the past several decades.

The irony lies in the fact that, precisely because of the communications revolution, independent experimenters can now share their own ideas and experiences - without being hamstrung by scientific orthodoxy - in a way which has been impossible for far too long. At last, the exciting, quirky scientific mood of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (when the best scientists were also inventors) is making a comeback, along with some of that era's long-discarded notions, in the quest for a source of energy that will enable us to have a modern lifestyle without destroying our world - just as Tesla himself envisioned. It's "back to the drawing-board", basically!

Finally, two-thirds of a century after his death, it seems that the old master is about to be vindicated after all.

Now: a few comments about some of the terminology which goes along with discussions of the phenomena we are talking about here.

I've already made reference to my belief that the terms "zero-point energy", "radiant energy", and "energy from the vacuum" all refer to essentially the same thing.

You may have heard of something called "ether", or "the ether". It was once thought that there was something which permeated space and acted as a medium for light (and other electromagnetic radiation) to pass through, much as sound needs a medium (air, usually, in our common experience - although sound can pass through liquids and solids as well as through air, or other gases).

In this context, the word is often spelled as "aether", or (in diphthong form) "ćther", in order to distinguish it from "ether" - the usual name for the organic compound whose formula is C2H5OC2H5 , which is also known by several other names including "diethyl oxide". Having pointed this out, for the sake of simplicity I'll continue to use the word "ether" here.

It's also often referred to as the "luminiferous ether", to emphasize the fact that its existence was considered necessary as a medium for the transmission of light. Whatever we may choose to call it, its existence was challenged toward the end of the nineteenth century; eventually, a very cleverly-planned series of experiments by American physicists Albert Michelson and Edward Morley at least appeared to rule out the existence of the ether. At the very least, these - and later experiments conducted by other researchers - showed that there was something wrong with the common conception of ether at the time.

It's a complicated story, which is well told in this Wikipedia page. It involves the development of both Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity and quantum mechanics, both of which are far from easy to understand and which at least seem to be at odds with each other.

For our purposes here, the concept of the ether is of continuing interest because it has about it the suggestion of a vast store of energy spread throughout the universe. Some people continue to use it, in one way or another, to refer to what many (myself included) prefer to call zero-point energy, which definitely does exist in vast profusion - as even the most mainstream of mainstream scientists will agree (albeit with some reticence).

Another term that you may run across is "quantum foam" (click here to see the Wikipedia article). Just what exactly does this term mean? Well, I'll admit that I don't know, and therefore don't feel qualified to dicuss it further; however, may I sincerely invite you to click here to see a YouTube video by someone else who doesn't know either, but who kindly takes the trouble to share his profound insights on the subject with us.

Yet another term you may have heard is "the fine structure of space". Here's a link to a discussion page about this and related matters. The term "quantum vacuum" - closely related to "quantum foam" - also features here. (Even "string theory" gets an airing. )

I'll have a bit more to say about such matters in another page; but for now, let's move on to other concepts of more obviously practical importance: over-unity, efficiency, entropy, and coefficient of performance (COP).

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I've already used the term "over-unity" a few times in this page, without (so far) explaining or justifying the concept.

It has about it something of the "smell" of perpetual motion, of creating energy, of getting something for nothing. Is that what it's all about?

Emphatically: no, that's not what it's about at all. It's about expending a small amount of energy in order to access a larger energy source.

There's nothing mysterious about this. Here are some common examples:

Every time you plug in and switch on an electrical appliance, it takes a little bit of effort to do so: you have to insert the plug into the wall-socket, switch on the power, and if necessary also operate the device's own switch. The result is that you then have immediate access to a lot of electrical energy provided by the power station in your area. The small amount of energy you expend in connecting to it pales into insignificance by comparison.

When your foot presses on the accelerator in your car, that little bit of effort is rewarded by an increase in the car's speed, as more fuel/air mixture is fed to the engine which thus develops more power. The relatively small amount of energy in the muscles of your foot provides the means to accessing the far greater source of useful energy inherent in the petrol in the car's fuel tank.

Even something as simple as opening the blinds or curtains over a window - which takes a little bit of energy - allows the sun's heat into the house to warm it up. Again, all we do is open a pathway to that greater store of energy. At no point are we creating energy!

It's exactly the same with a device which taps into zero-point energy.

Let's stick with the monopole motor for the moment, mainly because - having built a couple of these already - I'm comfortable with the basic idea of how they work. Without going into a lot of detail here (I do go into considerable detail in my dedicated pages about these motors), the basic idea is that we expend a small amount of electrical energy to run a simple electronic circuit which creates the conditions for some ZPE to enter the system. If the device is built well enough, the amount of energy we receive from the zero-point field will be greater than the amount we have to invest in order to run the device.

It really is that simple!

The term "over-unity" simply means that the ratio of the amount of useful energy we get out of a system to the amount we put in is greater than one. We invest a small amount of energy in order to access a larger amount of energy from another source. That's all! No violation of the laws of physics! No "free lunch"! Just a little bit of cleverness to get at what is already there, and always has been.


Perhaps you're not convinced. Maybe you think that's all a bit too glib. Okay - let's examine the issue from a different perspective.

Efficiency is a concept with which most people are probably reasonably familiar. An efficient worker is one who "gets the job done" quickly and with a minimum of fuss. Similarly, an efficient machine is one which wastes as little energy as possible to achieve a desired result.

Internal combustion engines are notoriously inefficient. They are noisy, and they pump out incompletely burnt gases. (Catalytic converters help to a certain extent.)

Electric motors, on the other hand, are quite efficient (if they are well-built). Even good-quality old-fashioned electric motors with commutators and brushes are more efficient than internal combustion engines of comparable size and power. (Such motors are still used in some applications, such as car starter motors, vacuum cleaners and power tools, which are inherently noisy. They're also used in toys such as model electric trains and slot cars. The noise and heat produced by the friction of the brushes on the spinning commutator represents wasted energy.)

Induction motors - the type invented by Nikola Tesla - are more efficient than motors with commutators. In an induction motor, the only friction (other than the small amount caused by air resistance in any machine) is within the bearings; there are no moving contacts. (Induction motors are used to run electric fans, refrigerator and air-conditioner compressors, and lifts in multi-storey buildings, for example.) They run a lot more quietly than commutator motors, and waste less energy.

But even the most efficient machines commonly in use - even induction motors - can't output more energy than they take in. If a particular machine could change energy from one form to another perfectly, i.e. without any losses at all, it would have "100% efficiency": the ratio of useful energy output to energy input from all sources would be equal to one.

For most of the nineteenth century, steam engines were the workhorses of the industrial revolution. The science of thermodynamics was developed largely as a result of the perceived need to make them more efficient. In 1863, German physicist Rudolph Clausius introduced the concept of entropy to help clarify the matter.

It's possible to deal with entropy in a very technical way. If S represents entropy, T represents temperature, and q represents heat which moves during a process, the equation

dS = dqrev/T

is a way of difining entropy in the language of differential calculus. (The subscript "rev" means "reversible".)

But we don't need to go to that level of sophistication to get an intuitive understanding of what it's about. The basic idea is that, in a closed system, the only kind of process in which entropy doesn't change is a reversible one. In any other kind of process in a closed system, entropy does change - in fact it increases.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is the physical law which deals with entropy. This page provides a good introduction.

Entropy can be thought of as a measure of disorder. Any process which is irreversible (and that includes almost all "useful" processes) involves energy changing from one state to a more disordered state - ultimately, to heat (i.e. random movement of atoms and molecules).

This is why, in a closed system in which an irreversible process is taking place, the amount of useful energy output is less than the applied energy input - i.e. the efficiency is always less than 100%.

- Which, on the face of it, all sounds very depressing. It has about it the notion that, ultimately, sources of available energy are being depleted beyond repair. (We hear more and more about "peak oil", which, of course, is part of this.)

As a uni. student in the 1970's, I - and all the other physical science students - were imbued with the idea that the relentless increase of entropy was the final, ultimate reality. "The universe is running down" was the prevailing doctrine. We heard about the impending "heat death" of the universe: when everything is at the same temperature, nothing will ever "happen" again, and "time will cease".

But is it all true?

You may have noticed that I've somewhat sneakily slipped in the phrase "closed system" without (so far) explaining it. A closed system is essentially an isolated set-up in which one can perform experiments without allowing any matter to get in or out. Click here to read the Wikipedia article about it.

It's possible to see things such as car engines as closed systems - or, at least, as reasonable approximations to such. (We need to include the fuel and exhaust within our closed system, to do this properly.) We can measure energy input, energy output, temperatures, pressures etc. - and, sure enough, we find that entropy does indeed increase within that system.

The same is true for an electric power station, a windmill - basically, any machine we care to build to provide energy in forms we find useful. There are losses due to friction, to incomplete burning of fuels, to any number of things that represent imperfections. It's a law of nature - in a closed system. (All the little home-made electrical gadgets I've described in pages within this website, made from bits'n'pieces - or junk, if you like - are, I'm sure, extremely wasteful of energy, with their creaky bearings, scrappy moving contacts, untidily-wound coils, and various other little "glitches"!)

But - is the entire universe a closed system?

It's a very big laboratory. What sort of arrogance does it take to generalize our laws of thermodynamics - which deal with closed systems - to describe the entire universe?

This is where there's room for disagreement. Some scientists are now doubting that these laws do, in fact, describe the entire universe adequately - and that's what sparks the enthusiasm of many, myself included, for the possibility of a truly sustainable energy source for our planet's future.

For a light-hearted and quite entertaining discussion of these matters, have a look at this web-page.

There's one term in my list (above) which I haven't yet discussed: "coefficient of performance", or COP.

Since the work of Hendrik Casimir and Marcus Sparnaay in the 1940's and '50's, it has been accepted that, in principle at least, zero-point energy can be harnessed to do useful work. That's half a century ago.

If you haven't yet seen my original page on zero-point energy, in which I've gone into some detail about these matters, may I ask you to do so now, should you feel the need for more background information.

The debate that is now raging over whether ZPE can really do what we'd like it to do often pivots on whether it is subject to the laws of thermodynamics, which in turn basically hinges on whether or not the universe is a "closed system" in the sense described above. I make no secret of the fact that I don't believe it is, which in turn allows me to at least strongly suspect that the harnessing of ZPE is feasible and exactly what we need.

Assuming for the moment that I'm right about this (along with a lot of other people), how does it all tie in to what's been said about efficiency?

Any machine we build to tap into ZPE will, of itself, have an efficiency of less than 100%. (I shudder to think how inefficient my little monopole motors might be!) But if such a machine, with all its clunkiness, can nevertheless set up the conditions by which enough ZPE can be accessed to overcome our machine's thermodynamic limitations sufficiently well to keep the machine going - with at least a bit more energy harvested from the zero-point field which we can use to do some "useful work" - then we've succeeded in building a "proof of concept" device.

This will happen if we achieve a situation in which the coefficient of performance is greater than 100% - that is, if the ratio of total energy output to energy input only by the operator is greater than one. At that point, we'll have achieved over-unity, as described earlier.

This page, which is a reply by Tom Bearden to a question about the difference between efficiency and COP, is well worth reading.

It won't matter if our machine isn't particularly efficient. Provided the amount of energy we can extract from the zero-point field is enough to overcome such deficiencies, we're winning!

(Of course, it will help if we make our machine as efficient as we possibly can, as it will then require less ZPE input to achieve a COP greater than 1. It's a case of doing the best we can with what we have available. If it also taps into ZPE effectively, thus increasing the COP value, we're winning twice.)

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Neither does it matter if such a device is little more than a toy. Michael Faraday's first hesitant attempts to unlock the secrets of electromagnetic induction involved the construction of gadgets which can now be viewed as little more than toys. But it's because of him, and Maxwell, Tesla and other researchers, that you are now reading this on your monitor's screen.

So far, I'll admit freely, my little machines are not yet "proof of concept" devices. But that doesn't deter me from trying to improve matters to the point where they are. There are plenty of people on the internet who have gone down this path, and many claim to have succeeded. I hope to become a member of the club very soon.

How about you?

I'd like to end this page on a personal note.

Since I started writing this page, my first grandchild - a little girl - has been born, prompting me to make the following observations:

The generation with which I grew up (the "baby boomers") are all now in their so-called middle years. (Does anyone really believe that I'm going to live for well over a century?) We saw - and caused! - some major changes in our time. I'd like to think that we at least helped to set the stage for a better world in all sorts of ways - although it seems that, as a demographic, somewhere down the track we dropped the ball. We represent the recent past.

My kids (both of whom are now young adults, struggling to find their way in what has become an alarming, uncertain world) are part of the generation that will be making the decisions that will shape the world for the next quarter of a century or so. I'm hoping that their generation will successfully take up where ours left off. They represent the present.

My new little grand-daughter represents the future - which, I earnestly hope, will be worthy of her and her generation.

If we continue to allow the big decisions to be made by economists and greedy business-people, it won't be. With our world facing environmental and economic disaster, and with world-wide respect for the political process at an all-time low, now is the time for people who want to rebuild the world - in some semblance of how it was before institutionalized greed took over - to get busy.

We do now have, in some parts of the world at least, political leaders who seem worthy of the tag. But even they still appear to be at sixes and sevens regarding what to do, thinking that they can fix the world's problems by shuffling vast amounts of non-existent money around, or by introducing laws about such airy-fairy things as carbon credits and/or carbon taxes.

(Please - don't get me wrong on this. Until we do have practical sustainable energy solutions - whether or not they involve zero-point energy - anything that might serve to slow down our planet's rate of decay is perhaps worth a try, even economic "fixes" which may at least serve to dissuade the big polluters from continuing in their nefarious activities, in the short-term at least, by targeting their hip-pocket nerve. But I don't for one nanosecond believe that such things can ultimately be any more than a "band-aid" on the running sore of climate change; what is needed is a real, practical, technological solution which will cure the problem once and for all - and we need it very soon. UPDATE, 27th August 2011: A little over two years later, I no longer believe that any such financial "band-aid" solution - partial or otherwise - to the problem will do any good at all. We now have a federal government which has intends to put a "price on carbon" very soon - and I've become convinced that this is all they'll ever do, and that real investment into genuine scientific research into real solutions are but a pipe dream; click here to visit my new Sixes and sevens page in which I've had quite a bit more to say about this.)

As I write this, on Monday 4th May, 2009, the latest news is that the Australian federal government has decided to delay its carbon emissions trading scheme legislation because of the economic downturn. How long is it going to take these well-meaning but misguided people to understand that economics must come second to environmental considerations - that it's pointless to have an economy if the people it is supposed to serve don't have a planet fit to live on?!

Right now is the time for the people - you and I - to try to help our leaders understand that they are missing the point: it's money (and the love of it) that has caused the problems over the last century or two; and what we need now is a completely new and different approach. We need to start again at the grass-roots level, and get it right, before it's too late. We need to tackle these problems with imagination - with courage, and with inventive, truly scientific drive of the type that was prevalent a century or so ago - if we are to fix them. Simply playing these tired old money-games is never going to do any lasting good at all.

The most important thing to strive for, if we are to have both a healthy planet and a properly-functioning economy, is cheap, safe, sustainable energy for all. The trail has already been blazed. What actions are now taken by those of us who understand these things will be of critical importance. Please...

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