18 December 2009

Free, as in beer

In these somewhat gloomy and depressed times, commentators from An Taoiseach down have urged the good citizenry of this country to stop all the complaining and moaning and for once try and focus on the positive and good in our humble society. It is thus rather heartening to be able to report that one plucky young upstart of an Irish company has managed to break through the cycle of begrudgery, doom-mongering and outright cynicism that dogs our fair nation and come up with a solution to the dual global crises of peak oil and climate change, while incidentally violating the fundamental law of conservation of energy.

I am of course referring to Dublin based Steorn, who in 2006 announced to the world that they had identified a process to produce free energy with no emissions, using magnets. Unfortunately their public demonstration failed because, um, the heat produced by lights illuminating the demonstration interfered with Steorn's equipment, and then an independent panel of experts invited by Steorn to examine the process failed to validate their claims. These little hiccups let loose a barrage of abuse from the mainstream scientific community, who poured scorn on the efforts of Steorn to usher in a new era of limitless green power.

Undaunted by all this negative karma, the lads are back, having tweaked the process a bit and now with a new panel of experts to examine their claims, and what's more the whole thing is being livestreamed. Even better, if you are in Dublin and have some time on your hands you can pop along and watch the whole thing in person.

Well coincidentally enough I live in Dublin, and I have an awful lot of time on my hands, so you can probably guess what happened next.

At the instigation of the inquisitive Mr Rhino, I journeyed down to the Waterways Interpretive Centre on the Grand Canal Basin to join him this very afternoon and as they say, put their manifesto to the testo.

What greets you inside is a perspex stand with three of Steorn's Orbo machines arranged at differing levels, with a number of web cams pointing at them. Each machine consists of a rechargable battery powering a series of electro-magnets. The electro-magnets are situated around a rotating wheel embedded with magnets, the rotation of which is caused by the interaction of the electromagnets and the embedded magnets. Now, here comes the science, for the rotation of the wheel produces electrical power which is then fed back into the rechargable battery, recharging it. So far, so good, but what Steorn then claim is that through their process, which is never fully explained, more energy is produced from the spinning wheel than is used to power the electro-magnets that cause it to spin, so in effect the rechargable battery will never significantly discharge and the wheel will remain in motion, um, perpetually.

We had a chat with some of the Steorn staff, who were in the process of setting up an area for rigorous testing and measuring of effects, all due to start this evening and screened live on their website. CEO Sean McCarthy was pottering about in the background but we didn't get a chance to talk with him directly, however we did get free Steorn t-shirts, which was nice. The demonstration is part of their public launch which opens up their technology to third parties wishing to license it.

While they wouldn't let us into their engineering room, the folks we talked with were keen to push their new Knowledge Development Base, a snip at only €325 for a developer license that will let you find out exactly what the Orbo technology is, and how to use it. Pretty damn cheap for unlimited free zero-emission energy if you ask me.

Now I'm not a physicist, in fact the extent of my understanding of physics allows me to reject the notion that the Large Hadron Collider will destroy us all while simultaneously finding it plausible that the Higgs Boson is reaching back in time and sabotaging the LHC to prevent its own creation. Not bad for an atheist theologian, I say. However when confronted by three spindizzies that purportedly violate a number of laws of thermodynamics created by a company that was previously a webdesign firm and creator of e-commerce sites, you can forgive me for being a little skeptical and calling shenanigans on the whole thing.

The little boy in me really wants Steorn to be something real, that we can bolt on a few of their Orbo machines around the city and lift the whole thing off into space and go exploring the stars, or, equally plausibly, sort out all the planet's energy and environmental problems. Sadly though I'm a 36 year old grown-up and the whole thing smacks of a giant viral marketing campaign for some sort of online business.

Which of course I'm feeding into by posting about this.

Click on the above photos for much larger and higher resolution images. Additional photos galore can be found here. Tinfoil hats are extra.

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