Free energy (pseudoscience)
| Style over substance|
“”There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.
|—American proverb[note 1]|
Free energy is the idea that a low-cost power source can be found that requires little to no input to generate a significant amount of electricity. Such devices can be divided into two basic categories: "over-unity" devices that generate more energy than is provided in fuel to the device, and ambient energy devices that try to extract energy from the environment, such as quantum foam in the case of zero-point energy devices.
Not all "free energy" claims are necessarily bunk, and not to be confused with renewable energy. There certainly is cheap-ass energy to be had in the environment that may be harvested at either zero cost or sustain us for long amounts of time. Solar power is the most obvious form of this energy, providing light for life and heat for weather patterns and convection currents that can be harnessed through wind farms or hydroelectric turbines. In 2009 Nokia announced they expect to be able to gather up to 20 milliwatts of power from ambient radio sources such as broadcast TV and cellular networks, enough to slowly recharge a typical mobile phone in standby mode. This may be viewed not so much as free energy, but energy that someone else paid for. Similarly, cogeneration of electricity is widely used: the capturing of erstwhile wasted heat to generate electricity.
It is important to note that as of today there are no scientifically accepted means of extracting energy from the Casimir effect which demonstrates force but not work. Most such devices are generally found to be unworkable. Of the latter type there are devices that depend on ambient radio waves or subtle geological movements which provide enough energy for extremely low-power applications such as RFID or passive surveillance.[note 2]
Free energy is a popular research subject for fringe inventors, but because of a lack of positive results that meet scientific standards, the field has become a haven for investment fraud and pseudoscience.
Free energy runs in paradox with the first and second laws of thermodynamics; because of the relationship of entropy and work, either the amount of mass/energy in the universe would have to increase (in over-unity devices), or the amount of entropy would need to decrease for a free energy device to function.
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Several ideas are often cited to continue claims of free energy.
- Maxwell's Demon — a thought experiment raised by James Clerk Maxwell in which a Demon guards a hole in a diaphragm between two containers of gas. Whenever a molecule passes through the hole, the Demon either allows it to pass or blocks the hole depending on its speed. It does so in such a way that hot molecules accumulate on one side and cold molecules on the other. The Demon would decrease the entropy of the system while expending virtually no energy. This would only work if the Demon was not subject to the same laws as the rest of the universe or had a lower temperature than either of the containers. Any real-world implementation of the Demon would be subject to thermal fluctuations, which would cause it to make errors (letting cold molecules to enter the hot container and vice versa) and prevent it from decreasing the entropy of the system.
- Casimir Vacuum Fluctuations — takes place between two uncharged plates in a vacuum. It demonstrates a force exerted by the known virtual photon field, but not work.
- The sentence was originally published in 1938 in the El Paso Herald-Post, but similar usage appeared in the 19th century; it was popularised by Robert A. Heinlein in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966).
- And such devices are therefore not vastly different from solar cells. The skeptical television show MythBusters aired an episode addressing free energy in 2006; only the RF-capture device using a long-wire antenna proved workable.
- There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch] (August 27, 2016) Quote Investigator.
- Nokia researching passive energy gathering technology (6/11/2009 10:00 AM EDT) EE Times (archived from 7 Jul 2013 13:12:26 UTC).
- See the Wikipedia article on MythBusters (2004 season) § Free Energy.
- AuroraTek Tried To Pitch Us A Gadget That Breaks The Laws Of Physics At CES by Kyle Russell (2:19 PM PST • January 8, 2015) TechCrunch.