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I recently spent time in the outer office of a hypnotherapist. On the reading table were several issues of a New Age periodical called New Connexion. A front-page article entitled "Scalar Energy Device Patented -- Production Starts Next Year" caught my eye. As a patent attorney I was naturally curious.

United States Patent 6,362,718 was issued in March 2002. One of the inventors was Thomas Bearden, a well known free-energy proponent. According to the article, the Bearden patent covered what would soon become "the first commercially-available free-energy device in history." I thought, "Uh-oh, here we go again."

It was Sir Isaac Newton who said, "The seekers after perpetual motion are trying to get something from nothing." Newton may not have been the nicest man, but he was no slouch when it came to physics. His words ring true today.

The more I read of the article, the farther my eyebrows rose. By the time I finished, I think they were up around my hairline. The device is essentially an electromagnetic generator, with a twist. It extracts energy from the time domain, which is actually "compressed energy" in the same proportion as matter, the speed of light squared. The device draws from "the longitudinal electromagnetic waves that fill the ocean of space-time." There are no moving parts. It will output 2.5 kW of electricity, indefinitely, without drawing input power. Jump start it, and it goes. Forever.

I thought that if Einstein were in his grave (he was cremated), he would surely turn over upon hearing this.

First Perpetual Motion Machine
First Perpetual Motion Machine

Things that are patented must work as described. This principle acts as a form of "honesty cop" on outrageous invention claims. This wasn't always the case, but like an often-jilted lover, the patent office has become jaded and skeptical of inventions that claim to get something for nothing. The United States patent office didn't open its door until 1790, but the first English patent on a perpetual motion (PM) machine was granted long before that -- as early as 1635. Even the esteemed Leonardo da Vinci made a number of drawings of things he hoped would make energy for free. The Jesuit priest Johanes Taisnerius worked on a magnetic-based perpetual motion machine. By 1903, some have estimated that as many as 600 patents on PM devices had been granted in England alone. By the end of the Civil War, PM machines had made their way into the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Although the USPTO now enforces a strict policy of declining patents on PM devices, as late as 1973 a man named Howard R. Johnson filed and received a patent on a Permanent Magnetic Motor. Not surprisingly, the device was never commercialized with any success.

Types of "Perpetual" Motion

Modern PM designs usually fall into one of a few well-known categories. All claim some technique for using a small impulse of startup energy to release a large and inexhaustible supply of sustained energy. First you have your so-called "radiant-energy" machines. Radiant energy is like electricity and is gathered directly from the environment by a method called "fractionation." Don't call it "static electricity" -- this upsets its proponents greatly. Radiant energy can perform the same wonders as ordinary electricity, at less than 1% of the cost.

Another class of device is the "mechanical heater." In one such machine, one cylinder is rotated within another cylinder with a slight gap of clearance between them. The space between the cylinders is filled with a liquid such as water or oil, which heats up as the inner cylinder spins. Another such machine uses magnets mounted on a wheel to produce large eddy currents in a plate of aluminum, causing the aluminum to heat up rapidly. In both cases, the heat generated is said to exceed the mechanical energy applied.

Another free-energy technique involves electrolysis, whereby water is broken down into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity. Standard chemistry books claim that this process requires more energy than can be recovered from the individual gases, but of course this is true only under the worst-case scenario. When water is electrified at its molecular resonant frequency, it collapses into hydrogen and oxygen gas with very little electrical input. Also, adding chemicals that make the water conduct electricity better improves the efficiency dramatically. Even more amazing, a special metal alloy patented in 1957 can spontaneously break water into hydrogen and oxygen with no outside electrical input at all, and without causing any chemical changes in the metal itself.

Then you have your implosion/vortex engines, which use cooling to produce suction, which in turn produces work. This is the opposite of the technique employed in combustion engines, which rely on primitive chemical explosions to get things moving. And don't forget cold fusion, made famous (or infamous) in 1989 by two chemists, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons of Brigham Young University.

Finally, you have your permanent magnet powered motors. Browsing a copy of the Bearden patent, it quickly became apparent that his invention fell into this category. I located the obligatory disclaimer of perpetual motion on page three (remember, the patent office has finally wised up to any devices that claim to provide free energy and will decline them out of hand). However, I discovered something else that surprised me. The thing might actually be useful, though not to provide free energy.

The Bearden Patent

Figures from the Patent Application
Figures from the Patent Application

The invention consists of one or more fixed-position permanent magnets and electromagnets (coils). An initial electrical impulse, repeatedly switched to the coils in precise timing, produces an ongoing output current. The output current persists without decay long after the initial impulse is over, and the device is self-powering. The performance ratio of the prototype is 3.4. Thus, for every watt of input power, 3.4 watts of output power are produced. At first glance it does appear to be a source of free energy.

What is going on? Is conservation of energy no longer a respected law of the universe? The patent provides the answer. If the device is not capturing and converting energy from its environment, it must be consuming itself. More accurately, the device must be disorganizing, e.g. increasing its entropy, like a battery. This breakdown of order is harnessed and transduced into electricity.

A conventional battery transduces chemical potential into electricity. This new device transduces magnetic potential into electricity. The device's permanent magnet is depleted in a controlled fashion. Eventually the magnet goes dead and the current stops flowing. What we have, then, is a magnetic battery. The permanent magnet may be constructed of samarium cobalt, which resists demagnetization.

One advantage of magnetic batteries is environmental. Isn't it preferable to litter our planet with demagnetized chunks of iron, cobalt, and boron, instead of fermenting battery acid? Forget about free energy, though. Commercially-practical magnets are not born, they are made. Making them takes energy. I suspect that when the energy of manufacturing samarium cobalt is factored into the equation, the performance ratio of the new device falls well below one. Another limitation is the output current. The experimental device produced current by the milliamps. Unless something improves, you won't be using magnetic batteries to start your car or heat your range top.

The White Paper

After filing the patent, Bearden and the other inventors posted a white paper claiming to have overcome the depletion problem. Surprise, surprise: they disclaim perpetual motion to win the patent, then quickly explain away the disclaimer. They now claim a theoretical foundation for operating magnetic batteries (or any batteries for that matter) indefinitely, without depletion. Several of the inventors have or claim to have scientific doctorate degrees and have been active in electromagnetic R&D for decades. Thus, their claims warrant at least some serious attention. Unfortunately, the first thing one notices about the white paper is the lack of scientific rigor. Equations are few and far between. The authors present only basic Maxwellian equalities, without enhancement. Virtually the entire sixty-nine page document is a rambling qualitative discourse. The pages are sprinkled with references to space-time, general relativity, and gauge field theory, in a fashion that can only be described as techno-babble.

I'm no quantum physicist, but statements from the paper such as the following do nothing to increase the authors' credibility:

In short, the mutual iterative interaction of each coil wound on the flux path of the special nanocrystalline material, with and between the two energy flows, results in special kinds of regenerative energy feedback and energy feedforward, and regauging of the energy of the system and the energy of the system process. This excess energy in the system and in the system process is thus a form of free and asymmetrical self-regauging, permitted by the well known gauge freedom of quantum field theory. Further, the excess energy from the permanent magnet dipole is continually replenished from the active vacuum by the stated giant negentropy process associated with the permanent magnet's magnetic dipole due to its broken 3-symmetry in its energetic exchange with the vacuum.

The thrust of the argument is that any energy potential -- a chemical battery, a magnetic dipole, even a rock balanced on a hill -- is a limitless well of free energy, if properly tapped.

In effect, the authors are saying, "We can cause electricity to flow forever from a battery by breaking the loop between the plus terminal and the minus terminal." They dangle the seductive fruit of limitless electricity, but omit the circuit diagram. I, and many others I am sure, would very much like to see how current can flow from a battery without closing the loop between plus and minus.

Qualitative dissertations packed with jargon but short on rigor have long been the refuge of quacks and marketeers. Such packaging gives legs to marginal theories, turning them into greased pigs not easily dispatched by experts in the field. The invention described in the patent is unambiguously a depleting magnetic potential battery. It could be useful, but it's no energy revolution. If the inventors ever receive a patent on a non-depleting version of their machine, the world will pay serious attention. Until then, free energy will remain in the realm of fiction, and no amount of hype will turn a battery into a bombshell.

There is an even deeper lesson here than the folly of chasing free energy. The proponents of such schemes generally fall into two categories: greedy con men, and "hermit scientists." This latter category of person is often highly intelligent, and is glamorized by such Hollywood movies as Back to the Future. Nonetheless, their isolation, ego, and mistrust of other scientists leads them to abandon rigor in the name of aggrandizement. All of science is interdependent, relying on the critique and revisions of others to correct errors in judgement and practice. The hard lesson here is that when a scientist, even a highly intelligent one, becomes detached from the scientific community, the result can be tragic.


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Charles Mirho is a patent attorney and freelance author. Prior to becoming a lawyer, Charles was a software programmer specializing in communications and multimedia. Charles has a JD from Santa Clara University and an MSEE from Rutgers. He has published two books and numerous fiction and nonfiction articles. Learn more about him and his work at his web site.

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