The following post has been submitted by Michael Lammert, who posts here under the name Dr Mike.
Engineering and Marketing Issues for Commercializing the E-Cat QX
Michael Lammert (aka Dr. Mike)
October 29, 2017
For the many followers of Rossi’s development of the E-Cat technology, a key question often asked is when will Rossi have a marketable commercial product that uses his technology? One way to attempt to estimate the time it will take for Rossi to develop a marketable product is to look at the engineering and marketing issues that need to be resolved before the E-Cat technology can be commercialized. One assumption that must be made is that the E-Cat QX technology (the third generation E-cat technology) is the one that will be commercialized. However, with no accepted theory for LENR (Low Energy Nuclear Reactions) it certainly seems possible that a better understanding of LENR theory can lead to a LENR device that will make the E-Cat QX device obsolete. Perhaps the November demonstration of the E-Cat QX will show that the QX technology is ready for commercialization even if future advances in LENR technology might make this device obsolete in a few years. Successful commercialization of the E-Cat technology may very well depend on how fast the technology can be brought to the market, which in turn depends on how well and how quickly engineering issues are resolved.
The November Demonstration
Engineering concern #1 for Rossi should be running the November demonstration of the E-Cat QX technology in a manner that is acceptable to the scientists and engineers that have been following the technology. Good results from a demonstration based on sound scientific experimental procedures will go a long way toward showing the potential and credibility of the technology. What I would like to see in the demonstration as a minimum are 1) the on-off capability of the device, 2) an accurate measurement of device output power, and 3) an accurate measurement of the device input power OR an accurate measurement of input power to the controller. Although I think it would be better if a module of about 10 devices were used in the demonstration, a test of a single device would be adequate if accurate measurements can be made on a single device. Although potential users of QX devices will eventually want to see a demonstration of a long duration test run, a test of a couple of hours is all that can be expected for the November test. Also, if the output of QX device is adjustable by the controller, then it would be good to see this feature demonstrated in the November test. (For example if the nominal output of the QX device is 20W, after a demonstration of a 20W steady state output, adjust the controller for an output of ~15W, then for an output of ~25W.)
Based on the limited information that Rossi has released regarding the November test, the output power from the device or module will be measured by the heating of water with no phase change of the water. The simple measurements of water flow and temperature rise should make for an accurate measurement of QX output power assuming that all measuring equipment are properly calibrated. The most scientific calibration procedure for output power measurement would to be to replace the QX device or module with a heat source (resistance heater) operating at about the same output power and then verify the measured output power using water flow and temperature rise is equal to the input power of the heat source. If a control heat source is not used to calibrate the measured output power, then water flow meter should be independently calibrated and the water temperature rise should be measured using two independent instruments.
The big question for the November demonstration is will Rossi make a measurement of the device input power in a manner that is deemed accurate by the audience observing the test? If the controller is only delivering a dc or low frequency current to the device then the device’s input power can easily be measured with a conventional power meter. However, if a conventional power meter is used, the output of the controller must be checked with an oscilloscope to verify that no high frequency power is being delivered to the device. If the controller is delivering a high frequency input to the device (or module) and Rossi does not want to reveal the nature of this input, then there is no way to determine the input power going to the device. The device COP can not be determined if the controller supplies high frequency input power to the QX device, but this power is not included in the measured input power. However, the device COP is really of no importance. Every use of the QX devices will require a controller. The users of heat from an array of QX devices will only be concerned with the system COP. Therefore, assuming Rossi does not want to reveal the output of the controller, the system COP needs to be demonstrated in the November test by measuring the input power to the system (the controller). If the controller has not yet been optimized, this system COP may not be that great, but at least it will tell the world what the current state of the technology is. It might be expected that the power consumed by the controller is some constant value plus a delta power for each device connected to the controller. It would be good to know the current values for the constant power and the delta power, and what is projected for these values in the future with an optimized controller design.
- Device Power Output and Life
Rossi has established the output power of the baseline E-Cat QX device at about 20W with a nominal fuel load for the device to operate for one year. Obvious questions that my be asked by the curious engineer include 1) why not increase the device size (surface area) by a factor of 5 so that the device can output 100W thereby reducing the components needed for any system by a factor of 5, and 2) why not increase the device size (internal volume) by a factor of 2 or 3 so that the QX device can operate for 2-3 years, instead of 1 year, on a single load of fuel? My guess is that Rossi will not answer these questions, although some of the answers might become evident when the patent for the QX device is released. My guess is that the device size, output power, and fuel load were optimized relative to issues such as, ability to achieve a rapid on-off function for the QX device, keeping electrical connections and electrodes from melting, and perhaps minimizing hot spot formation. As the E-Cat QX device technology matures, it might be desirable to determine if technology improvements might permit a higher powered and/or longer life device to be fabricated.
The key ramification of the QX device having only a 20W output is that both the manufacturing of the QX device and its assembly into modules must be fully automated before the start of commercial production of any products requiring a moderate to large heat supply. Also, if an attempt is made to refuel QX devices, the module disassembly process and the entire re-fueling process will have to be fully automated. It should also be noted that automated testing of the individual QX devices will need to be incorporated into the robotic manufacturing process flow.
- Determine the Maximum Device Density
One engineering issue that probably has not yet been addressed by Rossi’s team is a determination of the maximum device density that can be used in modules in which the design permits a QX device to be heated by its neighboring devices. Minimum device spacing can determined by modeling if Rossi has someone on his team that has expertise in heat flow modeling. This assumes knowledge already exists for how reliability is affected by the device temperature.
- Controller Design
Rossi has stated that a single controller should be able to control 200 of the QX devices, although it is doubtful that such a controller has yet been built. How would the controller be configured to control 200 devices? Although it is possible that the controller could have one output for each device, it seems that this would make the module wiring quite cumbersome. It is hard to imagine how a controller could turn on a group of series connected QX devices, but this option should be considered until more information about how the devices are turned on becomes available. The fact that each QX device has an internal 1 ohm series resistor tends to support the idea that groups of QX devices will be connected in parallel to controller. The 1 ohm resistor would help balance the current flow to each parallel connected QX device since any increase in current drawn by the device would result in a larger voltage drop across the resistor, which in turn would reduce the voltage across the QX device. It might be possible for a single controller to have one output with 200 parallel connected QX devices, or the controller might have 10-20 outputs, with each output parallel connected to 1/10 or 1/20 of the 200 devices.
It is not clear what feedback is supplied to the controller to determine how to adjust the output signal going to the QX devices. It seems likely that there will be one source of feedback (probably a thermocouple) for each output of the controller. It is also not known what signal the controller supplies to adjust the output power of the QX devices. Previous information indicates the controller is supplying a low voltage, low current dc signal to the QX device. Rossi’s reluctance to put an oscilloscope across the output of the controller may indicate that the controller is also supplying the QX device with some high frequency signal. The controller will also have to supply some type of high voltage pulse to turn on the QX devices. Some of the issues of the controller design include:
- Can one controller really operate 200 QX devices?
- The wiring going from the controller to the devices will have to be able to handle any high voltage pulse used to turn on the devices and possibly high frequency signals if such signals are used for device control.
- Can the controller determine if some of the parallel connected devices do not turn on?
- If a controller output is connected to a number of devices, what will happen if the device closest to the feedback sensor dies?
- Over what range of output power can the controller adjust for variable load conditions?
Before a commercial product can be developed it will be necessary to develop a master controller to operate all of the individual module controllers. The master controller would have to be able to determine what devices should be turned on for partial load conditions and track the total operation time of each group of devices to extent the life of products with intermittent use and/or variable loads.
- Failure Modes, Failure Mechanisms and Reliability
One very important engineering task that Rossi seems to be working on diligently is determining the reliability of the E-Cat QX device. It is important to identify the modes of device failure and the consequences of that failure. Some possible modes of failure and their consequences are:
- Device fails to turn on at first use- not a big issue if the frequency of occurrence is very low, some redundancy is built into the module, and other devices using the same controller are not affected
- Device fails to turn on after successfully operating for some time period- not a big issue if the frequency of occurrence is very low, some redundancy is built into the module, and other devices using the same controller are not affected
- Device dies with a catastrophic failure- any failure that might damage to adjacent devices, the module wiring, or the controller must be eliminated
- Device dies as an “open” or very high resistance- not a big issue if the frequency of occurrence is very low, some redundancy is built into the module, and other devices using the same controller are not affected
- Device dies as a “shorted” or very low resistance device- not a big issue if the frequency of occurrence is very low, some redundancy is built into the module, and other devices using the same controller are not affected
- Device does not achieve as high of temperature as other parallel connected devices- not a big issue if the frequency of occurrence is very low, some redundancy is built into the module, and other devices using the same controller are not affected
An “open” or high resistance failed device probably would not affect parallel connected devices, but would cause a failure of all series connected devices. A “shorted” or low resistance failed device would only affect parallel connected devices. However, with each QX device having a 1 ohm series resistance a shorted QX device would not affect other operating devices, but probably would prevent all parallel connected devices from being turned off, then back on again. (Note: Since devices running out of fuel will likely be “open” devices, it really would not make sense to connect QX devices in series.)
What causes devices to fail? Hopefully, this question is being investigated extensively by Rossi so that all know failure mechanisms can be eliminated, minimized or controlled. Some possible failure mechanisms and likely failure mode include:
- Device runs out of fuel- the device would likely die as an “open” device and fail to turn on after many successful on-off cycles
- Reactor chamber is poorly sealed- device may fail to turn on or die as an “open” device after a short operation period
- Localized hot spot causes catastrophic failure of QX reactor chamber- device could die as either a “short” or an “open”, but may damage adjacent devices, module wiring, or the controller
- Manufacturing defect results in device not heating as hot or heating much hotter than other parallel connected devices- under heating is not a big issue if the frequency of occurrence is low, but over heating could result in catastrophic failures
- Defects in materials used to build the QX devices- could result in any type of failure mode
The goal for the QX device production should be elimination of all failure mechanisms (at a six sigma level) other than running out of fuel. Even the running out of fuel failure mechanism needs to be controlled to a tight time distribution. If the nominal mean time to failure is 365 days, it would be desirable to achieve a standard deviation of less than 10 days with a Gaussian distribution of failure times. It should be noted that goal of the initial reliability investigation should be to identify failure mechanisms that need to be eliminated in the automated manufacturing process. Actual reliability testing can only be done on QX devices that are made on the automated line. It is quite possible that it will take numerous “tweaks” to the automated manufacturing line before QX devices can be made reliably.
If the QX device can be operated at higher than nominal powers (that is, higher temperatures), it should be possible do accelerated life testing to determine a mean time to failure at the device’s actual operating temperature. Accelerated life testing should also generate enough failures to determine all failure mechanisms that might occur, at least all failure mechanisms with high activation energies. To verify that the devices do not have a low activation energy failure mechanism, a large group of parts (thousands) will have to be run at standard operating conditions until failures are observed (or until the fuel source is depleted).
Another issue that might affect the QX device reliability is the environment that the device is in, such as air, an inert gas, water, steam, or some heat transfer liquid. Reliability really needs to be evaluated for each possible environment.
Rossi has stated that after one year of use, the QX devices will be re-fueled on the automated manufacturing line. It would not be surprising if ability to achieve high quality, reliable re-fueled devices ended up being a time consuming project, perhaps due to some problem, such as achieving good sealing on re-fueled devices. Also, the ability to reliably re-fuel QX devices could depend on the environment the device was in during its initial use, which may require a way to track devices, perhaps with an ID number. Also, after devices have been re-fueled once, can they be re-fueled reliably a second, third or fourth time? The reliability will have to be verified before these multi-refill devices could be used in production.
In addition to verifying the reliability of the individual QX devices the reliability of the assembled modules and the controllers must be verified before products can be sold. It would probably be hard to verify the reliability of the modules and associated controllers without actually building some real products and operating them for an extended time.
- Optimizing Heat Transfer
A key engineering issue for the design of any commercial product will be how to transfer the heat from the QX devices to the medium that is to be heated. Does Rossi’s team have the expertise in heat flow modeling to design the most efficient modules for initial commercial applications? If not, hiring a person with this expertise should be a high priority.
- Module Design
One key element of the module design would be to incorporate into the design the ability to switch out modules while the system was still in operation. If this feature was part of the design, designing the system with 10% or so excess capacity would allow the system to run at full capacity during the yearly replacement of modules. In products in which the modules can not be changed out while the system is operating, it would be important that modules were designed for a quick exchange time to minimize the downtime of the product. The modules must also be designed for testability prior to insertion into the product to insure a rapid module exchange time.
One important decision that needs to be made in the module design is should the QX device controllers be part of the replaceable modules or should they be a fixed part of the products? The decision may depend on the product, but in general it seems that the reliability of the electrical connections between the controller and the QX devices would be much better, and it would be easier to pre-test the modules if the controllers were built into the modules in the automated assembly process. Even if the controllers are built into the modules there will be many electrical connections that need to be made between modules and a master product controller. A good product design must account for the need for reliable electrical connections to be made when modules are exchanged yearly.
- Expertise in Automated Manufacturing
If Rossi bought the wrong equipment either for manufacturing the QX devices or for assembling the modules, the commercialization of the E-Cat QX technology could be set back more than a year. Does Rossi’s team have the necessary expertise in automated manufacturing to buy the right equipment to facilitate automated production of QX devices and modules? Does his team have the expertise to set up and optimize this equipment?
- Rossi’s Plan for Commercialization
Rossi’s basic plan for commercialization comes directly from a statement he made recently in his blog: “Wide commercialization ….will be made when we will be able to make a massive production, to achieve an economy scale such that any reverse engineering will be not able to compete.” It seems fairly obvious that it won’t be possible to achieve a “wide commercialization” until the automated manufacturing is running since each commercial product will require a large number of QX devices. However, why does Rossi want to achieve “an economy scale such that any reverse engineering will be not able to compete”? Of course, once Rossi’s products are on the market they will be reverse engineered, but how will this help anyone compete with his products if they are protected with patent rights? Does this mean that Rossi does not plan on using patents and patent law to protect his technology rights? It makes one think there is a possibility that Rossi does not believe his patents are strong enough to protect his rights under US and international law. Has Rossi left some key features out of his patents that might make the patents invalid or non-enforceable? It seems that a much better marketing strategy would be to have such a strong portfolio of patents that no one else would have the technology to compete with the E-Cat QX technology unless they licensed it from Rossi.
- Overall Business Strategy
Rossi’s overall business strategy options range from being the sole production source for any equipment using the E-Cat QX technology to licensing the technology with no manufacturing of any devices or products. Rossi seems to want to retain a very tight control over the E-Cat technology and therefore might want to build all products using the technology. The problem with being a sole provider of products using the E-Cat QX technology is that even though there are potentially thousands of products that could make use of the E-Cat technology as a heat source, it would take years before Rossi could penetrate the markets of more than a few of these products. It might be a better business plan just to build the QX devices and the modules of devices for the many potential users of the E-Cat technology as a heat source, perhaps after building a prototype of some product for demonstration purposes. It should be noted that even just producing modules for all of these products would be an enormous task as most, if not all of the products would need their own unique module design. A robotic manufacturing assembly line would have to accommodate all of these different module designs. Once the technology matures it would make sense for Rossi to just provide the QX devices to his customers, and let those customers design and manufacture their own modules. Perhaps the large volume customers would want a license to build their own QX devices so that they were not dependent on a supplier for the key component of their products.
- Heat Can Not Be Marketed As a Universal Product
When Brilliant Light Power (BLP) first proposed their SunCell technology, in which the light output from a 3000ºK graphite sphere is to be converted to electricity using concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) cells, many asked why BLP just didn’t collect the heat from the graphite sphere and eliminate the need for expensive CPV cells. The reason is that they wanted to develop a single product that could deliver energy that everyone could use, that is dc electricity that with an inverter and a transformer could deliver dc or ac power to anyone that needed electricity. (BLP eventually extended their product plan to include a SunCell design that delivers thermal power, but this product’s primary purpose is an early demonstration of the SunCell technology.)
Heat is a much less marketable commodity than electricity in that users of heat want that heat in different forms, such as hot air, hot water, or steam. Rossi can not develop just a single product to deliver heat. He will essentially have to develop a unique product (the heat module) for every product that incorporates his technology. It will take a large marketing staff to sell the E-Cat QX technology to its many potential customers.
- Choice of Initial Product or Prototype
One critical marketing issue for Rossi is the choice of an initial product or demonstration prototype. Since potential customers might want their heat delivered in different forms, such as, hot air, heated water, or steam, it might good to develop several prototypes products, each with a different form of heat delivery. It seems fairly obvious that one prototype product should be a boiler of some type. (This was the choice made by Brilliant Light Power when they decided to market heat as an initial product for their SunCell technology.) A second prototype that might be considered is some type of commercial furnace. My recommendation for building these (or any other) initial prototypes is to buy an existing commercial product, remove the heat source from the product, then retrofit the product with modules of E-Cat QX devices to achieve the same performance as the original product. Good results on the performance of these prototypes should provide the marketing leverage that Rossi needs to get his E-Cat technology into hundreds, if not thousands of products.
In designing these prototypes an effort should be made to demonstrate an easy method of replacing the modules since the first question that any customer is going to ask is how hard is it to change out the modules each year? An optimum design would have the ability to change out modules while the product was still operating. If such a design is not practical, the design needs at least to demonstrate simplicity in exchanging QX device modules to minimize the time that the product is down during re-fueling.
- Establish a Timeline for Critical Milestones
A critical component of any marketing plan is to have a timeline with estimated dates of key milestones available for potential customers. Perhaps Rossi already has such a timeline, but has not yet made it public? Some of the milestone dates that might be included on a timeline are:
- Dates for hiring certain key personnel, such as an expert in setting up robotic manufacturing and an expert in heat flow modeling
- Failure mechanisms, failure modes, and reliability understood
- Controller design complete
- Module prototype design for one product complete
- Module prototype built
- Controller and module prototype integrated
- Initial product OR demonstration prototype product defined
- Initial prototype product built
- Automated E-Cat QX device fabrication running
- Reliability established for QX devices made robotically
- Automated module manufacturing running
- Reliability of robotically manufactured modules verified
- Awareness of the Competition
One important function of a marketing department is keeping track of the competition. Is Rossi’s team keeping track of their competitor’s progress in developing LENR technology? Have they analyzed the potential effects on their future business of Brilliant Light Power’s decision to develop a “thermal” product using their SunCell technology? If BLP and Rossi are both successful, would products based on Rossi’s QX device be competitive with an equivalent product from BLP? For generating 500MW of heat, would it be better to have an array of 1000 500KW SunCell based devices that may have a life of 15-20 years, or a system having 25,000,000 QX devices that must be changed out each year? It seems likely that the BLP SunCell technology would be favorable for most applications in which large amounts of heat were required. It is anticipated that the winner of the race to market between Rossi and BLP would have a sizable marketing advantage (unless their initial products are not reliable).
Everyone that has been following the development of Rossi’s E-Cat technology should know just how real that technology is after the November demonstration. However, even if the demonstration is deemed wildly successful by most or all observers, there is so much critical engineering work that needs to be completed (including many tasks that could take long time periods to complete successfully) that it could easily be several years before a reliable commercial product is ready to be sold. If the November demonstration does not clearly show the development state of the E-Cat QX technology, it would probably be prudent to add a couple more years to the anticipated product delivery time. We would have a better idea of when the first commercial products using the E-cat QX technology will be available if Rossi would publish a timeline for commercialization. This timeline could be tracked to verify that milestones were being met.