© H. Aspden, 2002

Professional engineers well know that there is no such thing as 'perpetual motion', but we do, from time to time, even in this 21st century, hear of those who claim to be able to produce motive power as if from nowhere, seemingly in defiance of the Principle of Energy Conservation. It surely implies a lack of education in physics and Newton's laws which govern mechanics. Even so, the professional engineer cannot rely too much on physics, especially the kind of physics that has evolved from Einstein's efforts, because there are those who see that as pointing a way forward to the day when we can travel through time by tunnelling through 'worm holes' in the fabric of 'space-time' having more than the three space dimensions one sees in the engineer's field of view.

When Newton devised his laws of mechanics his field of view looking across the surface of body Earth may have included the occasional windmill, something that could be seen as perpetual motion if one were secluded in a room with a window and had never been outside and sensed the power of moving air. One needs to understand the source of the energy input to avoid being deceived by the semblance of a device that runs with no power input.

One may then wonder if we have moved far enough on from Newton's time, given that we are now led to understand that those windmills are seen as our hope for salvation. It is stated on page 40 of the July 2002 issue of Physics World, the monthly journal of the Institute of Physics, that:

"The total wind-power resources available offshore are vast - easily enough to supply all of Europe's electricity. Several studies have shown that wind power could supply at least one-fifth of our electricity needs by 2010."

2010 is not that far into the future, bearing in mind that on February 4th,1923 J.B.S. Haldane read a paper to the Society of Heretics in Cambridge which included the passage:

"Personally, I think that 400 years hence the power question in England may be resolved somewhat as follows: The country will be covered by rows of metallic windmills working electric motors which in their turn supply current at very high voltage to great electric mains. At suitable distances, there will be great power stations where, during windy weather, huge reservoirs of liquified gases will enable wind energy to be stored, so that it can be expended for industry, transportation, heating and lighting, as desired ... no smoke or ash will be produced."

Now, it is not intended here to decry the future prospect of meeting our energy needs by harnessing wind-power, nor is it intended to support the bland notion of 'perpetual motion', but there is something that we engineers should understand concerning Newton's Laws of Motion. There are three such laws, the third law being the one which assures us that Action and Reaction are equal and opposite, meaning that there is no way of generating a propulsive force without having something external to push against, be it the exhaust gas of a jet engine or whatever. There is, however, also a fourth consideration which we know as 'Newton's Rule'. It is a proposition proved by derivation based on that third law plus the Principle of Conservation of Energy. That 'rule' asserts that two colliding bodies will separate with a relative velocity that has the same magnitude as the relative velocity upon collision but has its direction reversed. What this means is that if one squares the relative velocities the result is the same before and after impact, meaning that something that is a function of the relative velocity squared is itself conserved upon impact. That 'something' is energy, but energy of a form that was not known in physics in Newton's time.

A little consideration will then show that, had Newton asserted his 'rule' as a law, then by appealing to the Principle of Conservation of Energy he could have deduced instead the 'rule' that action equals reaction. The point one can now make is that Newton's Third Law need not be sacrosanct and can be broken if one has a situation where energy can be deployed, not at the moment of collision and immediate separation, but by an interaction across space separating the two bodies. This puts us in the realm of electrodynamics, where one encounter's the Neumann Potential and can trace its association to a 19th century proposition known as Fechner's Hypothesis by which one can derive the energy potential of two interacting electric charges in motion as being a function of the square of their relative velocities. Furthermore, electrodynamics involves so-called 'field energy' which is energy seated in whatever it is that we refer to as the 'vacuum', but which used to be called the 'aether'. Can one ever hope to find a way of pushing against that aether and, in so doing, tapping some of its energy?

The mechanical engineer has, therefore, to yield a little ground to the electrical engineer who should struggle to understand the blatant breach of Newton's Third Law evident from the daily use of the Lorentz force law, a law of electrodynamics that tells you that the electromagnetic force acting on a moving charge is always directed at right angles to the charge motion. You have only to consider two charges spaced apart laterally but moving along sharing a mutually parallel motion at the same speed, but one being somewhat ahead of the other, and you will see that action cannot equal reaction. There will be a turning couple set up by the interaction of the two charges.

The electrical engineer is not aware of this because he deals with current flow in closed circuits where this anomaly has a way of cancelling itself out and the physicist has avoided all debate on this issue, which puts the Lorentz force law in question, because the Lorentz formulation is supported by Einstein's theory. However, might one not begin to wonder about purported claims concerning 'perpetual motion' if they concern apparatus which has unusual electrodynamic features? Might one not wonder, just a little, given the search for that Holy Grail, the theoretical physicist's desire to unify the theory of gravitation and the theory of electrodynamics, whether there can be anomalies akin to 'perpetual motion' claims that concern levitation and unorthodox methods of propulsion?

Accordingly, much as 'perpetual motion' can be seen by the professional engineer as warranting ridicule, an accursed thing and so an anathema, there is the glimmer of a possibility that we may have missed something. Whether our future will come to depend upon windmills or whether it will offer us travel forward and back through time as we penetrate those 'worm holes' in the warps of Einstein's space-time metric remains to be seen, as may the advent of machines which run on a supply of energy drawn from the aether.

So let us take stock and just listen to the voices that speak of 'free energy' or, if that does not appeal to the reader, let us simply drift along and be satisfied by what we read in the monthly magazines sent to us by our professional institutions. These words are written in August 2002, the month in which 'Professional Engineering' told us on page 3 that various articles in that issue "confirm what most people know, but few people want to talk about, that Britain, like may other nations, is facing long-term energy crisis .... but, despite the enormity of this issue, there seems to be little intelligent debate as to how we will replace these energy sources ... so it is easier to let the issue drift for another day."

An illustration of three windmills was adjacent those words, as was the following statement: "Only last month plans to build some of Britain's biggest wind farms were halted after a court upheld Ministry of Defence objections that the turbines affected radar systems. As a result, up to two-thirds of the country and vast areas of the sea could be off limits to what is seen as one of the most hopeful sources of renewable energy." So you see, Haldane's 1923 vision of windmill power as the ultimate answer has been thwarted by our need to preserve the later discovery of wave power, electromagnetic wave power, that gave us the power to look ahead just a few minutes into the future to the see approach of a hostile intruder.

The alternative scenario, the theme of 'free energy' has its own history, dating back to the days of Nikola Tesla early in the 20th century, when he tried to convince those in authority in USA concerned with power generation that we should tap energy from the aether by setting up towers used for electromagnetic wave transmission, meaning real power and not just enough for radio communication. Later he was reputed as having demonstrated a car, his 'Pierce Arrow' car project of 1931 which ran, allegedly, on energy supplied via the aether, though history has not bequeathed to us the secret of the technology as to how he did this, except that he may have incorporated some electronic components to generate a high voltage.

Dating from that time there are the well documented records of demonstrations by Dr Henry Moray who showed, quite convincingly, that his electric apparatus, as transported by automobile to a remote desert location well removed from power lines, could, with the help of an antenna mounted a few metres above ground draw enough electric power to illuminate many light bulbs and even operate an electric iron. Again, notwithstanding his openness in making many such demonstrations, we have not inherited the detail that underlies that technology.

Accordingly, there are amongst us those who, even as qualified engineers, dabble in this area of research, seeking for clues that can open the flood gates on a new energy source. The task is a daunting one, partly because it is a field which attracts interest only from those who do not earn their living as experts on power technology. To put it bluntly, given that anyone who might even pay attention to, or give voice to, the idea that one can get a sustainable source of energy from the aether or our ambient surroundings, is deemed a crackpot lacking education on the basic principles of physics and so would be seen as an outcast by his peers, there is no hope. No one in authority will listen to such ideas and be willing to fund research in this field. Given also that investors who are themselves scientifically unqualified need proof of viability, as endorsed by experts who in turn need to sustain their reputation and credibility, one cannot look in that direction for funding nor is it proper for this important but ill-defined research field to be left at the mercy of ad hoc ventures of this kind.

However, so far as our United Kingdom interests are concerned, it is not money and investment that afford the means for moving ahead. There is, instead, as Lee Hibbert states on that page 3 of the August 2002 issue of 'Professional Engineering', simply a need to "provoke some serious, wider debate on the issue of Britain's future energy supplies" but "at the centre of that debate must be engineers - the only people capable of delivering the solutions." The proviso, however, must also be that, in widening the debate, provision is made for the voices of those who are professionally qualified engineers but happen to have views on 'unconventional' alternative sources of energy, as guided by the influence of factors not embraced by the strict rule of law that dominates our formal indoctrination concerning energy.

That reference above to Newton's rule and Newton's Third Law of Motion is an example of the kind of nuance in the background to our formal training that could be important. It has a counterpart in electrodynamics, as already mentioned, but which emerges technologically as the anomaly observed by electric discharges in ionized gas, where there is an unaccountable back-reaction force on the cathode of the cold arc discharge - the technology of the mercury arc rectifier of the early years of the 20th century. One needs therefore to be attentive to those who claim excess power generation from electrical apparatus that incorporates discharge tubes containing gas at quite low pressure. Two such devices, one claimed by an inventor in U.K. [1] and one by inventors in Canada [2], have been demonstrated and been granted U.S. patents, but the world has yet to benefit from their onward development, seemingly suppressed by lack of interest in the right quarters. At least the debate should welcome those with technical opinions on the factors at work in such devices.

There is also of record an example of a case involving thermodynamic principles, one demonstrated here in U.K., in Edinburgh, Scotland, some 12 years ago, but now buried in history [3]. It was something discovered as spin-off from some piezoelectric research concerned with a device helpful in a clinical application. The slightest heat input made an electrical circuit unexpectedly responsive. Eventually, what emerged from a little ingenuity in probing that phenomenon was a component little greater in size than a stack of three 50p coins mounted on a heat sink base, which, when a small ice cube was placed on it, delivered from that component a small amount of electric power, but an amount sufficient to run an electric model motor driving a model aircraft propellor. The ice melted much more quickly than for the case where the motor was disconnected, but for several minutes, and here the small temperature difference of 20o C was converting the latent heat of ice into electrical power. Research effort on this was abandoned owing to lack of investment interest and, after several months of testing, the evident deterioration of the component, the reason for the latter never being resolved.

However, one had to wonder how the laws of thermodynamics could explain what was observed. The energy input was heat energy drawn into the ice from the heat sink and so the room temperature environment, much of that heat energy being merely conducted through the component, but some of which was converted into electrical energy as a low voltage direct current. Here, however, one had an example of something involving energy conversion that seemed to break the rules governing thermodynamics. There had to be loss owing to thermal conduction through the electrically non-conductive interface between the metal surfaces used as electrodes and the component as well as electrical ohmic resistance losses in what was a self-oscillating a.c. current device and the rectifier components used to convert the generated current into d.c. output. Yet these were ignored in judging overall performance. Certainly, one suspected that here there was energy conversion with a higher efficiency than theory implied.

On the same subject, though not recognized when the research was performed in the 1950 era, several university projects have addressed the problem of the anomalous power loss in electrical steels as used in power transformers. Eddy-current losses can be several times greater than they should be according to established theory. What no one at the time even contemplated was that the heat generated and conducted away through the steel laminations could, en route, be, in some measure, converted back into electrical form, thereby inducing EMFs which could enhance the circulating eddy-currents and so cause the loss to escalate. An anomaly factor of 6 was measured in one research project [4] and a loss factor of 10 later reported for a specific situation [5], though a factor of 1.5 was the norm in standard situations. An expert in thermodynamic theory should ponder on the question of how, in a power transformer where the temperature differential between sections of the core can be no greater than, say, 40o C, it is possible for heat to be regenerated as electricity on the scale required to explain the phenomenon observed. Indeed, unless the second law of thermodynamics with its Carnot limitations is contravened, that eddy-current anomaly phenomenon remains an unsolved mystery facing future generations of would-be power engineers.

One should wonder why what is known as the 'Nernst Effect' or the 'Nernst-Ettinghausen Effect' has been shelved as history, rather that explored further in the context of thermodynamics. It concerns heat flow in metal subjected to the action of a transverse magnetic field and the generation of an EMF in the mutually orthogonal direction as a function, not of absolute temperature, but of temperature gradient. That gradient is a measure of rate of heat flow and that EMF arises from some of that heat converting into electricity but so converting without being governed by the actual temperature locally, as applies where Carnot principles hold. There can therefore be 100% efficient energy conversion between heat and electricity under certain circumstances, simply because any energy not so converted can only revert to heat but certainly not at a lower temperature. This occurs at one position without the sting in the entropy tail, as it were, of having to pay the price for a round trip where, confined within the converter itself, that electricity has to traverse a junction at a different temperature. The latter scenario is the one where the second law of thermodynamics prevails. Note that the phenomenon of the Nernst-Ettinghausen Effect is particularly strong in nickel and that much of the heat conducted through Strachan's device was through nickel, a ferromagnetic material in which there are domains within its crystal composition that are intrinsically fully magnetized.

Imagine then a future where, guided by debate and a good measure of effort and ingenuity, we can one day combine standard heat pump technology to convert electricity into heat with a coefficient of performance of 5, say, and then deploy that heat back into electricity with, say, a 75% conversion efficiency using apparatus in which nickel or steel is fabricated into an assembly specifically designed to exploit the Nernst Effect. That would amount to a kind of perpetual motion device by which we could generate electricity as if from nowhere, but really by tapping the ambient heat energy of our environment and cooling that in the process. Such a dream seems impossible, something bordering on the absurd, but can we really be sure? Are our laws of thermodynamics sacrosanct?

Indeed, are our laws of mechanics and our laws of electrodynamics also sacrosanct? If so, then why do we encounter the occasional anomaly and, unable to spot the mistake if such there is, allow it to pass by as a nine-day wonder? Surely, we need to address the subject, not as judges awaiting the presentation of clear evidence by contending parties, but rather as humble, albeit professional, engineers, fully mindful of the established facts of physics, fearful of a destiny that deprives us of our energy needs and open to genuine debate in a constructive atmosphere, giving those few who do have the necessary ideas and inspiration a fair chance to get their message across. That debate can only begin when those who have been active in the forum of 'free energy' are identified and duly invited to contribute to the research agenda, the emphasis being, not on lecturing, but on opening and pursuing meaningful discussion amongst workshop groups of limited size.

Remember the point that if one can develop an out-of-balance thrust force in contravention of Newton's Third Law of Motion then one is on the doorstep giving access to a new source of energy drawn from the aether itself. We are told it is impossible. If that is the case then why is it that we now read about the anomalous acceleration force experienced by spacecraft Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11? It is as if the G, the constant of gravitation, has changed its value during the flight. Of even more significance is the fact that NASA scientists are able to claim the discovery that the use of a capacitor of asymmetrical structure charged to a high voltage develops linear thrust force that (quoting from Patent 6,317,310 recently granted to United States of America by its own Patent and Trademark Office) features in:

"A linear accelerator which can be used to launch payloads or other similar applications."
Unfortunately, there is no reference to experimental proof of this in the specification of that U.S. Patent and so one suspects that it is based more on wishful thinking that fact.

Evens so, if it were to be possible, to use a capacitor and a high voltage priming source, the latter not delivering energy except as a one-off initial priming charge, to generate a propulsive force asserted on the vacuum medium (the aether), then that implies energy transfer to or from that aether, a continuous flow of energy. The secret of the 'free energy' power generation by Dr. Henry Moray, whose apparatus was known to involve, essentially, large capacitors, is surely linked to drawing that capacitor priming charge from atmospheric electricity via that antenna he used, but there was also something special about those capacitors that allowed them to interact force-wise with the vacuum medium to tap its energy resource and so deliver power continuously. This is a subject which the author has discussed in detail elsewhere [6].

Should we therefore wait for those windmills or can one hope that the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and also the Institution of Electrical Engineers, if not the Institute of Physics, will initiate action to bring the these fringe elements of the unorthodox energy spectrum into the ongoing debate concerning sustainable energy in our future.


[1] G. M. Spence, US Patent No. 4,772,816, 'Energy Conversion System', 1986.

[2] P. N. Correa and A. N. Correa, US Patent No. 5,416,391,'Electromechanical Transduction of Plasma Pulses', 1995.

[3] H. Aspden and J. S. Strachan, Electricity without Magnetism, Electronics + Wireless World, vol. 98, pp. 540-542 (July 1992).

[4] H. Aspden, Proc. I.E.E., vol. 103C, pp. 279-285 (1956) and vol. 104C, pp. 2-7 (1957).

[5] F. Brailsford, 'The Principles of Magnetism', D. Van Nostrand, London, Fig. 10.11(c), p. 239 (1966).

[6] H. Aspden, Conference Paper: Our Future Energy Source - The Vacuum!, 2nd Berlin Congress for Innovative Energy Technologies, Binnotec e.V., Berlin, June 13-15, 2002. LECTURE 27.

H. Aspden
August 28, 2002