The Earth & I Interview with Dr. Thorsten Ludwig
E&I: Dr. Ludwig, what is zero-point energy? How could zero-point energy become a future power source?
Dr. Thorsten Ludwig: Zero-point energy is a concept embedded in quantum mechanics. One hundred twenty-three years ago, German physicist Max Planck postulated that energy comes in quanta, energy “packages”: E = nhf (E = energy of a photon; n = number of photons; h = Planck’s constant; f = frequency of a photon). [Planck's constant h, measured as energy (J) x time (s) functions as a proportionality constant between the energy of a photon and its frequency and has the value of approximately 6.626 x 10^-34 joule-seconds (J⋅s)].
It is a successful theory that led to the development of lasers and the understanding of the subatomic world, and many other things related to it. But also, part of this theory became that at zero degrees, when there’s no temperature or absolute zero temperature (Kelvin), still the amount of energy is not zero—there is still some energy left that is called zero-point energy. One could also say there are quantum fluctuations that resemble a jitter of atomic particles because they cannot sit totally still.
[Quantum mechanics] is a successful theory that led to the development of lasers and the understanding of the subatomic world, and many other things.
Another way of looking at it is with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. It basically means that we cannot know simultaneously the exact energy and the time of a particle, just as we cannot know its position and momentum at the same time. This Heisenberg principle describes a small area of uncertainty, and within it there can be fluctuations. For example, within a fraction of time a positron and electron can come into being and annihilate again.
When electrons, protons or other particles enter these fluctuating fields, their fields and physical properties are changed. This leads us to look at the properties of space. So, why is the speed of light in a vacuum about 186,282 miles (about 299,791.82 km) per second? Why does the wave travel at this speed? It has to do with the properties of space. If there is a positron, an electron, and a field, there will be polarization, called vacuum polarization.
There are also blue photons, green photons, infrared photons—they come into being for a short time and then are gone again. All this activity is happening, I could say, by itself or because of the phenomenon described by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle—which would be an even deeper subject to explain—but anyhow it does exist. Scientists have found it, and this leads to the conclusion that there is activity of particles and waves in space. Therefore, one could say that there is a sea of energy in space itself. All that is called zero-point energy.
[T]he phenomenon described by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle … leads to the conclusion that there is activity of particles and waves in space … that there is a sea of energy in space itself.
There are a number of experiments one can do. I often work with the Casimir effect because it will lead to energy and other effects. And other very fundamental research experiments have shown that this zero-point energy does exist.
The Casimir effect was named after Hendrik Casimir, a Dutch physicist. He had the simple idea to take two metal plates and put them in space parallel to each other, establishing a space outside the metal plates where there are more electromagnetic waves, and a space in between the plates where waves are restricted. Only short waves can fit into the tiny space. When there are more waves on the outside and less in the inside, photonic pressure, a force, is created that presses the plates together, and that force can be measured.
This is a good effect to start experimenting with because it is a force you can do something with, a force that you can develop and relate to energy. If a force is applied along a displacement you get energy. It is closely related.
There are also many ways of studying the properties of space by using the Casimir effect. Otherwise, you would need a particle accelerator that requires sometimes very large equipment, spending billions of dollars, and hundreds of scientists to study. So, for example, you can study vacuum polarization that changes the charges we see from an electron. If you let electrons collide and get closer and closer in your observation, you will see this effect. Some years ago, Japanese scientists did very successful studies in this field and observed this effect quite well. But you need a large particle accelerator for that.
The Casimir effect can be used for table-top experiments and has a good potential of being used for energy production or propulsion, or comparable effects.
Back to the sea of energy—it is fundamentally embedded in the theory of quantum mechanics. Twelve years after Max Planck initially presented his first formula, he presented a revised formula in 1912, Planck’s radiation equation, which describes energy emitted from resonators based on frequencies. This revised quantum theory required a slight change from the first formula, a residual energy factor: E = nhf/2. He noticed from quite accurate experiments that one needs this zero-point energy concept to make the quantum mechanics theory work.
Andrei Sakharov, a famous Russian scientist and dissident, researched what the zero-point energy’s effect would be on gravity, and with his calculations, one gets very accurate results.
The next step is to think of this as activity in space and as a sea of energy. Andrei Sakharov, a famous Russian scientist and dissident, researched what the zero-point energy’s effect would be on gravity, and with his calculations, one gets very accurate results. All this leads to the idea of the sea of energy that we are living in.
If you do the calculations, you come up with very large amounts of energy. One cubic inch of space would approximately hold 10^120 joules of energy. … The shorter the wavelength, the higher the frequency, and the more energy there is in the frequency range. The question arises, what is the shortest wavelength (the quantum length) and the highest frequency? Calculating with no limits, one gets this extremely high energy. If you use the highest observable frequency as a cut-off, the numbers are high but more workable.
The theoretical concept is very well based. The Casimir effect helps to measure these forces. The Casimir effect produces differences of radiation pressure that are measurable. A change in the sea of energy is needed to measure the energy. When an electron enters the sea of energy—that results in a change one can measure.
E&I: How would it be possible to harness this energy?
Dr. Thorsten Ludwig: There are some experiments that try to use the Casimir effect. The NASA scientist Harold White, who has had a sizable budget to work with, has built microstructures that would use the Casimir effect. The current research is focusing not on flat plates but using structured plates to produce the Casimir effect. Instead of a full flat plate, structured plates have very small, fine grooves in them. With these cavities, physics changes in such a way that the Casimir force reverses. If you want to go from a force to a motor, you can reverse the polarity, like in an electromagnetic motor—then you get a rotation if you do it with the right method. The objective is to build structures that make it possible to reverse the polarity. Currently, I know of about five ongoing research projects in the world that use the concept of the Casimir effect to develop usable machines.
I know of about five ongoing research projects in the world that use the concept of the Casimir effect to develop usable machines.
It would already be an achievement if we could clearly show that energy can be generated from the vacuum state. I have not yet seen a fundamental physics experiment clearly proving that you can convert zero-point energy into a force that can move something. It is important that one of these experiments shows this.
From a practical perspective, probably this question is less important. There is room for many experiments and experimenters, like inventor types. Zero-point energy is also very much related to magnetism itself. For example, where does the energy come from for a permanent magnet? There is a deep relationship between the spinning of the particle, its magnetic moment, and zero-point energy. (I have written about that in my paper “Tuning Coler magnetic current apparatus with magneto-acoustic resonance.”)
Many scientists and inventors use regular magnets and electromagnets in many variations to build machines that take energy from somewhere. I say “energy from somewhere” because the sea of energy and the forces one gets from it would be an input into the machine. Some people who do not like this subject try to ridicule it as perpetual motion machine, but that is not what it is about—it is not about a machine that runs by itself. Rather, it is a machine that converts a flow of energy, let’s say, zero-point energy, or another kind of energy. There are a number of energy sources around us, not just zero-point energy. This flow of energy into the machine powers it. Using magnets is a good way—there are many magnetic motor research projects.
Some people who do not like this subject try to ridicule it as perpetuum motion machine, but … it is not about a machine that runs by itself. Rather, it is a machine that converts a flow of energy, … zero-point energy, or another kind of energy.
These projects are at the research level; they do not have marketable applications yet. These projects do need a lot of effort, time, and money to improve them. Take, for example, the magnetic current apparatus Hans Coler originally constructed almost 100 years ago [see The Earth & I article “Reimagining Energy”]. I have been working on this device off and on for twenty years. The basic Coler magnetic current apparatus produces only half of a watt. That’s all it was supposed to do and that was all Coler ever saw. But because it is working, it is still interesting.
Now, Coler’s electric current apparatus was a different machine. It could produce 6 kW of power. That is, of course, much more interesting, but we have less information available. Taking the information that is available, for example from the British archives and from the patents that Coler used himself, this apparatus provides much more potential. But it is not easy to rebuild it. It would require much more time, energy, and money to find that principle.
Coler ran electric currents through permanent or electromagnets, and at the same time used mechanical, magnetic, and electrical resonance circuits. You have three resonance circuits all being interlinked—it is an effective way to harness energy, but it is very difficult to tune it, to excite the inner resonance to start with. It is already not easy to tune one, two, or three resonance circuits, but it is very difficult to tune ten of them on different levels. It is like finding a needle in a haystack.
There are already a number of other interesting magnetic motors. But when investors come in, examine it thoroughly, and want to produce it for the market, usually they run into some problems. It needs more time and research.
E&I: Dr. Ludwig, thank you very much.
*Dr. Thorsten Ludwig is a pioneer in new energy research. He is the Senior Scientist and Owner, New Energy Technologies, in Pritzwalk, near Berlin, Germany. He earned his Doctor of Natural Science at the Technical University of Berlin, Germany.For further reading, Dr. Ludwig recommends his article “Quantum field energy sensor based on the Casimir effect,” Physics Procedia 38 ( 2012 ) 54 – 65,Elsevier B.V.