Re: Room temperature superconduction in carbon fiber?

Robin Hanson (
Tue, 08 Sep 1998 11:54:11 -0700

On 10 Jul 1998 I posted some comments on this article:

The CEO of a company described by a different article found my message and sent the following message to me. The attached file was in .RAT format, and I don't know how to see the italics he mentions. I've included it below as ASCII.

It seems that this CEO claims to have a room temperature superconductor, which has been independently tested by the Air Force, and the material involved has been independently produced and tested by a Russian lab, which has published their findings.

>X-Mailer: QUALCOMM Windows Eudora Light Version 3.0.2 (16)
>Date: Tue, 08 Sep 1998 01:06:42
>To: hanson@econ.Berkeley.EDU
>From: "Michael J. Shambrook" <>
>Subject: Room Temperature Superconductors Inc.
>I happened to see your post to a discussion of negative resistance and
>noticed that someone had added to their comments the Wired On-Line hit
>piece about our company that follows - along with my annotated comments.
>If you would like more information feel free to contact me. We are located
>in Sebastopol, CA.
>Mark Goldes, CEO Magnetic Power Inc. and ROOTS
>707 829-9391 fax 707 829-1002

Pentagon Buys 'Perpetual Motion' (See italics for a response by the CEO of ROOTS) By Steve Brody and Andrew Kirkis. Brody was Terminated by Superconductor Week, where he had once been the author of a similar article, one month prior to this piece.

A California company claims to have developed a conductor for perpetual energy. Call it science fiction, but the Defense Department's investment could reach US$1 million this year. Untrue. Such a claim of perpetual energy is absurd and was never made.

Although scientists continue to hunt for cold fusion, the US Department of Energy gave the fledgling technology the cold shoulder long ago. That does not mean, however, that the federal government is averse to funding far-fetched scientific research.

In the past three years, to the astonishment of many physicists, the Department of Defense has invested more than US$400,000 in Magnetic Power of Sebastopol, California. The company claims to have perfected a revolutionary material that conducts electricity with no resistance at room temperature. Its so-called Ultraconductors would allow ideal efficiency in every industrial application from electric motors to permanent electromagnets (this paragraph is true to this point, see U.S. Patent 5,777,292) and would never need to be recharged. (No such ridiculous claim has been made).

In short, Magnetic Power is in the business of perpetual motion. The company has never made such a statement or claim - however, see either the McGraw Hill Dictionary, or Encyclopedia, of Science and Technology entry under the heading "Perpetual Motion". Note the comments on "the third kind". It references their entries under "superconducting rings" - known to the industry as Superconducting Magnetic Energy Storage (SMES). An Ultraconductor SMES is likely to be the ultimate battery,

"Prior to the Wright brothers, no one believed flying machines would ever be built," said CEO Mark Goldes. The conventional wisdom, reflected by most scientists of the time, was that heavier than air craft would not fly.

Standard superconductors conduct without resistance only at subzero temperatures and, owing to the cumbersome refrigeration requirements, they have never really left the lab. So why isn't the physics community interested in this radical new discovery?

"Quite frankly, no one believes it," said Los Alamos National Laboratory superconductivity expert Martin Maley, whose sentiments were echoed by other physicists like Paul Grant at the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, California. According to both Maley and Grant, after three years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer revenue, nobody can even confirm that they've seen such a material, including the military. Both Maley and Grant are simply unaware of numerous facts that contradict such statements.

So-called room-temperature superconductors ÄÄ which arise periodically in the research community only to be quickly disproven ÄÄ usually provoke little more than chortles.

But there's nothing funny about handing out government funds to a company promising cold fusion or room-temperature superconductors without at least some reasonable investigation of the claim. This sort of inquiry seems curiously absent in the case of Magnetic Power. Untrue.

According to information available on the Department of Defense and Ballistic Missile

Defense Organization, or BMDO, Web sites, Magnetic Power received $287,000 from the
US Air Force (the correct figure is $475,000) and $120,000 from the BMDO through
Magnetic Power's wholly owned subsidiary, Room Temperature Superconductors Inc.

All funding was granted through the Small Business Innovative Research programs for the development of applications of room-temperature superconductors.

In superconductivity circles, the history of Magnetic Power and its Ultraconductors is alternately described by critics as "funny" and "appalling."

In the nearly 20 years since this claim was first made, there has not been one independent confirmation by a reputable research institute," said Maley. "Some samples of Ultraconductor have been sent out, but never one large enough to perform a standard conductivity measurement. Until that happens, no one will really believe the technology exists." The early materials have, in fact, been independently reproduced at the world renowned Joffe Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the resulting published paper entitled: "Superconductivity at Room Temperature in Oxidized Polypropylene", was translated into English by the American Institute of Physics in 1990 and is readily available.

No one except the BMDO and the US Air Force, that is. Another incorrect statement.

Jeff Bond, a BMDO program manager, explained that companies are not required to prove their ability to produce the proposed technology for Phase 1 Small Business Innovative Research proposals. If granted, Bond said, the funding typically amounts to a $60,000 grant and the funds are intended to allow the company to "prove the concept."

Yet Magnetic Power's proposals do not say the company will devise room-temperature superconductors. Rather, it intends to develop and improve on the materials that one grant proposal says "have been invented." Nonetheless, Bond said he is unaware of any samples of Ultraconductor that have been received or tested by the military. Samples were successfully tested by the USAF at the Wright Laboratory, Eglin AFB, during the first Phase I contract.
"We must have a good reason to believe that a given company is proposing the development of a legitimate technology, before we grant a [Small Business Innovative Research proposal]," said Bond.

"However, with the sheer number of proposals that we receive each year, it is certainly possible that a few inadequate Phase 1 proposals will slip by. The Phase 2 grants, which are much larger, have a much more stringent review process."

That process added another $187,500 to Magnetic Power's budget in 1997, when the Air Force approved a Phase 2 proposal for the company. The correct figure was $375,000.

Magnetic Power's Goldes says that the BMDO has observed testing of its materials (true, at our laboratory) and has received samples, (untrue, the samples were received and tested by the USAF at the Wright Laboratory) but that public announcement of the grants has been suppressed by the military because of the sensitive nature of the technology. The Final Report covering the recently completed BMDO contract carries a statement on the cover that circulation is confined to the Department of Defense.

In fact, abstracts for all three are readily available via a search on the defense department's Web-site database. MPI and ROOTS have been awarded four SBIR contracts. The first USAF SBIR abstract was suppressed by order of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. By accident, the abstract of the Phase II award was published. We therefore saw no purpose served in suppressing awards.

"We are well aware of who is funding what, and if these companies keep reapplying for Phase 1 grants without producing results, they will be quickly weeded out of the process," said Bond.

However, while being interviewed, Bond found that Magnetic Power's ROOTS had just been approved for a second Ballistic Missile Defense Organization Phase 1 proposal, submitted under a different topic listing from the first. Bond was also unfamiliar with the parent company Magnetic Power, the name used to apply for both Air Force grants. Goldes is CEO of both companies and said he has 10 employees.

He also said that he is expecting to receive another $750,000 from the BMDO for a future Phase 2 proposal to build on his Phase 1 work, bringing the bounty to nearly $1.2 million dollars. A substantial Phase II proposal has been encouraged by the BMDO contract officer and his consultant after extensive review of the Phase I performance.

On the bright side, one Air Force representative of the grant program pointed out, "At least we didn't fund cold fusion."

                                                             updated 8/21/98

Robin Hanson RWJF Health Policy Scholar, Sch. of Public Health 510-643-1884 140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 FAX: 510-643-8614