Steorn's free energy seems curiously expensive

Steorn's free energy seems curiously expensive

Summary: Amazing claims require amazing proof. A good Web site, top-notch PR and costly adverts don't quite measure up

TOPICS: Tech Industry

In spring, a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. In late summer, though, it's more a case around here of what on earth to write about. It is the journalistic silly season, when everyone's on holiday and nothing's really happening until September.

Canny people know how to fill that space. One lot who got the timing just right is Steorn, a company apparently composed of three people working from a business park in Dublin. Flicking through the seasonally adjusted pages of an anaemic edition of The Economist last week, I saw their full page advert claiming a "blasphemous" breakthrough in energy generation. Thence to their Web site, which is a creditable production saying the company has a small bundle of aluminium, motors, disks and wires that effectively produces power out of nowhere. Interested scientists are invited to apply to become part of a panel of 12, which will then be asked to test the device.

Coo. And Steorn is putting its money where its mouth is. A full-page advert in the Economist costs many tens of thousands of pounds. The Web site is very professional, and the London PR company involved is one that also handles ITV, Halifax, John Lewis and others of that stature. This is a substantial investment — and, since it doesn't seem aimed at selling anything, inviting investment or producing anything measurable, it's a huge chunk of their own money in what even the company will cheerfully admit is a PR stunt.

It is also pseudoscience of the highest order. The general idea has been around for a while and has spawned many impassioned claims: you spin magnets around in a clever way and get more energy out from a system than you put in. This is generally agreed as impossible: it's perpetual motion, it breaks the laws of thermodynamics, and in the long and gaudy history of pseudoscience it ain't never worked yet. Which is not to say it never will: science is full of astounding discoveries that turn the accepted truths on their head. History is also full of total balderdash masquerading as science.

Fortunately, there are easy ways to tell pseudoscience: grand claims with no way to verify them, important facts that are alluded to and not presented, claims of conspiracy or closed-mindedness by the scientific community, production of claims by press release rather than scientific papers. Steorn more than fulfils all of these: it is, by any objective test, pseudoscience.

So what on earth are they playing at? In a long and very impassioned phone call with Steorn's chief executive Sean McCarthy, I had some theories flatly denied and others half-confirmed. It is not a teaser for an Xbox game It is nothing to do with a TV programme It has nothing to do with promoting anti-fraud systems (Steorn's corporate history is in detecting and preventing high-tech fraud), which was my personal favourite.

The official story — and one they are at pains to emphasise — is that the idea of convening a panel of 12 top scientists to do secret tests is the best way they can think of to get their ideas accepted by the scientific community. Time after time, McCarthy said, they'd tried to get people to look at what they were doing, but nobody was prepared do so. Those who did refused to go on the record.

None of this makes sense. Here's why.

There are two sorts of scientific discovery: the predicted and the unpredicted. Predicted is great: you have a theory, you come up with some physical ramification of that theory...

Topic: Tech Industry

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • The claim by the Irish company Steorn of the over unity generator and the challenge is a good way to get others to do your research with out paying. Then they can claim the patent if it succeeds because they started it and the reseach was done for them. Smart.
  • Pseudojournalism. There are very good reasons for Steorn to take their approach, losing control of their invention is not the least of them. As you should know, no patent office in the world will touch this because it is an over-unity device. Therefore, the only way to protect their invention, and potentially patent it if they can get the good scientific data they are petitioning for, is to keep it a trade secret. By disclosing how it works without a patent, it will become 'prior art' and cease to be patentable. I hardly see how placing an ad in The Economist requesting great scientific minds to test their device backs up your claims of pseudoscience. Citing your advertisers as the pinnacle of science-driven technology doesn't make you look like less of a shill.
  • You're probably right, it's just a publicity stunt. Laws of physics don't just die in the vicinity of a couple of magnetic fields.
    But I'd really like it to be true (I guess they are counting on this type of expectations to get attention...)
  • The first law of Thermodynamics may not be broken by this device (if true). Physicists currently can't locate 90% of the universe i.e the dark matter/energy. So ii is entirely possible for such a device to be tapping into this dark energy and making it visible energy (heat/light via work). Thus the energy of the universe is preserved you have simply changed from one form to another.

    I fully sympathise with any inventor of a device that seems to break the laws of physics. You only have to read the blogs wrt Steorn to realise that nobody with a career in physics would admit to testing such a device.......bye bye career irrespective of the result!
  • Read their patent application... it's plugged into the wall. They have 2 configurations. 1 uses electromagnets (Where's that electricity come from?) and the other uses permanent magnets and a sheild to "actuate" them. The patent application says the shield can be moved by several methods such as solenoids or worm gears, which would require outside energy.
  • Alexander Kushelev: Steorn's free energy - real.

    But it is a toy in comparison with microwave power...

    We hope, that after recognition Steorn, the scientific community will pay attention to microwave power creation process.

    New paradigm is well forgotten classical paradigm with Maxwell's radioether which has a huge stock of internal energy.

    This energy can be taken with the help of magnets, but with the help of microwave resonators it is better...

    Main page (Russian):

    Details (English):

    Discussion: (Russian & English)
  • There are some aspects of physics that are never taught and therefore never considered. If you add the magnetic field (B)from a bar magnet to one from a current carrying coil wound on that bar (deltaB) the field everywhere is a the sum of two terms, B+deltaB. Energy density goes with the square of the field, so expanding the square of the sum we get B^2 +2BdeltaB + deltaB^2. B^2 is the original energy from the magnet. deltaB^2 is the energy from the coil. 2BdeltaB is excess energy gained from where? That is not a trivial amount of energy, and it can be shown that it comes from the quantum domain. It is ignored because over a full cycle it is generally not available to us. Can an electro-magnetic theory which ignores magnetic energy shuttling about within our machines be considered complete? Is it not possible that someone will eventually discover how to tap into that ignored energy flow?
  • I would like to know how much Goodwins is getting paid by the nuclear industry to write this..I'm also curious as to why he chose the word 'curiously' in describing how expensive, because he says it's 'publicity stunt'!!..That's how one markets their product, you know like the nuke people BRAINWASH.

    What could be more dangerous, dirty, and EXPENSIVE than nuke power..Got a place for the waste??..Talk about a brain dead world!..Then the same peope tell us to worry about terrorism, sure is 'CURIOUS' alright!

    What could be more
  • I knew Einstein, Maxwell, and all those other fools were wrong! I can't find out how it works, but I really believe this must be true and I know that they must be right. This must be a very well kept secret, because if it gets out, ...well it will wreck havoc on the world's economy. I'm wondering what the real impact of this great discovery will be as it will kill many, many industries. There goes the entire oil industry (thank god for the departure of Exxon!), the entire utility industry (I sold almost all of my utility stock anyway), Eveready, Duracell, and the like...gone! The wire and cable industry will also be hard hit as we will not longer need overhead or underground cables and wires.

    I'm now very worried about all the extra energy that will be polluting the earth. Think about it, if this discovery is more than 100% efficient, you know what will happen, some people will abuse the process and generate more energy than they need and all this extra energy will be running around ruining the environment! Were going to have to pass more laws to prevent this. I'm going to start the new non-profit organization Citizen Revolt Against Pollution from Extra Energy.
  • Dark Matter, zero point energy etc, etc. aside, everyone seems to forget that there is a qualifier in the first and second laws of thermodynamics. They both refer to closed systems, and are born out of pure mathematics, unprovable in the real world.

    Why? Because nobody can seem to find a closed system.

    In fact, quantum theory, due to such principles as uncertainty, and entanglement to a lesser degree, would seem to indicate that it is impossible for a truly closed system to exist.

    One may argue that the universe as a whole is a closed system. To them I say, if you can prove that, you deserve a nobel prize.

    You would then have to prove that no other universes exist, or that if they do, entanglement cannot take place between particles in two separate universes, and that they cannot interact with each-other in any way (worm holes, black holes, etc). You would further have to prove that there is no causality taking place. That the very existence of one, does not cause anything in the other. Of course, then there would be no way to prove it..... would there? Because it would be completely and utterly undetectable.

    Simply saying "It must be the case, because these rules seem to hold true" is not good enough. Any scientist familiar with experimentation knows that one time in a billion you may get a different result, and that one time can point out something very important.

    Men like Hawking and Kaku do not rule things like this out, so why should we.

    The more we learn, the less we know.
  • "I knew Einstein, Maxwell, and all those other fools were wrong!"

    Go back and read maxwell's equations again. He predicted two types of energy transmission.. Scalar, and Longitudinal. We only use Scalar.. However men like Hertz and Tesla knew about Longitudinal waves and how to transmit power based on this, and it all conformed to Maxwell's equations. Maxwell simply thought it was a less likely way to transmit energy, and hence encouraged focus on scalar. Since then most have ignored longitudinal wave theory completely.

    There are a few applications of it however. Navy VLF communication, and ground wave communications, for example. And teslas radiant energy transmitter. Which they couldn't slap a meter on so was given the Kabash.

    Neither general or special relativity, his work on brownian motion, nor his work with the photoelectric effect prevent this on the basis of physical prediction, so I'm unsure what you meant by your Einstein reference.

    In fact Einstein's work explains why the light medium was not detected by the Michaelson-Morley experiment, rather than disproves it. Since light is a fixed speed from all points of reference regardless of the speed of the eminating body
  • I agree with Rich Weber. We must at least entertain Steorn until the idea is proven false.

    It is possible although extremely unlikely that this thing works.

    If it is a hoax then it should'nt be too hard to prove wrong now should it?
  • A glass of water and a resistor?

    The extra energy claimed by the invention is a miniscule amount, a gain that would be immeasurable with the crude equipment you suggest- likely they are hand-picking scientists from major universities who have sensitive testing devices. They have posted the patent information on their website which is being dissected by physics-background visitors. You have to want it to find it -- in the face of harsh criticism from all corners, I completely understand why they wouldn't hand it out to every hack wanting to test it with a resistor and a cup of water, and pronounce the whole thing as a fraud.

    If they have stumbled upon the holy grail of physics their approach is the correct one -- choosing a number of reputable, well-financed physicists to draw accurate conclusions with cutting edge technology. If it is true, and may well not be, but if it is, then the next question would be whether a miniscule gain will traslate to a major energy gain if a large version of the device is built.

    How many world-altering innovations have been discovered by accident? Just google "accidental discovery Nobel Prize"
  • In answer to the question about how much I get from the nuclear industry - all the yellowcake I can eat. It's scrummy.

    As for whether it's possible that Steorn's magic box really does tap energy from dark matter/alternate universes/longitudinal leprachauns - who am I to say? (although I really doubt it's from 'the magnetic domains', which is one of the suggestions Steorn came up with).

    I don't know. I do know that they're following the classic pseudoscience path - that's not a matter of conjecture, you can tick off the attributes yourself - and can't really explain why. Also, that if they abandoned all attempts to capitalise on the IP and put every tiny detail in the public domain tomorrow, they would soon be as rich and famous as they could possibly desire. They would have changed the world more even than Einstein managed (honestly - you could build a practicable c-speed space drive out of one of these.).

    So, no. I don't believe. But hey, there's nothing I can or wish to do to stop them doing whatever they like. I'm just a journalist.

  • Dear unemployed anonymous aristocrat... what you say bears no resemblance to what the CEO told me yesterday, either about the amount of energy involved or the amount of information available on the website. (He did say there'd be more information posted later in the week, but just some test results, not anything which would enable independent analysis of the claims.

    Feel free to point us all at the documents, though. I'm entirely open to substantive arguments..

  • It will sure be fun to parade around you and your article when this is proven to be true!

    Sort of like the baseball pitcher whose throw is hit out of the park for a homerun record.

    Its easy to throw the naysayer pitch, but painful later on.
  • You are probably right but you are pushing a few points as fact that are not quite. A photon cannot be patented, but using a photon to do something can. A person cannot patent magnetism, but using magnets to generate electricity can, and was. If they patent this invention now, people will see how it works are would be able to replicate it - the only protection for the idea resting with the law.
    My impresion is that they could be onto something so big that it would be foolish to share. If their claim holds up, they havea technology that threatens the largest industry in the world. Dangerous, and valuable. Very valuable.

    These guys are not independent researchers. They have no government funding. They are looking to profit, and it appears they are protecting that goal.
  • The people who are involved in the development and production of free energy magnetic devices should be lauded as heros and celebrated by the world. Comparing the new inventors with the scientists who run like scared cats from free energy is a very ironic observational sport that I take great delight in. I have seen evidence enough of free energy in my own laboratory to make me a believer, so I can relax in contentment and observe the drama unfolding before the world, knowing that with the power of the internet the knowledge of free energy devices will not be kept from the masses of common engineers and scientists for much longer.
  • The announcement that Steorn had discovered free energy was made on the 1st of April.

    The link was on the following page, but has since been removed from Steorn's web site.

    Google's cache of the page still displays it:
  • The only people keeping the 'secret of free energy' secret are people like Steorn, who have it and won't say. Or so they say.

    It's really quite fun to be accused of being part of the great campaign to deny the truth when I spent nearly an hour on the phone to them trying to get them to tell me what they were on about, and then wrote a two page article about them which can be instantly accessed by half a billion people. My goodness, what if someone finds out?

    As for patents - they say that they spent two to three years trying to get their paper into peer reviewed journals. That means the information in it has already been 'published' according to patent law, which is very strict on this point. Just showing something to a third party without a strict contract in place is usually enough to count as publishing.

    I'll be utterly delighted to be proved wrong on this - really. You think I'd care about being wrong if we had the sort of energy source that could get us to the stars? (This plus an ion drive would be really fun).

    But nothing can change the facts - and they are facts which not even Steorn denies - that Steorn's behaviour exactly fits that of pseudoscientists, and that in two hundred years pseudoscience hasn't thrown up enough of worth to buy a Sainsbury's own brand AA battery.