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If Only

February 20th, 2007

You may or may not have heard of a company called Steorn, which is hyping a product called “Orbo.” Despite the names, the company is not Norwegian–it’s Irish (though the name “Steorn” is Norwegian, meaning to guide or manage). And the product is not a new piece of computer equipment or fashion accessory, it is, supposedly, a source of free energy:

Orbo produces free, clean and constant energy – that is our claim. By free we mean that the energy produced is done so without recourse to external source. By clean we mean that during operation the technology produces no emissions. By constant we mean that with the exception of mechanical failure the technology will continue to operate indefinitely.

Okay, already your skeptic’s hat is firmly planted atop your head by now, no doubt. Interestingly, on the exact same page the above claim is made, the entrepreneurs themselves admit that “The sum of these claims for our Orbo technology is a violation of the principle of conservation of energy, perhaps the most fundamental of scientific principles.”

Every so often, you get claims like this. Sometimes it’s a promise of an invisibility cloak, other times it’s a car that gets 200 miles to the gallon, but usually it’s like the contention above–a free, clean energy technology which is also potentially a perpetual-motion machine, or close enough to one.

The interesting thing about this claim is that it’s just odd and bold enough to make your tinfoil hat slip ever so slightly off-center so that the bozo rays from this company make you wonder just a tiny bit if there’s actually something to it.

And admit it: you want it to be true. It would be so cool.

Here’s the deal: these guys published a full-page ad in The Economist (which likely cost $160,000) last year claiming that they developed a technology which provides a “free, clean, and constant energy” source. They have invited skeptics and scientists to come and review the technology first-hand. The firm’s CEO is not some conspiracy-theory nutcase (he says he doesn’t believe in them), is not claiming that anyone is trying to suppress their findings, and promises to reveal and license the technology later this year after the independent scientific review has been completed. The noises they’re making sound very much on-the-level (“until this thing is validated by science we won’t be doing anything commercial with it”), and their process of validation seems like they’re willing to pony up the goods for independent verification.

Facts like these are what makes the claim intriguing. On the other hand, the company has released no firm explanation or proof of the new technology; it has a very shaky financial history; and, let’s face it, the technology they claim to have would violate the first law of thermodynamics. That being the case, a patent for the whole technology cannot be granted, which is convenient as a way to avoid revealing the whole technology in a patent application.

Nevertheless, the claims are enticing if vaporish:

Sean McCarthy stated in an RTE radio interview that, “What we have developed is a way to construct magnetic fields so that when you travel round the magnetic fields, starting and stopping at the same position, you have gained energy… The energy isn’t being converted from any other source such as the energy within the magnet. It’s literally created. Once the technology operates it provides a constant stream of clean energy.”

In a demonstration to The Guardian at Steorn’s office, a computer display reported the device to have an efficiency of 285%. The article goes on to say that Steorn claims to have measured efficiencies up to 400%. The device has been reported to be an all-magnet motor, with no electromagnetic component. Steorn also claims that according to its research the device can be scaled to almost any size, powering anything from a flashlight to an airplane.

None of these claims have been independently verified.

There is a huge chance that these guys are very clever scam artists who are trying to get investors to pour money into a fake technology which they can claim was an honest but failed attempt at a free and clean energy source (apparently, they have raised two and a half million euros, though that was before the public announcement–they claim that since the announcement and until the results of the validation are complete, they will raise no new investments).

But in the same way you hope that this time your lottery ticket will have the winning numbers, you find yourself willing, even if just a little bit, to suspend disbelief and imagine what it would be like if these guys were actually on the level and actually had something here.

Here’s the CEO of the company talking about the whole shebang:

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  1. Tim Kane
    February 21st, 2007 at 09:41 | #1

    Cold Fusion, baby. Bring it on.

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