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November 10th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bbc, mail, perpetual motion | 74 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian
Saturday November 10 2007

When it comes to creating energy you can’t make something out of nothing, says the BBC newsreader, from behind the very important desk… “Until now. Because British scientists seem to have turned this fundamental law of physics upside down.” The Mail on Sunday loved it even more. “Amazing British invention creates MORE energy than you put into it – and could soon be warming your home,” it said. Taste the excitement. “It violates almost every known law of physics.” That’ll teach those so-called scientists a lesson.

The device is a novel idea in the free energy game, after the debacle of Steorn: a heating element, made by a company called Ecowatts, which is claimed to make more heat energy than you put into it.

Has anybody validated this claim? “Jim Lyons, of the University of York, independently evaluated the system,” says the Mail. Oh. Jim is a “business development manager” in York’s enterprise and innovation office, although he does also have a fun science hobby. “As a member of the British Society of Dowsers, he undertakes research into the geo- and bio-physics of Earth energies. His special research topic is the mechanism of dowsing, based on quantum ideas in consciousness studies.”

I contacted a working scientist who was previously reported – in the Telegraph in 2003 – to have independently validated a similar device from the same company. He wishes to remain anonymous, because he is bored with getting long conspiracy theory emails from free-energy cranks, but he is now a leading electrochemistry researcher at a Russell Group university.

He was employed to do a single, very specific test, using measuring equipment provided by Ecowatts, and the conclusions in his report were very guarded: “Using the apparatus supplied by Gardner Watts and the procedures of analysis suggested by the company there appears [my italics] to be an energy gain in the system.”

Using the apparatus provided, it’s true, this scientist could get incredible results: the meters would read zero, and yet water would boil in around five minutes. Because the meters provided weren’t working.

The problem stems from the difference between measuring alternating current and direct current. Stick with me, science is fun when you’re making people look stupid. The meters he was given were to measure direct current: there was a diode in the circuit (this is a “one way street” for electricity), so theoretically the current could only flow one way, making it DC.

Unfortunately, at high voltages the special, magic free energy cell went into “oscillation”: that meant that the current was alternating at high frequencies that were beyond the threshold of the diode, so beyond its ability to control the electrons.

Therefore the current could flow in both directions, therefore it was alternating current, and therefore the current measurement was invalid. I speculate that the “inventor” made the same mistake, and I can honestly say I find the little histories of these devices fascinating.

Anyway, in these tests, the investigator saw the current steadily increase with applied voltage and then fall to almost zero as the system went in to oscillation. An “energy gain, breaking the laws of physics,” was only recorded when the system was oscillating in such a way that the measurement of “energy going in” simply became invalid.

So did our man try measuring the current properly? Yes, he did. He placed a magnetic choke on the system, which prevented the system going into oscillation and removed any energy gain, and also measured the (large) alternating current with his own meters in the circuit. No energy gain.

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74 Responses

  1. Spanners said,

    November 12, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    Maninalift – good job no one tried it while you were – ( am man in a lift). Puting a large inductor in the mains supply will indeed reduce the meter reading – but unfortunately it also reduces the amount of “real” current available to you – so you wouldnt have been any better off – and probably still stuck in a lift!!
    In fact you would have been worse off if Mr Electricity Supply Man came knocking on your door – because that large coil of wire in your loft means he has to foot the bill for the losses in the distribution wires – caused by the “imaginary ” current your device has now generated!!. Large industrial consumers have to take active measures to reduce the amount of “imaginary” current their motors and lighting produce so to get the best price deals.
    Imaginary is not really what it is – it is simply circulating “out of phase” current which mainly heats up the supply cables and delivers no useful energy to you. You are correct in saying it can not be measured on an old mechanical electricty meter

  2. igb said,

    November 12, 2007 at 8:05 pm

    “because that large coil of wire in your loft ”

    There’s always the apocryphal story told by BBC transmitter engineers, which always happened to someone who just happened to have retired or gone off long-term sick or been posted to Bulawayo…

    The engineer is called to Rugby, to analyse a dip in the propagation of 1500m (the story is so hoary it really is 200HKz, not 198KHz, and probably involves the Light Programme, not Radio 4). After some investigation (being apocryphal, the details are hand-waved over) they are led to a house about 15 miles from the transmitter, where they find a man has filled his loft with copper wire (those wanting to add spurious verisimilitude speculate as to where the wire came from) and is powering his house off the current induced off the transmitter.

    But for a story I have every reason to believe is true…

    My uncle Arthur was asked to take a look at a neighbour’s wiring. The neighbour had been recently widowed, and had had some problems with getting a new kettle working. The kettle worked painfully slowly, as did another she had borrowed to try.

    It turned out that her late husband had from somewhere obtained a massive 220:110V transformer, plus appliances to match, and had rewired a lot of the house to run on 110V (via 15A round-pin sockets, I think, just to confuse matters further). The shed at the bottom of the garden contained a large transformer, plus some deteriorating switchgear (which was also messing up local TV reception). No one was really clear when this had been done, or why (although the widow said her late husband was obsessed with electrical safety).

  3. Spanners said,

    November 13, 2007 at 9:58 am

    Yes perfectly feasible to extract a few hundred watts from the “near field” of a large transmiter particularly at that frequency.
    110V? – Dont joke about it – I can see that one coming to the whole of Europe next – 110v ac is the defacto saftey voltage standard throughout the world( for dangerous environments) – With a statistically driven Euro health and safety “risk” policies, it wont be long before some idiot in Brussels will pitch for the post of being the “domestic safety” supremo and supply the whole of Europe with 110V mains. To justify this policy no doubt they will very cleverly “seamlessly” integrate it with another Euro energy conservation policy that limits your household cosumption to a half what it is now!Thus eliminating the need of a total rewire due to twice the current required for the same load —–(tic) Gaahhhh I’m becoming a cynic

  4. casper_gutman said,

    November 13, 2007 at 4:54 pm

    Re. 8 and other comments.

    I find it highly improbable these guys have overturned the laws of physics (highly as in “a 30C homeopathic remedy is highly diluted”), but maybe we need to look at the limited claims made for the discovery more carefully (i.e. “you could save a little money on your heating” rather than “the whole world’s energy situation will be turned upside down”).

    As has been pointed out, if the device does indeed provide more energy than it takes in (as measured DC or conventional AC meters), this suggests not that thermodynamics needs to be rewritten but that better measuring equipment needs to be used. If, however, your electricity meter is one of these conventional meters there might be a financial gain to be made with one of these sorts of heating devices, at least until the energy suppliers replace your meter!

    Of course, just because you’re paying less doesn’t mean the planet’s baying saved. Does the “eco” in “ecowatts” mean economy or ecology?

  5. Spanners said,

    November 13, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    Brilliant observation Casper!! I must get one now!!! – unfortunately we are talking real power here – not phase shifts in the voltage / current relationship so we would cop the bill for any extra heat!! damn it!!.
    Also – Hold on you commentors!!- to be fair to Ecowatts No one has actually claimed violations of the laws of thermodynamics here. As mentioned by a few others -There is no reason why the electrolyte used (potassuim carbonate plus a secret ingredient) can not be a fuel source is there? So what if this cell stops working after a while and has to be recharged? The question that has to be addressed what is the mechanism for releasing the energy from the “fuel” and possibly how cheap and damaging to the enviroment is its production. There is no reason why there cannot be latent energy held within a compound ( as per hydrocarbon molecules) that can be released by involvement in another process.
    We are all aware of the futility in the search for perpetual motion – but dont always assume that a “local” over unity energy production is a scam. It is only likely to be a scam if total energy in the universe has magically been increased!

  6. cvb said,

    November 13, 2007 at 6:07 pm


    As soon as somebody claims over unity you have every right to be sceptical. Until they actually really prove their claim they can basically shut the fsck up. They have not proved their claims q.e.d. they shouls shut up.

  7. Zamzara said,

    November 13, 2007 at 9:40 pm

    Dermot should have checked it with the Eggheads.

  8. Spanners said,

    November 14, 2007 at 10:25 am

    Will the acedemic establishments ( public funding – please note) that have been asked to look into this ever publish their findings or will they be too embarrased hoping we will all forget about it as yesterdays news? As penance for their incompetence the BBC should make sure they follow this up!!

  9. zlsiida said,

    November 15, 2007 at 12:31 pm

    The cartoonist who does (very good for geeks) has a Tshirt for sale that says “Stand back! I’m going to try SCIENCE!”.

  10. Crispy Duck said,

    November 15, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    From the Ecowatts website: “…energy cell that converts electrical power into heat at an efficiency significantly greater than that of a conventional immersion heater.”

    How is that possible? Surely the efficiency of an immersion heater is 100%, ie all the consumed energy is converted to heat. If it’s less than 100%, where does the rest of the energy go?

  11. Spanners said,

    November 15, 2007 at 7:21 pm

    100% correct Crispy!! – all electrical energy supplied to the immersion heater becomes heat. This is the principle of a water calorimeter used to measure energy.Properly insulated such a device provides an indication of energy flowing into it by the time taken to raise a known volume of water through a temperature change.
    Interestingly, similar claims for “over unity” in the heating of water have been claimed by others using a device called a “water hammer” This device basically thrashes the hell out of a body of water using a rotating impeller driven by an electric motor. The energy represented by the rise in temperature of the water due to the mechanical / friction stress in the water is supposed to be greater than the electrical energy supplied to the motor. Seems so simple to make – why dont we have water hammers instead of immersion heaters – errrrrm??? must be all that noise I guess!

  12. scotlyn said,

    November 23, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    Marcdraco said: “You did say the Daily Mail then… the bastion of accuracy! Hell, these are the people who think the world was created in 7 days and that GM food is bad (and bugger the starving millions in the third world).
    The sad thing is people read this drivel.” I just think it’s worth pointing out that the issue of creationism and the issue of GM food may not be on the same playing field. GM food may be as healthy as you like to eat (I agree evidence is at best inconclusive on this point to date), but since its development depends on large corporations patenting property rights for it, it certainly does not lend itself to feeding the starving millions – who are primarily starving because they do not have enough money to buy enough food and certainly will continue in the foreseeable future to lack the money to buy food that comes with a trademark label. Can’t understand why this debate always gets bogged down in safety issues, when the real problem is property rights and the threat to our food security when we hand ownership of it over to large corporations.

  13. Spanners said,

    November 24, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    I draw a parallel here to GSM technology ( yes mobile phones)
    What if GM technology can eventually produce food that does not perish? The starving millions could then be fed on our waste!!!
    How is it many in the third world have computers and mobile phones but nothing to eat!!? GSM technology is also patentable by large corporations and trademark sold profitably ( very) at a significant cost to those that can afford to eat. We throw our perfectly good phones and computers away thats why!. Note that GSM technology has been also attacked on safety issues but it is the relentless demand that has won through by providing this advanced technology at a price we can afford.
    I fear that we will all be fed by some brown powder as cheap as dirt to produce as the earths nutrional resources buckle under the strain of an ever expanding population.
    Anyway forget all that!!! – lack of water is the to watch – Unless ——— we can do GM on a bug to desalinate water that wont wiping us out!

  14. Robert Carnegie said,

    November 24, 2007 at 11:48 pm

    GM feeding the world was the subject of debate on BBC World Service’s [Discovery] on 21st November:

    With links to “for” and “against” arguments.

    The precautionary principle can be taken too far, but I’m wealthy enough to be able to refuse GM products and not starve, and I intend to continue to do so. In fact, on imported goods I look for organic -and- fair trade indicators. (You don’t get them on clothes though – I did find People Tree, but their menswear range is small and only includes office wear if your boss is very tolerant.) I figure that on overseas goods, organic excludes a multitude of horrors.

    The other news from the [Discovery] programme is a claim that the public sector in the foremost developing countries is involved in developing GMOs, which ought to give some more confidence in the motive behind it. Then again… someone somewhere maybe is engineering meaner mosquitoes and locusts to unleash on bordering countries.

  15. scotlyn said,

    November 25, 2007 at 9:04 pm

    Spanners – Interesting thought on the recycling of our waste food to the people of third world countries (you may not know that it is currently illegal – since the foot and mouth scare in the UK – for us to recycle our waste food by feeding it to our own pigs on our own farm). I cannot speak for many countries, but I recently returned to visit Costa Rica, the country I spent my childhood in during the 1960’s and 70’s, to find many changes. Great changes were afoot in my old neighbourhood, which, in my time, was mainly populated by tin shacks with dirt floors and outdoor pit toilets and, for the more enterprising, horrific-looking homemade direct connections to overhead mains power lines, with as-expected rates of electrocution incidents. Now, my neighbours, many of whom are still the same people, live in block houses with tile floors and indoor plumbing. The children now all wear shoes and do not have the stick arms/legs and enlarged bellies which were formerly common. The general levels of nutrition and comfort are up, the level of computer/phone use is up, so is theft – most of these small houses also sport iron bars on all doors and windows. My old neighbours are still, relative to us, poor. However, relative to their former state, and to one another, they are not. However, true poverty is complex, and in many ways intractable, and the truly poor and hungry still exist in Costa Rica as elsewhere – and, so far as I could see, such people did not have mobile phones or computers, or very much of anything else.

  16. Robert Carnegie said,

    November 26, 2007 at 12:33 am

    Ah, I missed the point and confused GM and GSM… I think developing countries quickly end up having more mobile phones than the non-mobile kind. As for non-perishable food, quite a lot can be dried and preserved – no GM required for that. I don’t recommend this for sending table scraps to tropical places, however. Not wasting food at all, seems better to me.

  17. pob said,

    November 26, 2007 at 7:56 pm


    I’ve just seen this on the Ecowatts site and wondering what your response is?

    My presumption is you’re pointing out the fact that they didn’t have the science right then, their testing is likely to be no more equally valid now?

  18. Spanners said,

    November 27, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    Scotlyn – I apologise if my remarks about the impact of technology on poverty may have seemed glib – Thankyou for your very informative comments – I agree that the issues of true poverty are complex . I think I wanted to demonstrate that technology of the developed world even though controled and driven by big corporations does eventually “trickle” though to the developing world at a much lower cost by the conseqences of economics. It is heartening to known that the quality of life in Costa Rica apaers to be improving – and it is sad that crime is a consequence. I did know that transportation of waste food is tightly controlled for the reasons you give. If waste food could be made sterile by some technological means( I used GM because it was mentioned)it could help feed the developing world in a similar way to the reuse of our discarded phones and computers supplies them with “cheap” technology.

    Robert – I agree wasting food should be avoided at all cost and thereby the surplus generated fed to the starving. I recently and unashamefully rescued 28kg of vacuum wrapped cheese which had been, that very morning, thrown into a skip at the local supermarket. In total there was at least 150 Kgs or more in the skip. It was dumped because of a refridgeration falure. A criminal waste – and worse too the cheese had been “priced up” to yield a better insurance claim. This was food was perfect and could have been given to local charities. If this is just a small example of what happens weekly across our country ,it beggars belief how wasteful or so called “low priced” food supply actually is.

  19. Robert Carnegie said,

    November 28, 2007 at 12:43 am

    You may be aware that there are schemes to supply food materials from commercial users (supermarkets, catering) to certain charitable ventures in the same neighbourhood when it can’t be used as originally intended. But not everyone does this, not everything is covered, and I reckon that giving it away may interfere with the insurance claim if the insurer doesn’t take an enlightened view. For that matter you don’t want someone from the homeless hostel thinking, I fancy toasted cheese tonight, I’ll go into Tecswayburose and unplug the freezer accidentally and they’ll give us the cheese when they find out what happened, it serves them right anyway. I expect this is described online and perhaps I too will be published in the Daily Mail…

  20. fznidarsic said,

    February 10, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    I have read of this work by Elowatts. I believe that it has a chance. I am electrical engineer and a good one at that. I have been studying new energy for 20 years. I have found that there is one way to get new energy. That way is though the control of all of the natural forces; gravity, nuclear, and electromagetism. This can be done by harnessing the power of the quantum transition. The natural forces interact strongly and at long range during the quantum transition.

    The quantum transtion is described by my theorem, “The constants of the motion tend toward the electromagnetic in a Bose condensate that is stimulated at a dimensional frequency of 1.094 megahertz-meters”

    It is possible to place a macroscopic object into a state of quantum transition. The technoclogy usually involves electrolysis and palladium. To read more, see pictures of other experiments, and learn a bit; see my web page at:

    or search for

    “Frank Znidarsic”


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  24. ggkate said,

    June 4, 2010 at 3:17 am

    aturday: I’ve just read the Guardian version and it’s been cut a bit, whole chunks missing, and bits r