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An investigation into Zero Point Energy and its Applications

In a time when our world is rapidly running out of its natural finite resources such as oil, gas and coal, there is a huge search for alternative energy sources that are infinite in their nature. The more conventional suggestions have been to convert energy from the sun, waves and wind into energy, completing the cycle that began with man extracting energy from the earth. But there are a large number of people who dispute that these are the only sources, and that to only look to these four elements is outdated and na´ve. They argue that there are many ways to extract energy from the very (stationary) air around us. They call this free energy and there are many claims of machines that can extract this energy. Most are pure fantasy, missing very basic concepts like friction or the need for a power supply to make the machine work whilst it generates a negligible power supply. Some claims are even comical, such as a hamster wheel using the repulsive forces of two magnets which, the creator claims, put out a "power" of 1V (1). I have drawn a diagram of this device below. He fails to note that the current in the system is minute, making it about as useful as using a potato as a source of electricity. However, some of the ideas do seem to have a more scientific basis, and some in particular are coincidentally closely linked to some of the most important research in physics at the moment; the search for a theory which will unify all branches of physics.

The shortcomings of most of the machines are that they give no indication of where the energy they are "creating" comes from. They, almost without exception, break the two basic laws of thermodynamics, which say that:

  1. All the energy in a closed system is constant. So if energy is "made" in one area, it must have come from some other area in the system. This means that it is impossible to set up a perpetually moving mechanism without an outside source of energy, as no motion can occur without using energy.
  2. Energy cannot be transferred from an area of lower energy to an area of higher energy, without some external effect being felt in the system. So all systems must evolve from coherence to a state of randomness due to random external effects caused by energy fluctuations. (2)

However one of the most promising areas of free energy research is related to very possible stores of energy that, currently, physicists have no idea of how to tap. In fact, the very existence of this energy source is still disputed. This source is zero point energy. The zero point is the point at which a particle has no temperature (T = 0K), and so is considered to have no energy. It is true that this particle has no kinetic or rotational energy, however, by looking at the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, one can determine that this particle still has some energy, which can in fact be quite significant:

If m=momentum and u=uncertainty of the energy of the particle, then:
m * u ? h/4?
So by rearrangement,
u ? h/4?m
So if the momentum is zero (when T=0k), then the uncertainty of its energy is infinite, so it is likely that it in fact has a significant amount of energy. (2)

This energy is called zero point energy, it is a form of electromagnetic energy, and is inherent to the fabric of space itself. This heralded a return to the ideas that held fast before Einstein came up with his theory of relativity, when physicists believed that the whole universe contained a substance called ether, which was infinite in its density and its ability to carry electromagnetic waves.

A Dutch physicist called Hendrick Casimir was investigating an odd force that occurs between two uncharged metal plates separated by a small distance. This force between two parallel plates has been called the Casimir force, and is caused by radiation pressure generated by the zero-point energy of the background electromagnetic field when the two plates are put in a vacuum. The reasoning behind these, proposed by Casimir in 1948, is that when the plates are sufficiently close, longer wavelengths are excluded and so generate a force pushing on either side of these plates inwards. But the energy required to provide this source was never found. A Dutch physicist called M. J. Sparnaay, who was investigating these Casimir forces, therefore deduced that zero point energy existed not only at T=0k, but also in a vacuum, and that it provides the energy for the Casimir effect. This meant that zero point energy is both homogenous (so the always the same), ubiquitous (everywhere) and isotropic (so evenly spread). (3)

In the NASA Glenn Research Center, Jordan Maclay has been working on ways of getting useful energy from the zero point energy associated with Casimir forces. He has found that if a small box is made, only a few micrometers in length, width and height, then it experiences these Casimir forces on all of its faces. With certain dimensions, when the box becomes about the size of an Escherichia coli bacterium, the forces on all of the faces are in a state of equilibrium. If this equilibrium is disturbed by pushing the lid of the box inwards slightly, then the vacuum pressure inside of the box actually decreases and so the lid is pulled further into the box. If it is pulled out of the box, the reverse happens. If the lid is then attached to a microscopic spring, one can provide a small force on the lid to push it out of the box. Casimir forces will push the lid further out of the box, until it is pulled into the box by the spring, and so by Casimir forces be pulled further into the box, at which point the spring will push the lid back out again, and so on. In this way, an oscillating system can be set up which only requires a small push to start it, and then produces motion by tapping zero point energy. So the system overcomes the first law of thermodynamics by tapping an infinite "outside" source of energy, which previously nobody knew existed. If the vacuum pressure is carefully balanced with the spring?s elasticity, then the system can be made to oscillate ad infinitum, in effect setting up a perpetual motion machine. I have drawn a diagram of Maclay?s current design of his device below: (4)

The problem I see with Maclay?s device is that it requires this balance between the vacuum pressure and the elasticity of the spring. To reach this equilibrium, you would need to measure the strength of the Casimir forces involved, so that you could tell how strong the spring must be to pull the lid back into the box or push it out again, without pushing/pulling it too far. In the article, no suggestion of how this measurement could be made was offered, though they said they were working on it. One cannot measure energy without a gradient at all. I would have thought that they could perhaps create a momentary deficiency in the energy, as it takes 10-23 seconds for energy to return. This would produce an energy gradient, but then over such a short time-span it would be almost impossible to measure an energy difference accurately. The system is also extremely small, with the box measuring a few micrometers across, and the movement only making up a distance of about 100 nanometers. This means that it is extremely difficult to manufacture such a device, as any larger device would not work (the Casimir effect would not occur). You would also need a way of combining thousands if not millions of the devices in some kind of array to be able to extract any useful amount of energy from them, and a way of getting this energy from a very small oscillatory system. As they work only in vacuums, you cannot use any waves the oscillations produce, so you must somehow translate the microscopic movements of the lids into a net movement large enough to power a generator or some other mechanism that would produce electricity. The only way to do that was hinted at in the article. Maclay suggested that one could make an array of the small boxes, and then put one large lid over them. Given that the lid was close enough, the oscillations could begin and the lid could move in total quite a bit more. But the back-and-forth movement would still be small because the lid has to be extremely close to the boxes to experience Casimir forces (a few micrometers at most), so the lid still cannot move more than a few micrometers in any one direction.

Another method by which energy could be extracted from Casimir forces has come from research by two physicists, Cole and Puthoff. Instead of getting the lid of Maclay?s box to oscillate, they suggested that by colliding the lid and the base of the box, energy could be made. They pointed out that as the lid moves towards the box, they develop kinetic energy which is transferred into heat energy when the lid finally collides with the base. With another array of these collapsing boxes, one could extract enough heat energy to create a simple engine. As I read their article, I realised that the best thing about this system is that it converts zero-point energy into a kind of energy which is very easy to tap because it sets up an energy gradient within a vacuum. Unfortunately, the size of the box is again the problem, as some simple analysis I worked on shows. One collapsing box would produce only half a nanojoule according to Cole and Puthoff, and even if this collapse occurred within a millisecond, that is still only :

P = (0.5x10-9 / 1x10-3) = 0.5x10-6watts.

So to get one watt of power from this system, you would need 2 million boxes in an array, and that is assuming that the process by which you convert the heat energy to electrical energy is 100% efficient. A household item could therefore need about 100 million boxes in an array to power it. That array would be 100m in all three dimensions, given the size of the boxes used in Maclay?s set up, which is obviously useless! (5)

The more conventional way to extract energy is across a gradient (like heating water with the energy in natural gas). But because zero-point energy is homogenous, isotropic and ubiquitous, there is no such gradient over which you can extract the energy. Furthermore, you cannot measure the intensity of the zero-point energy field either. But through the theory of zero-point energy, a vacuum could be thought of not as completely devoid of all matter and energy, but now as being filled with randomly fluctuating fields in the zero point (electromagnetic) energy spectrum. So if these fields were in fact randomly fluctuating, then zero point energy cannot be isotropic, as was claimed previously, and so a gradient could be found. So to determine whether or not one can extract this zero point energy without the use of Casimir forces, one must first determine whether it is isotropic or randomly fluctuating.

As believed with ether, it can be shown that the energy density of zero point energy at any given space is infinite from the uncertainty principle (as when the momentum is zero, the energy can be anything from zero to infinitely large, so its density can also be infinite). A relationship between the frequency of these fluctuations and a function of these fluctuations related to density is as follows: (6)

f(w) = kw3??

Where w is the frequency of the fluctuations, ? is density, and k is a constant closely related to Planck?s constant. This gives a mathematical proof to the idea of an infinite density, because of the cubic relation between density and the frequency. The only way to compensate for this apparently impossible phenomenon is to say that there must be some kind of frequency cut-off, at which point the above formula no longer holds true. One such cut-off idea was proposed by a physicist named John Wheeler, who hypothesised that space curves as a function of energy density. This suggests that where there are areas of extremely high energy density, space is pinched into a small area, and this explains black holes, and also gave rise to the idea of hyperspace structures that Wheeler called wormholes. This means that the whole of our universe could be made up of constantly forming and annihilating pairs of mini blackholes and whiteholes, which channel electric flux in and out of our three dimensional space. From Heisenberg?s uncertainty principle, this would imply that energy flits into and out of existence, their duration dictated only by their mass. So the electric flux consists of "virtual" charges coming into our space then disappearing within about 10-23 seconds. This is what would give rise to the randomly fluctuating nature of zero point energy, and so would suggest that zero point energy is not in fact isotropic on a microscopic scale because of the random nature of the fluctuations (on a macroscopic scale it would seem microscopic, but on a microscopic scale there would be slight differences created by the fluctuations). However, special relativity dictates that a vacuum?s pressure must always cancel out its energy density, because a vacuum must be homogenous. So the vacuum must always have the same energy density, no matter how much it may expand or be pinched in a given area. This leads to the rather amazing property that the vacuum draws on a constant, infinite source of energy. (6)

The work of these physicists then leads to a new way of looking at the energy stores in our universe. In addition to energy stored in the traditional types (kinetic, potential, electrical etc), and in mass (from Einstein?s famous E=mc2 equation) there is a ubiquitous source of energy all around us that we cannot feel, measure, or (it seems) tap into. The only way that one could tap into this supply of energy is if the energy could be made coherent and so a gradient could be found. However any spontaneous coherence from a previously random state violates the second law of thermodynamics, which states that systems should evolve from coherence to randomness, not vice versa. However in his Nobel Prize winning work on self-organisation in particle systems, a chemist called Prigogine defined three conditions in which a system could violate the second law and in fact evolve from randomness to coherence. In such a system, energy could theoretically be extracted. The conditions are that the system must:

  1. Be far from a state of equilibrium
  2. Have non-linear dynamics
  3. Have an energy flux through it.

From the ideas of a randomly fluctuating zero point energy field, if electrons were to interact with it, then they would remain in thermodynamic equilibrium, where no net energy would be absorbed, so the system could never tend towards coherence. However with an atomic nucleus, which seems to be slightly unstable in terms of polarisations in the zero point energy field around it, it is possible that abrupt motion could drive this system off of equilibrium. This would fulfil the first condition for a self-organising system. If, as hypothesised by Wheeler, a form of energy flux could intersect our three-dimensional space and affect the motion of nuclei, then a sustainable energy flux would be created, and so a sustainable and limitless energy source could be made. (6)

As gravity is the curvature of space-time, and if zero-point energy has as large an energy density as Wheeler suggested, then a slight coherence in its activity could produce a gravitational anomaly. Such an anomaly would have intrinsically non-linear dynamics, and if, as Wheeler suggested, these fluctuations are the channelling of electric flux in and out of our three dimensional space, then any system looking to tap zero-point energy would also have an (electrical) energy flux through it. However no viable way of creating these gravitational anomalies has been suggested. The only method by which such anomalies could be created, so far as we know at the moment, is by creating plasma vortices with magnetic fields. The problem here is that they are very difficult to produce and then maintain. And any instrument put into the field would not last very long, so it is extremely difficult to extract energy from such an anomaly. Given that the physics involved here was extremely complex, and I could only find one source that mentioned it, I decided that given the time I had left, I wouldn?t investigate these vortices any further. (6)

Another system with non-linear dynamics with an energy flux through it could be made with an electromagnetic field. An electric field "emanating from a charge could be modelled as helical filaments, which would be sustained continuously by electric flux flowing at the speed of light" (6). If this electric field were rotated suddenly, then it would create an instant virtual charge, which would constitute coherence in the system. Thus a system with a strong electromagnetic field and quick rotations could in theory create charges from zero point energy. If these charges could then be tapped, you could extract a useful energy source from zero point energy. Thinking back to basic electromagnetics, I remembered that if a magnetic field changed quickly and cut wires at right angles, then this would induce a current in the wires. So if a rapidly rotating magnetic field were set up in such a way that it would create instant virtual charges, then a simple motor could be made that would actually create energy. This would lead to the potential of an over-unity machine, that is a machine that runs at an efficiency greater than 100%.

There was a mention of one such motor in source 6, but when I looked it up I could find little information on how it worked, or what it looked like. All I could ascertain is that Hyde?s invention uses "rapidly spinning segmented rotors to abruptly cut E-field lines" and that this invention supposedly outputs ten times the input power, making it 1000% efficient. There was another invention that was mentioned a lot in articles about the Hyde motor made by an old electrical engineer called Adams. He had been working with the idea of zero-point energy, and created a simple motor that he claimed was 600% efficient. In one article (source 9), it was claimed that the system was 620% mechanically efficient, and 690% electrically efficient. As energy is only being created in the electrical side of the system, I believe the electrical efficiency claim (given that it isn?t that much more efficient that Adams? original machine), but the claim about its mechanical efficiency is obviously nonsense because there is no zero-point energy input in the mechanical side of the system, so it will only be inefficient as it loses energy through friction. Adams? device works in a very similar way to a normal electromagnetic motor. Below is a diagram of the device.

There are four main stages in its working, three of which are common to all electromagnetic motors and one of which (stage three) is common only to the Adams motor.

  1. Attraction Mode ? The rotor begins so that the magnets are 450 away from the coils. No current is supplied, and so the magnets are attracted to the soft iron core with the coil wound around it.

  2. Demagnetisation ? As the magnets approach the coils, their magnetic field cuts the wires in the coil and so, according to Lenz?s law, a current will result and oppose the force that created it. This current will therefore create a magnetic field that cancels out the magnetic field created in the soft iron core.

  3. Equilibrium Mode ? The rotor is left to rotate freely around as there is no magnetic forces between the soft iron core and the rotor?s magnets. The magnetic field of the rotor magnets is now parallel with the coils and so no current is induced

  4. Recovery Mode ? Once the rotor has passed by the soft iron core & coil, the magnet?s field again starts to cut through the coil?s wires, creating another current and magnetic field that will start the attraction mode off again. (8)

From this description, which I found from source 8, I would hypothesise that the input of zero point energy would occur in stage three. Here there is a rapidly collapsing electromagnetic field, which would be like an abrupt rotation or movement of the electric field. This would create an instant virtual charge, and so create coherence in the zero-point energy field. Although it does not say so anywhere in the descriptions of the Adams motor that I have found, it is likely that this sudden coherence would then provide the energy for the rotor to freely coast along gaining energy as it goes, so not slowing down. Thus if the rotor can be made to rotate at the start with a short input of energy, it is possible that the motor could freely run in a state of over-unity. Adams claims that it does this at room temperature, and I assume he means in or out of a vacuum. The reason that this never happens in a conventional motor could be one of two explanations. One offered by the author of source 8 is that in normal motors, at stage four, the rotor is attracted back to the coils before it is repelled away again, and so any free energy that could have been gained is lost. The only other explanation I can think of is that in a normal motor there is no sudden change in electrical field that leads to a coherence in the zero-point energy field.

The tapping of zero-point energy can be explained by looking at inertia, which scientists seem to know more about. Inertia is the product of acceleration through a vacuum, the energy for which comes from zero-point energy. So if this acceleration is suddenly changed, its state of inertia is also changed, then zero-point energy is taken from the vacuum and turned into a kind of kinetic energy. This change in inertia is analogous with the sudden change in an electric field, which is what is happening in Adams? motor. When the electric field suddenly collapses, the state of the quantum electromagnetic field (like the inertia) suddenly changes with it. This change would require energy, as per the first law of thermodynamics. This energy comes from zero-point energy. So this energy is translated from zero-point energy, into electric energy in the electromagnetic field, which is then turned into electrical energy in the coils, as per Lenz?s law.

The only information I found on the Adams motor was on the World Wide Web, within people?s homepages. I found no reference to it in any scientific journals, and there was no real scientific explanation of how it works and how it taps zero-point energy, hence I had to derive my own explanation. So I cannot be sure of how true the claims surrounding the device are. The main point that makes me dubious of his claims, is that the motor is almost identical to a conventional electromagnetic motor, differing only in the equilibrium mode (stage 3). But I do think that, from what I have read elsewhere, the Adams Motor is the most promising design of an over-unity machine tapping free energy. If it does work, it could gain considerably larger amounts of zero-point energy than the devices using Casimir forces, and due to its more conventional design, it would be a lot easier to manufacture and use in every day devices.

So in conclusion, zero-point energy is an infinite energy source that is ubiquitous. Scientists know how to extract useful energy from it in given circumstances, though no methods have yet been fully tested, proved and made into viable alternatives to our traditional power stations. Given enough research, it could replace our current power stations and silence the debate about alternative energy sources vs. finite resources, though this research would need to be quite substantial, and it certainly does not seem to be a viable energy source for this century with the amount of current research. Unfortunately, most of the research and documentation surrounding the ideas are, to put it politely, nonsense, and several entrepreneurs have engineered careful scams to take advantage of the potential of these ideas. This has turned most people off of the subject, because it seems to break basic laws that physicists have held true and essential for many years, and the researchers seem to be either mad scientists or ex-engineers missing very simple problems in their measurements.


  1. The Hamster Cage Magnetic Motor, Robert H. Calloway

  2. The Dictionary of Physics, Second Edition, H. J. Gray and Alan Isaacs

  3. The Zero Point Energy, a personal amalgamation of sources by Tim Harwood
    I used this source primarily as an introduction into the topic for my benefit. It gives little depth, but explains the basics of zero-point energy quite well, given some cross-referencing with the dictionary (source 2)

  4. Energy Unlimited, H. Bortman
    New Scientist, Volume 165, Issue 2222
    This source contained the first device I found that was accepted by the scientific community to have worked. Unfortunately, no figures were given about the power output of Maclay?s device, and I could find no further information on the Web about it, primarily because he has founded a company to research them and so they are quite secretive about the device.

  5. Unbearable Lightness - Corey S. Powell
    Scientific American, Volume 270, No. 5
    This source gave little physics, and little in the way of explanation of the devices suggested by Cole and Puthoff. But it did give another suggestion of how Casimir forces could be usefully employed in an energy device, and it gave a figure of the energy output of their system, from which I calculated how useless their device was given its current output.

  6. Tapping Zero-Point Energy, Moray B. King
    This source gave a lot of useful information regarding the conditions under which zero-point energy could be extracted from a system, and helped me analyse in further depths the claims regarding the Adams Motor. It also went into great detail about plasma, but I didn?t have the time to investigate this as well.

  7. Nothing Like A Vacuum - Robert Mathews
    New Scientist, Vol.145, Issue 1966
    This source was used purely to help me elaborate certain areas of the topic. It did not contribute in any great depth to any one part of the investigation given that it was rather vague. It did go into inertia in some depth, but I didn?t have time to investigate this too.

  8. The Adams Motor, part of Tim Harwood?s Web Site.
    http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Rampart/4871/zeropoint/aspden.html This source gave a good overview of how the Adams motor is supposed to work. It didn?t give any indication of how it worked though, only mentioning that the Adams motor works as a kind of zero-point energy diode, which wasn?t too helpful.

  9. The Adams Motor Page, Scott Waring, KeelyNet BBS.
    http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/Lab/1287/adams/adamsall.htm This article gave little explanation of the Adams Motor. It talked quite a bit about the assembly of the device, and about the effects of induction in wire coils, and also gave some figures regarding the Adams Motor?s efficiency.

This document is copyrighted by Tom Chance, 2001, under the GNU Free Documentation License. As such, the document may be reproduced free of charge so long as this notice is preserved and the author, Tom Chance, is notified. It was originally my Theoretical Research Project, part of my A-Level Physics course.