PhACT-FAQ on Heat Based Free Energy Prepared by Tom Napier

this page last edited 2/17/00 available at:

  1. What is free energy? This is energy which, once you have made the investment in the equipment, is generated indefinitely with no expenditure on fuel or other consumables.
    1. The following response is posted by George Wiseman:
    2. He should add that the equipment should be cost effective for the amount of free energy extracted. All power that we generate today is from free energy sources, by his own definition; solar, hydro, petrochemical, nuclear, etc. What we (in the "free energy" research) are doing is trying to find alternative energy sources that are more advantageous to use than the present free energy we are using. There ARE several alternatives, they just aren't practical (yet) because they are much more costly (cost more for the machine per watt) than the present methods.
    3. This includes the free energy heat pump system promoted by Dennis Lee. It WILL work, no question (Tom says it won't). The problem is that it is at LEAST ten times more expensive than Dennis Lee says it will be. So you can have a 1 KW system for $150,000 (mostly the cost of the huge heat exchangers because the heat energy available in air is very thin). Why bother when you can have a decent 1 KW solar cell setup for $10,000.
    4. Tom's thermodynamics are right out of the book; and CAN be proven wrong easily. There are several devices that put out more heat than the energy put in, with no measureable idea where the additional energy comes from. The Hydrosonic pump for example, heats and pumps water at the same time, putting out 130% energy for the energy input; easily measured and duplicated by anyone.
    5. The "Laws" of thermodynamics have been proven "wrong" for decades. They work only for the machines that they were developed on and the dogma has severely restricted proper experimentation on other devices.
  1. If no fuel is used, where does this energy come from? It is claimed that "free energy" comes from the energy in the air.
  2. Does air contain energy? Yes, any substance contains an amount of heat energy which is a function of its temperature. (Air can also contain kinetic, i.e. wind, energy which can be recovered with a windmill.)
  3. Can the heat energy in the air be extracted from it? Yes, but only by making the air cooler so that it contains less energy than it had before. Energy cannot be created or destroyed even though it can take different forms such as heat energy, electrical energy or kinetic energy.
  4. What is the First Law of Thermodynamics? It is the scientists' way of saying the same thing as the answer to the previous question. Energy can change its form but it cannot be created or destroyed. (Strictly speaking you have to take into consideration any conversion of mass into energy or energy into mass using Einstein's famous equation E = MC^2 but in non-nuclear processes this can be ignored.)
  5. Can I extract energy from the air by making it cooler? Yes, but only if you have something which is colder than the air to transfer the heat to. Heat energy moves naturally from hot things to cold things. It can be made to do useful work when it does. If there is nothing around which is cooler than the air, you can't extract any energy from it.
  6. What is the Second Law of Thermodynamics? That was it in the previous answer. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that you cannot extract energy from something which is all at the same temperature.
  7. Does the Second Law of Thermodynamics say that a "free energy" machine won't work? Yes.
  8. Is there any way round the Second Law of Thermodynamics? Nope. It's iron-clad and copper-bottomed. No one, no matter how clever, can generate energy from air or anything else which is all at the same temperature. It doesn't matter what fancy machines they use or what funny liquids and gases they put in it. You can't get energy from the air unless there is a temperature difference available. Eric's note: we skeptics are willing to investigate things we tend to think are impossible but would expect extraordinary proof to defend an extraordinary claim
    1. The following response to the above is offered from Bill Beaty:
  1. Not correct. The 2nd Law is true by observation, as you note below. It is a contradiction to say that it is iron-clad, then to say that it is true because of concensus decision, or because years of attempts have been unsuccessful at finding a flaw. Conservation of parity was in a similar situation, yet examples were unexpectedly discovered that show that parity is not conserved. Better to be honest and say that BECAUSE the 2nd Law is NOT ironclad, generations of inventors, crackpots, and the occasional physicist (Dr. H. Aspden) have looked for perpetual motion machines based on 2nd Law violations. We cannot say that such machines are impossible in principle, we can only say that people have tried for years and have been unsuccessful, which suggests that the odds for a success are very very small, and which very strongly implies (but does not prove) that such devices are impossible. Pursuing 2nd-Law PMs is not ridculous unless one remains in denial about the fact that the chance of success is remote.
  1. Why should I believe the Second Law of Thermodynamics? Well, this may sound like a circular argument but basically because thermodynamics makes sense if the Second Law is true and doesn't if it isn't. Besides, people have been trying to find ways round it for 170 years without making a dent in it.
    1. The following response is from Bill Beaty:
    2. You're right, it IS a circular arguement. In 1899 we could just as easily say "physics would be destroyed if uranium rocks emit invisible light." But physics wasn't destroyed, it just required extension. In the (low probability) event that a 2nd-Law-type of PM machine is found, thermodynamics will make no sense. ...but only until thermo is extended to encompass the new discovery. Physics has been "destroyed" time and again by "impossible" discoveries, but it has continued regardless.
  2. Suppose I have things at two different temperatures, can I get energy from them? Yes, of course. As you take out the energy the hot thing will get colder and the cold thing will get hotter. The process will stop once both are the same temperature. If you burn fuel you can keep the hot thing hot despite the energy it is giving up. If the cold thing is something really big, like all the air round you, then it won't heat up much even though you are putting energy into it. That way you'll keep on getting energy until you run out of fuel.
  3. What form does the energy from a temperature difference take? The temperature difference can be used to heat and cool a gas. As a gas is heated its pressure rises and this can push a piston or drive a turbine. Either can turn a generator and make electric power. A machine which turns heat energy into motion is called a "heat engine."
  4. How much useful energy can I get out of a heat engine? In theory you can get out the difference between the heat energy you put into your engine and the heat energy which comes out of it. The bigger the difference in temperature between the input and the output of the engine, the more energy you can get out.
  5. Is this what is meant by the thermodynamic efficiency of an engine? Yes, the thermodynamic efficiency is the fraction of the input energy which, in theory, can be converted into useful output. The practical efficiency will always be lower than this limit.
  6. How can I compute the theoretical efficiency of an engine? The heat engine works by heating a gas to make it expand and do mechanical work. The heat energy of the gas is proportional to its absolute temperature. Thus if the gas starts off at Th degrees and ends up at Tl degrees the energy available to be converted into useful output is proportional to (Th-Tl). Efficiency is Output/Input. Since the input energy is proportional to Th and the output energy is proportional to (Th- Tl), the efficiency is (Th-Tl)/Th. This can also be written as (1-Tl/Th). Note that the theoretical efficiency of a heat engine is always less than 100%. To make these equations give the right answers you have to use absolute temperatures, not Celsius or Fahrenheit temperatures.
  7. What is "absolute temperature"? This is the temperature measured on a scale where zero degrees corresponds to something having no heat energy at all. In Fahrenheit degrees absolute zero is -459 F. Thus if you add 459 degrees to the temperature of something you will get its absolute temperature in Fahrenheit degrees. Scientists generally use the Kelvin scale in which the degrees are the same size as Celsius degrees and thus 0 K is -273 C. So long as you use consistent units it doesn't matter which scale you use.
  8. Can you give me an example? Suppose you had lots of boiling water and ice water available. You could run an engine from the difference in temperature. The boiling water is at 373 K and the ice water is at 273 K. The engine can use only (373-273)/373 of the energy in the boiling water thus it is, at most, about 27% efficient. In a steam turbine the boiler is under pressure so the water boils at a higher temperature. On the other hand, its low temperature is the air around it. However, a good steam turbine can be up to 60% efficient. Real power stations are nearer to 40% efficient.
  9. Is there a way of making a perfect heat engine? In theory, yes. Way back in 1824 a guy named Sadi Carnot published a way of heating and cooling gas in a cylinder with a moving piston which, in principle, would work as a perfect heat engine. Its output of mechanical energy would be exactly as much as the theoretical maximum. The way the gas is heated, expanded, compressed and cooled in this ideal engine is called the Carnot Cycle.
  10. Can one build a Carnot Cycle engine? No, not really. There are too many technical problems. For example, you would have to heat the gas to the same temperature as the source but heat won't flow into the gas unless the gas is cooler than the source. All of the heat energy in the gas should go into pushing the piston but some of it will go into heating up the cylinder. To work perfectly the engine would have to run very slowly. And so on.
  11. Does it make any difference if I use a boiling liquid rather than a gas? Some. It's easier to heat and cool a liquid than a gas. When you cool the gas it condenses so you don't need to compress it to get it back to the starting point. The steam engine works this way. It goes round what is called a Rankine Cycle. This is less efficient than the Carnot Cycle but it works better in practice.
  12. Can I use a different liquid in my engine, Freon for example? You don't have to use water. However, if you use something which boils at a lower temperature the overall thermodynamic efficiency will be less than if you had used water. Since Tl is usually the temperature of the outside air, the only way to make an engine more efficient is the make Th as high as possible. If you were to use a liquid with a higher boiling point you could make a much more efficient engine.
  13. Why do steam engines need a condenser? Strictly speaking a steam engine doesn't need a condenser, it can blow the waste steam from its cylinders out into the air. Railroad engines did this. However they had to stop and take on more water to replace the lost steam. If you run an engine on something like Freon which you don't want to lose then you have to condense it back to a liquid and recycle it to the boiler. The condenser removes heat from the Freon gas and converts it back to Freon liquid. This means that the gas must be hotter than the air which is cooling the condenser. It also means that the gas must be under high pressure since otherwise it won't condense.
  14. I've heard of engines which have no condenser. What about them? They must be doing one of two things. Either they are venting gas into the air, like a railroad engine, or they are relying on the cold cylinder to condense the gas. In both cases the engine will soon stop working, either because it has run out of gas or because the cylinder has become too hot to condense the gas.
  15. Can I always get some power from a difference in temperature? Theoretically yes but in practice no. For a start, all heat engines need internal temperature differences just to make the heat flow from place to place. These internal differences subtract from the available external difference. Also, if the external temperature difference is too low, the amount of gas or liquid you have to handle in the engine to get out a useful amount of power goes up enormously. This increases the thermal losses and the frictional losses. Eventually the useful output drops to zero. This is why we don't use the temperature difference between the shallow and deep sea water as a source of power. You have to move cubic miles of water to get out any useful power and most of that power gets used up in the pumps.
  16. Is solar power the same as free energy? Once you have built a system for generating electricity from the sun the electricity is free as long as the sun shines. Solar cells make electricity directly but are very expensive. Solar panels are fine for heating water but, because they don't get very hot, their efficiency as electricity generators is dreadful, see the previous answer. Much of the time there would be no net output. However, when people refer to "free energy" they don't usually mean energy coming from some conventional source like the sun.
  17. Can you run a heat engine backwards? Yes, with a few design changes most heat engines can be driven backwards, for example by an electric motor. They will then take heat from somewhere cold and put it into somewhere that is hotter. This is the principle of the refrigerator and the heat pump.
  18. If heat always flows from hot things to cold things how can a heat engine make it go the other way? When you drive a heat engine it compresses a gas. This makes the gas hotter, indeed so hot that it will give up heat to its surroundings, for example, your livingroom. Thus the hot gas becomes colder. Now we let it expand. This cools it down until it is colder than the air outside. Then heat flows from the air to the gas. Now we compress it again and make it hot and so on. Real heat pumps and refrigerators use a liquid which boils into a gas but the general principle is the same.
  19. Are heat pumps more than 100% efficient? No, but they do generate more useful heat from a given amount of electricity than an electric heater would. This is because most of the heat which the heat pump delivers is coming from the cold outside air, only a little amount of energy needs to be added to raise the temperature of the gas in the heat pump from the outside temperature to above room temperature. The ratio of the output heat to the input power is the Coefficient of Performance (CoP) of the heat pump. The CoP is large when the temperature difference is small and gets smaller as the temperature difference increases. Theoretically it never goes below 1 but on a very cold day the effective CoP drops so much that it becomes pointless to use the heat pump, it's more efficient to use straight electric heat.
  20. Can I calculate the maximum CoP of a heat pump? Yes. It is simply Th/(Th-Tl). This is the reciprocal of the efficiency of the engine when it is generating electrical energy. Of course a real heat pump won't do anything like as well. For example, even if it had no motor losses and frictional losses, it has to work between a temperature lower than the outside air and a temperature higher than the room air otherwise no heat would flow at all.
  21. Does it help to use solar panels in a heat pump? It might. Obviously on a sunny winter day the solar panels will be warmer than the air and so will make the heat pump CoP a little higher. Unfortunately, on a cloudy day there will be no advantage and on a clear night the solar panels will be much colder than the air. You probably won't come out ahead.
  22. What would happen if I ran a heat engine from the output of a heat pump? Not a lot. The hottest thing around is the heat pump output and the coldest thing around is the outside air from which the heat pump is taking heat. Even if there were no heat loss, friction loss or conversion loss, the efficiency of the heat engine is low, in fact it is the reciprocal of the heat pump's CoP. In an ideal world you would get out exactly as much energy as it took to drive the heat pump. In the real world you would be lucky to get out half as much. You certainly can't use the engine's output to drive the heat pump.
  23. Why do I need to use the same temperatures to compute the CoP of the heat pump and efficiency of the engine? Simply because if you use different temperatures then there must be an energy source which you haven't taken into account. For example, if the heat pump has solar panels which are warmer than the air then the sun is providing some energy.
  24. In this case you don't need the heat pump, why add to your troubles? The engine will run directly from the temperature difference between the solar panels and the air. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, the power output will be very low. It also will only be there during the day.
  25. So I can't get free energy from a heat pump? You got it! Is "free energy" a type of perpetual motion? "Free energy" is just another name for perpetual motion. The other new name you might encounter is an "over unity" machine.
  26. Over unity machine? This is a machine whose efficiency is greater than 100%, that is, you get out more energy than you put in. It's just another circumlocution which is used for "perpetual motion machine" since nowadays most people realize that perpetual motion is impossible. Plans for perpetual motion machines have been around for a long time, haven't any of them worked? The first drawing of a perpetual motion machine dates from the 13th century. Thousands of people have tried to make over- balanced wheels, recirculating waterwheels and strange magnetic devices. None of them has worked. Since the discovery of the first and second laws of thermodynamics we have known why a perpetual motion machine is impossible.
  27. Why do people keep on trying to build perpetual motion machines? There are two reasons. One group of perpetual motion machine inventors is ignorant of basic physics. They think they have discovered something which everyone else has missed. Often they don't have the skill to make correct measurements of the input and output powers of their machines and so they become convinced they are right and the scientific world is wrong. Some can't quite get their machines to work but believe they could if they could only get more money to spend on them. This group usually gets very bitter and twisted because no one will take them seriously. Often they blame their failure on a conspiracy by the oil companies or the government. The other group knows quite well that their scheme won't work. However they happily solicit investment from the public to develop and introduce their machines. This brings in money, most of which is used to publicize the scheme and bring in more suckers. Their biggest problem is how to keep the scam going and stay out of jail. They have to keep coming up with new excuses for not demonstrating or installing a working machine to stop investors from asking for their money back. Often they blame their failure on a conspiracy by the oil companies or the government. What would be a reasonable way to demonstrate a perpetual motion machine? Anyone can run a machine from an electric motor and come up with some phony measurements indicating that the output power is greater than the input power. However, nature can't be fooled. If the output power really is greater than the input power the obvious thing to do is to use the output power to supply the input power. If the machine is real it should run for ever with a net power output. For example, a real perpetual motion machine should be able to light a 100 watt bulb for weeks or months with no external connections. When an inventor can demonstrate that, no conspiracy will be able to stop fame and fortune being his. However no one who has learnt a little physics thinks this will happen.
  28. Should I invest in a free energy scheme? No way!
  • Now for the legal stuff. Yep, "Freon" is a Du Pont trademark. Anyone infringing the first and second laws of thermodynamics will be condemned to repeat their high school science classes in perpetuity. This document is copyright (c) 1997 by T. M. Napier. All rights reserved. 

  • "Understanding Thermodynamics"

    A review by Tom Napier

    I've long been looking for an authoritative but comprehensible
    treatment of the thermodynamics of heat engines.  I've seen a great need
    for a middle ground between my on-line essays on free energy machines and
    the college textbooks which derive equations rigorously but dismiss free
    energy in a sentence.  Well, a friend recently introduced me to a slim
    book which should be in the library of everyone who takes an interest in
    heat engines and thermodynamics.

    "Understanding Thermodynamics" by H. C. van Ness was originally
    published by McGraw-Hill in 1969.  It is now available as a Dover
    paperback (ISBN 0-486-63277-6) for $5.95 in any large bookstore.  It is
    only 100 pages long and the important first five chapters occupy only 66

    This book gives the clearest explanation of internal energy and entropy
    that I have ever seen, if you can stand the folksy analogy of sugar lumps
    being stolen by squirrels.  It explains the first law of thermodynamics in
    an elementary fashion before discussing heat engines and their potential
    efficiency.  The author derives the efficiency of a heat engine without
    reference to that perennial red-herring, the Carnot Cycle.

    Then comes the much maligned Second Law of Thermodynamics, the rule by
    which we can divide heat engines into those which will work and those
    which will not.  Rather than being expressed in words, which some people
    can misinterpret, the two laws are reduced to simple numerical equations:
    1) In any process the net change in energy is zero and 2) In any process
    the net change in entropy is greater than or equal to zero.

    Worked examples include the operation of an internal combustion engine,
    the Hilsch Tube and an electricity generating plant.  The latter example
    even contains calculations for the diameter of the steam pipes.  The
    author points out that, with an output of over a ton of waste steam a
    second, a turbine generator needs a condenser, not just to improve its
    efficiency, but also to avoid soaking the entire neighborhood.

    To fully follow the author's arguments you will need some knowledge of
    calculus.  Too, the final chapter is heavy going.  It points out that, of
    all the devices which have been proposed to violate the Second Law, none
    ever have.  It then shows, in some detail, that even a hypothetical device
    such as Maxwell's Demon cannot beat the law.  The remainder of the chapter
    shows what we can learn about the laws of thermodynamics from the atomic
    nature of matter.

    Most of this book is a masterpiece of clear exposition by a writer who
    has had much experience with the problems students face when trying to
    understand and apply thermodynamics.  It is highly recommended to anyone
    who is contemplating building a device to generate energy from the air.

    Important links:
    Eric's Free Energy Test FAQ Page
    what about the Entropy Systems engine by Amin
    Skeptic's Dictionary: Too Good to Be True
    Free Energy Email list  -this allows you to get fresh information.  SeeArchives
     free energy with wires and magnets  - can you come out ahead?
    Back to Eric's page investigating free energy claims of Dennis Lee
    what about Joe Newman's claims?
    On Over-balanced Wheels and their Ilk
    Milton's Free Energy review
    some claim you can power space ships with GIT Gyroscopic Inertial Thruster before believing, check out a rational explanation
    another free energy discussion page
    Eric's discussion of real sources of free energy
    get on Eric's Free Energy email list
     Dennis Lee's more recent heat FE design claims
    The Second Law of Thermodynamics -from a chemists point of view
    comserve temperature phase change - a believing account.
    POTENTIAL OF AMBIENT TEMPERATURE HEAT - Boyd Cantrell's page. - alt thermo

    1. special thanks to George Wiseman, Eugene Mallove, Bill Beaty, and Todd Kudtson for commenting (but not completely agreeing with) this page.