If a fusion review conducted by outside scientists is positive, members of the state Fusion/Energy Advisory Council said they will consider asking lawmakers for another state investment in fusion research.
And in a Thursday morning meeting, Sen. Minority Leader Rex Black, D-Salt Lake, promised he would carry the request.Electrochemist B. Stanley Pons told the council that his research is going so well that he wants a one-year sabbatical from teaching duties at the University of Utah in order to work full-time on his experiments.
"I want to assure you of our continued commitment to this work and our responsibility to protect the patents in which you have a share," Pons said. He refused press interviews but released a statement to the council and reporters.
Pons said he will use the sabbatical to pursue his work in several labs, along with his partner Martin Fleischmann. Members of the state oversight committee met in closed session to discuss the status of the state's fusion patents.
The U.'s Institutional Council is scheduled to consider Pons' formal sabbatical request on Nov. 13. Pons asked that his leave begin Nov. 15.
The state's $5 million investment into Pons and Fleischmann's table-top experiments, which are designed to generate energy through fusion, have generated political heat. The council, which oversees state funding, last month demanded more accountability from the two scientists, saying they'd been "coddled" long enough.
Of the $5 million already appropriated by the Legislature, all but $1.8 million has been spent. That money will run out next June.
Council members asked for more information about the status of the pair's recent experiments and assurance that the state money has been well-spent. An independent scientific review of research at the National Cold Fusion Institute was conducted Wednesday by a team of four visiting scientists.
The scientific report, as well as a financial review conducted by state auditors, is expected by Dec. 15, according to Fritz Will, institute director.
While the review team is evaluating all the institute's experiments, the most interest has been generated by the work of Pons and Fleishmann. In March 1989, the pair announced they had discovered cold fusion, a clean method of generating heat through table-top experiments. The state's investment in the research led to the founding of the institute.
Money from outside sources will be invested in fusion research, Pons assured the council. Recent work has generated a new patent application, "which we consider to be very important," he said.
Pons reported he and Fleischmann have written two new papers describing their experiments, "which we expect to submit as soon as their release does not negate granting any patent protection."
"We are working with the state and the U. to secure funding to continue this research," Pons said. "These efforts are not cheap, and, consequently, the obtaining of outside funding has always been a requirement of the state committee, a requirement that we fully support. Such funding now seems likely."
Some speculated about whether Pons and Fleischmann would cooperate with the review, especially when they missed the quarterly meeting of the advisory council's meeting last month. Some critics charge that the pair's refusal to release information about their research means it isn't going well.
But Pons told the council that wasn't the case and that they welcomed the review by reputable scientists.
Some Utahns, including U. faculty members, have questioned the advisability of spending the rest of the allocation without more proof and requested the independent review.
Depending on the results of the external scientific review, Will said, there could be a $170,000 donation from one source. He is awaiting word on two other donations, one of $2.5 million and another of $1.5 million.