An agreement between the University of Utah and Los Alamos National Laboratory to collaborate on solid-state fusion research will likely be signed Monday.
James Brophy, U. vice president for research, said lawyers Friday reached a decision on the wording of the agreement, which will be signed by the federal Department of Energy for Los Alamos.The agreement, Brophy said, is not a description of the work that will be done between the two groups. That will be decided by Los Alamos in consultation with fusion co-discoverers B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann.
"The main hold-up has been the protection of the University of Utah's intellectual property rights in dealing with the Department of Energy which is a federal organization," Brophy said.
Inaction by the university to finalize the agreement has frustrated officials in New Mexico.
But Brophy said the university's attorneys are properly doing their job, and "we can't go ahead until they give us the green light."
Because the technology could ultimately revolutionize the world's energy source, Los Alamos is only one of many groups wanting to collaborate with Pons and Fleischmann.
Since the U. announced its findings, more than 200 companies have expressed an interest in cashing in - through one form or another - on solid-state nuclear fusion.
"Literally we have been trying to play out the science in the public press because of the importance of the technology," Brophy said. "This technology is so important, you cannot hold it away from the general public. You have a greater responsibility to the general public than you do, in my view, to the scientific community."
Brophy said 120 inquiries from companies have gone to the U. Office of Technology Transfer; 50 have signed confidential disclosure statements enabling them to view patent applications.
Thirty-three of the 120 inquiries are from large multinational companies; 10 are Utah-based companies; 21 are venture capital companies.
"Of the 110 non Utah-based companies, at least six have expressed an interest in locating any new activities related to fusion in the state of Utah," Brophy said. "A number of other companies have expressed willingness to invest in future research."
"The promises of cold fusion are undeniable," Brophy told community, business and government leaders who gathered Friday morning for the 4th annual Governor's Conference on Economic Development.
"What is the promise inherent in this invention? Virtually unlimited, clean energy. No more greenhouse effect, no more acid rain, no more fossil fuel pollution."
That's the good news.
The bad news is the threat of major economic and political upheaval if the technology is confirmed and can be scaled up to commercial plants.
Brophy told the large gathering at Little America Hotel that the very promise of such economic and political changes has led to a "certain impatience on the part of the public, press, and in some cases, on the part of the scientists."
That impatience, he said, has led to "out of proportion frustrations and criticism" - both by scientists who have not confirmed the research and by the media, which wants the matter settled.
But science, Brophy said, cannot be rushed. A great deal of practical and engineering studies are needed before the fusion promise is fulfilled.
Meanwhile, the U. vice president said what the United States needs is a coordinated national effort to get the process out of the chemistry lab.