Researchers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), scientists for the U.S. Navy and a group of investors who have contributed over $25 million to his private company believe in the work of Harvard Medical School graduate Dr. Randell Mills.
However, scientists at the American Physical Society (APS), a trade organization for American physicists, and Harvard say his findings are unfounded.
According to Mills his fight to establish a breakthrough technology pits establishment science against the cutting edge of innovation in the field of energy.
While this researcher-turned-CEO prides himself on the scientific developments his firm has made while working in the commercial sector, he may ultimately need the academic community's support to become a financial success.
Mills's detractors recently succeeded in convincing the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to revoke a patent issued on Feb. 15 to his company, BlackLight Power, Inc. of Cranbury, N.J. BlackLight was awarded the patent for a process developed by Mills in which hydrogen molecules are broken down to release energy and "hydrinos."
According to Mills, this process generates energy much more cleanly than traditional fuels and generates by-products that are useful in a number of industries, from aerospace to computer chips.
The company is now suing to recover the lost patent. Jeffrey Melcher, BlackLight's lawyer in Washington, says he expects to appear before a U.S. District Court Judge on May 22. He says he is seeking summary judgment to have Blacklight's patent reinstated.
"To the best of my knowledge, the U.S. Patent Office's action in this case is unprecedented or extremely rare," Mills says.
From the beginning of his career, Mills has been dogged by an academic community with which he has little in common as a medical doctor and practicing businessman.
The most visible representative of Mills' opposition is Robert L. Park, a University of Maryland physics professor who recently wrote a book called Voodoo Science: the Road from Fraud to Foolishness, in which he attacks Mills and other "fringe" figures for propagating what he calls "junk theories."
In Voodoo Science and a number of articles, Park, who was not available for comment, contests the BlackLight process for producing energy from hydrogen because he says it defies accepted laws of physics. But Park admits he has never tested Mills's method in a lab.
For this reason, Melcher says, it is especially remarkable that the U.S. Patent Office has named Park as one of the instigators of its decision to review and ultimately rescind BlackLight's patent.
Mills says he believes Park, who is the paid spokesperson of American Physical Society (APS), protested his patent as part of an ongoing campaign "to protect the agenda of 'Big Science'"--his term for the group of scientists that receives government research grants.
According to Mills, Park does not want to acknowledge that BlackLight, an independent firm running on private capital investment, has succeeded at a project members of his own professional organization have been trying to achieve for years.
As Mills describes it, the theory underlying his process depends on a new approach to quantum mechanics, long the accepted paradigm for describing the action of elemental matter.
He insists that independent laboratories from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to NASA have corroborated his work in the area of shrinking hydrogen to extract energy.
Park and his colleagues from the APS--including Harvard's Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics Howard Georgi and Steve Chu, a Nobel laureate and a professor at Stanford University, reject Mills' claims.
"It's just silliness," Georgi says, dismissing the possibility of Mills' findings being substantiated.
Perhaps thanks to the work of Park, several scientists have expressed embarrassment at the very mention of BlackLight's hydrogen-power project.
Chu's colleague at Stanford, Professor Doug Osheroff echoes the sentiments of Georgi, pointing out that Mills has chosen a field of experimentation considered by most physicists to be already very well understood.
"Quantum mechanics was invented to understand physics," Osheroff says. "It's never been found to be flawed."
The skepticism he has confronted since the founding of BlackLight in 1991 appears only to have strengthened Mills' resolve.
The recent patent woes have not slowed the research at BlackLight headquarters, a 53,000-square-foot former Lockheed Martin airplane hangar in New Jersey, which Mills describes as "state of the art" and values at over $15 million.
Mills says he has 30 people, including 10 Ph.D.s, working full-time to develop plasma cells, surface coatings and a media storage materials--all from the detritus of the hydrogen-shrinking, energy-emitting process.
"These side products could even be more valuable than the clean source of power derived from our method of breaking down hydrogen," Mills says.
He explains that plasma cells are essential for generating electricity; surface coatings shield cars and houses from rust; and the media storage materials made from the shrinking of hydrogen can be used in computer chips.
Finally, Mills describes the gyrotron BlackLight is developing as a "reverse microwave" device that could be used to supply power cheaply to people's homes from a "clean" compound, thus eliminating the need for tradition fuel sources that pollute the environment.
While he has clearly failed to convince most physicists, Mills has recruited a small but fiercely loyal coterie of researchers to sit on the board of his firm.
Among them are Shelby Brewer, an MIT-trained scientist and former deputy director of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission under President Reagan; retired Vice Admiral Michael P. Kalleres of the U.S. Navy, who served as commander of the Atlantic fleet during the Gulf War; and Aris Melissaratos, former director of the Westinghouse Science and Technology Center.
Mills says that Navy has been engaged in research trials following from BlackLight's work on surface coatings, which could be used to protect ships from rust, and that NASA has shown interest in his ideas about using hydrinos to power spacecraft.