One Man’s Unlikely Quest To Power The World With Magnets (#GotBitcoin?)
Dennis Danzik has invented a whirligig that calls for the suspension of disbelief and the laws of physics. If it works as advertised, it would rank with the harnessing of steam, electricity and the atom. One Man’s Unlikely Quest To Power The World With Magnets (#GotBitcoin?)
The astrophysicist Carl Sagan liked to say that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. But Dennis Danzik’s assertions blow past extraordinary and motor right on to fantastic.
Mr. Danzik, the science and technology officer for Wyoming-based Inductance Energy Corp., says he has invented a magnetic generator, a flywheel system that extracts usable energy from the interplay of exotic magnets—also known as a free-energy device, a cousin to the fabled perpetual-motion machine.
Mr. Danzik winces at the phrase “perpetual motion,” with centuries of humbug behind it. “It’s a generator,” he said during an interview at IEC’s lab and training facility in Scottsdale, Ariz. Left running, the machines, known as Earth Engines, will eventually exhaust themselves. He just isn’t sure when.
“We really don’t know how long the magnets will perform,” Mr. Danzik said.
IEC hired him in 2015 to improve design on a diesel generator for oil fields. When that project didn’t pan out, company Chief Executive Bill Hinz asked what other ideas he had.
When Mr. Danzik described the generator he had in mind, Mr. Hinz—a former president and CEO of AlliedSignal Aerospace—uttered the appropriate epithet of incredulity. But after several more demonstrations, he became the Earth Engine’s second believer.
One might expect Mr. Danzik, 61 years old, an industrial engineer but not a trained physicist, to tread lightly, perhaps starting with a small lab apparatus to prove his theories. Actually, he has built several, including Crystal, a 1,222-pound demonstrator fabricated out of Lexan polycarbonate, so as to be literally transparent to visitors and skeptics. As you read this, IEC is live streaming the Crystal from its lab in Scottsdale.
If Crystal is working as advertised, Mr. Danzik will have revealed a new field in, well, fields, the dynamics among his proprietary magnets and their ability to do work. He will have also achieved something that has eluded great minds from Leonardo da Vinci to electrical pioneer Nikola Tesla. How is that even possible? “Tesla didn’t have rare-earth magnets and digital machine control,” Mr. Danzik said.
Science has already spoken on the matter—and says there is no need to see the Earth Engine.
“Perpetual-motion machines are bunk, and magnets are the refuge of charlatans,” wrote Don Lincoln, senior scientist at U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Chicago, in an email. “The key is energy. How much energy do you put into it compared to how much you get out? If there’s more energy out than in, we throw away the textbooks and send [Mr. Danzik] half a dozen Nobel Prizes, because one isn’t enough.
But Mr. Danzik isn’t waiting by the phone for Stockholm to call. “I can and have demonstrated [the phenomenon] without fail, thousands of times,” he wrote in an email to The Wall Street Journal. “At this point I am concentrating on a practical application, with a commercial benefit.”
This is where the IEC’s strange story takes a stranger turn. In another part of the building, the company is already manufacturing generators based on his radical ideas. Big ones. IEC says its first commercial model, the R32 Earth Engine, hucks two 900-kilogram flywheels at speeds between 125 and 250 rpm, generating 240V or 480V at 100 amps. On the high side, that’s 48 kilowatts, about what a small backup diesel generator puts out. But unlike a diesel generator, the company says, the R32 produces no emissions, no noise (the unit comes in a vacuum-sealed, tamper-proof housing) and uses no fuel.
IEC’s largest investor, Mike Halverson, owns a company in North Las Vegas, Nev., that manufactures modular shooting ranges for off-grid locations, complete with power backup. An R32 test unit installed at his facility in January ran for 422 hours, IEC says, averaging 4.4 kW output, before it was brought back to the lab for analysis. That’s enough energy to light up three average U.S. homes for a month or charge up a score of dead-flat Tesla Model S’s.
The limiting factor in field installations isn’t making power, Mr. Danzik said, but storing it, in banks of batteries that cost far more than the generators themselves.
But again, wouldn’t the limiting factor be that the Earth Engine shouldn’t make, it just can’t make, any power at all, according to every rule in the physics book? Most conspicuous is the first law of thermodynamics, also known as the conservation of energy. Where is this energy coming from?
Then there’s Gauss’s law for magnetism, the second of Maxwell’s famous equations, which say magnets can do no work because they have no inherent energy, because the attractive force of one pole cancels out the repulsive force of the other. This magnetic reciprocity has been the sticking point, literally, with such cycling whirligigs throughout history.
Visitors to the Scottsdale facility will find themselves brooding over two amazing possibilities, one of which must be true, no matter how hard to accept: The first is that Mr. Danzik has indeed found a way to squeeze enormous, unexpected energy from permanent magnets—“nature’s batteries,” he calls them. Such a discovery would rank with the harnessing of steam, electricity and the atom.
The second scenario is somehow harder to believe. That Mr. Danzik, a lovely man in schoolboy glasses and ostrich boots, is the David Copperfield of magnetics and that IEC’s concrete-floor workspace is his stage, concealing generators, cables and motors. One would also have to cast Mr. Hinz—a ultrahigh-net-worth grandfather of eight—in the role of magician’s assistant.
There are certainly reasons to be wary. IEC has yet to file any patent paperwork for experts to examine, which Mr. Hinz said was due to fear the technology would be poached in a patent counterclaim. Nor has it allowed independent analysts to tear into an Earth Engine to examine the core IP, what Mr. Danzik describes as the “geometry and geology” of the magnets. Crystal, the see-through demonstrator, conceals its most proprietary bits in an opaque box.
“These guys should get a fair shake,” said Dr. Lincoln, from Fermi Labs. “But a fair shake means handing a couple of copies of their gizmo to a group of snarky engineers and scientists and let them have at it.” Any physicist interested in seeing the machine has an open invitation, says Mr. Danzik.
This isn’t Mr. Danzik’s first wonder-tech business venture. He was previously chief executive officer of RDX Technologies Corp. , which invested in a refinery that was developing a process to make diesel fuel from municipal waste. In 2015, RDX announced that it had fired Mr. Danzik. Mr. Danzik and other business entities involved with RDX have been engaged in a protracted legal battle that is headed for trial Aug. 6 in federal court in Arizona.
If the Earth Engine is an illusion, it’s a spectacularly elaborate one with no clear way of paying off. IEC isn’t selling, or even leasing, the machines, to keep the secret guts secret. Instead, it will charge by the kilowatt-hour delivered in the field—and a pittance, too, 8 to 45 cents per kWh. Oil-field operations can easily pay the equivalent of $1 per kWh for diesel.
With about 30 employees, a $100 million valuation and about $16 million of investors’ money in play, IEC has plans for another round of fundraising, but Mr. Hinz said it is in no hurry. “What we really need now are more smart people,” he said.
But if the Earth Engine doesn’t make power, none of these smart people is likely to get paid and IEC is likely to get litigated to ashes. And, just to reiterate, the generators can’t work, according to deep and well-established science. Compared with overturning Gauss and Maxwell, it’s more likely the entire facility is filled with hallucinogenic gas or that visitors are under hypnotic mind control.
And yet the R32 roaring away in the test bed sure seems like it’s working.
Some have had their faith in classical physics shaken. Tim Tight, a tech adviser in the Bay Area with a master’s in engineering and an M.B.A., both from Stanford, visited IEC in April, after hearing about the Earth Engine for more than a year. “It sounded too good to be true,” he said. He returned from his visit a believer and began reaching out to friends and former classmates at Stanford, looking for a Ph.D. physicist to explain “why the machine…isn’t violating the laws of thermodynamics.”
Not all who have visited Crystal have come away persuaded. “I don’t doubt the sincerity of Dennis and his team” said Peter Rez, a physicist from Arizona State University, in an email. But even if it did manage to extract some energy, it would amount to nearly nothing. It would have to be. “The conservation of energy is intact,” he wrote.
“I’m not a physicist,” Mr. Danzik said. “Honestly, there are things about the phenomenon I don’t understand. If I understood more I could make it better.” For example, Mr. Danzik wants to know how the relatively small amount of electricity used to polarize his magnets allows them to exhibit nearly inexhaustible magnetism for years. Most physicists would agree: It’s a good question.
Dr. Sagan would have demanded extraordinary evidence for the Earth Engine. It could be argued Messrs. Danzik and Hinz has delivered the only evidence that would suffice: the dollars-and-cents, skin-in-the-game kind. If the generators are turning, and the dairy’s lights are on and the pump-jacks are cycling, perhaps it’s incumbent on science to explain how and not the other way around.
Mr. Hinz, at least, seems convinced. “I wouldn’t sell this company for a billion dollars.”
For Extra Credit: How It Is Supposed to Work
A magnet is any material or object that produces a magnetic field. Among the strongest magnets are those derived from rare-earth minerals. In the case of the Earth Engine, superstrong magnets paired with computer control and the good old flywheel allow IEC to claim it can “suspend entropy.”
Mr. Danzik says he became convinced he could extract energy from powerful magnets (mostly ordinary iron) that are clustered in a way that magnifies their effect. Such arrays are well known. For example, Tesla cars use electromagnetic motors with what are called “Halbach” arrays, which are about 30% stronger than typical neodymium magnets.
The magnets IEC uses are also highly one-sided, or “anisotropic,” which means their field is stronger on one face than the other—say, 85% North and 15% South.
In the R32, magnets located in three black towers interact with ones placed in the two one-ton, counter-rotating flywheels. As the flywheel rotates, small battery-powered motors move the tower magnets’ orientation at moments of highest drag. This allows the magnets to accelerate as they approach and not slow down as much when they pass.
The net force imparts angular momentum to the flywheels that can then be harvested, mechanically or electrically, IEC claims.
The biggest riddle involves the conservation of energy. Conventional physics holds that magnets have nearly zero inherent energy. Mr. Danzik believes that is because we calculate magnets’ strength by how much current they induce in a loop of wire. He argues that with the emergence of anisotropic, rare-earth magnets, we need a new set of equations to calculate a new physical quantity, which he describes as ‘’the resulting center shaft torque produced from angular momentum derived from the force of paired magnetic fields.”
If it all checks out, this new quantity would have to be measured in a new unit: the Danzik.
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