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Perpetual Motion Revisited

by Steven Novella, Aug 17 2009

On the most recent SGU 5×5 episode we discussed the notion of perpetual motion, or free energy machines. They are, as anyone who is even vaguely familiar with the laws of thermodynamics and conservation is aware, impossible. The bottom line is that there is no way to create a machine that creates energy from nothing. Energy always has to come from somewhere, and at least a little bit of energy has to be wasted in any process.

However, listener Karen Clow (rhymes with “flow”) asks this question:

I just listened to your 5×5 episode about perpetual motion, and I have a question. While I haven’t been able to find it on YouTube, I saw a video a few months ago that seemed like a form of perpetual motion. There was a column of marbles in the center, and the structure holding the column was slightly wider than the marbles so that instead of a straight-up stack, they rested on top of one another in a sort of zig-zag pattern. There was a “track” of sorts starting form the top of the column, so that a marble went down the track, and when it reached the bottom, it went into the bottom of the column, forcing the column up, causing the top marble to go down the track. I don’t recall anyone claiming that this was perpetual motion in the traditional sense, it was more of a “kinetic art” thing (although searching for kinetic art I can only find pieces which use motors). I also realize that there would be no way to harness the energy of the marbles, since any attempt to do so would cause them to slow down enough that they wouldn’t have enough inertia to force the column upwards. Is my memory of this invention flawed? Is such a thing possible, and if so, would it not be considered perpetual motion? Sorry if this is a hoax that’s been debunked a hundred times over, but nothing about it seemed to be an attempted hoax, it was more of a curiosity like a fountain but with marbles instead of water, so I’m really curious.

These types of machines are not the free energy machines that we were talking about. As Karen points out, they cannot be used to generate energy. If you try to take energy out of the system it will quickly wind down. But can you make a machine that is energy neutral – meaning that it does not create energy but it does not lose energy either, so it can continue indefinitely – perpetual motion?

Here is one such device:

The trick to this type of perpetual motion is to eliminate all sources of energy loss – usually friction. Imagine the earth revolving about the sun – this is a type of perpetual, or at least very long-lived, motion. There is little friction is space and the momentum of the earth is precisely balanced by the gravitational force of the earth-sun system so that it is very stable. It is probably more accurate to describe this as a very stable system, rather than perpetual motion, but billions of years is pretty good.

On earth it is more difficult to create a micro-friction situation. A rolling marble makes noise; that noise represents vibrating air molecules, which takes energy. Therefore noise is carrying energy away from the system. There is also friction with the air, and vibrations in the machine itself. So while a precisely engineered machine may minimize friction and other subtle energy losses, it cannot eliminate it completely.

Therefore most of these perpetual motion machines use another trick to simulate true perpetual motion – they are tapping into a subtle source of energy to replace the slight loss in the system. These are often very clever. Magnets may be used to give a ferromagnetic component a subtle push, just enough to replace losses due to friction. Of course, this takes energy away from the magnet which will eventually wear down. It seems like the machine above may be using magnets.

However, that machine also has pendulums. It is therefore possible that energy could be borrowed from the rotation of the earth, which would make free swinging pendulums rotate around (ala Foucault).

I have also heard of a clock that is wound by the expansion and contraction of various metals in the spring from the daily cycle of heating and cooling in the room. Watches that wind by the motion of the wearer are now old hat, but that is another example.

The fact is, there is lots of usable energy in the environment. If you could tap into some source of energy, even if it is slight, it can potentially keep a precise system going indefinitely (as long as the conditions and materials remain stable). On a large scale such systems may even be used to generate usable energy. I have heard plans for sidewalks that derive energy from the people walking on them, or piezoelectrical systems that generate electricity from the energy of raindrops falling on them. In the new era of supposed green energy, most people have probably seen proposals for generating energy from ocean waves.

It is fun to think about the ultimate sources of energy on the earth – mainly solar, nuclear and geothermal. The sun heats the surface of the earth putting a lot of energy into the system, which causes the wind to blow, runs waterfalls, and gives energy to plants (the ultimate source of all fossil fuel energy). Radioactive minerals provide energy through nuclear reactors. And the earth itself is very hot beneath the surface – energy deriving from all the collisions that formed the earth.

There is another potential source of energy – the gravity of the moon and sun, which cause tides, which could be tapped for energy. There are also many sources of chemical energy, although I am not sure how much of that derives from other sources like solar and geothermal. And naturally occurring magnets have energy, but again I am not sure where they ultimately get their energy from – from the collisions that made them or from the supernova that formed the elements themselves (which is the ultimate source of nuclear energy).

I have probably missed something. If you can think of any other ultimate sources of energy that we could potentially tap into, let us know in the comments.

29 Responses to “Perpetual Motion Revisited”

  1. valdemar says:

    Might the expansion of the universe itself be a source of ‘free energy’ for a highly advanced civilization?

    • Faun Flynn says:

      This is a version of the ultimate energy source. It’s the shear force or inequality in the rate of expansion. See Tipler for more on this and his book on immortality.

  2. SionH says:

    Stupidity seems limitless. If only we could find a way to tap into it.

  3. Watson says:

    Tapping into alternative energy sources is fascinating. I am always impressed by the cleverness. Why make false claims when the “trick” is just as interesting?

  4. Jerry Schwarz says:

    The “Long Now Foundation” is making a serious attempt to design a clock that will be able to run for 10,000 years. See

    • Max says:

      They ought to base it on a sundial.

    • Brandon says:

      WHYYYY? Is it really that hard to change a clock’s batteries? In 10,000 years, will we even still be using the same time conventions? Will a day even be the same duration in 10,000 years, and would the clock have to be adjusted to reflect that? It would have to be changed for daylight saving time anyway.

  5. Max says:

    Why Richard Feynman resigned from the State Curriculum Commission.

    Excerpt from “Judging Books by Their Covers” by Richard Feynman

    What finally clinched it, and made me ultimately resign, was that the following year we were going to discuss science books. I thought maybe the science would be different, so I looked at a few of them.

    The same thing happened: something would look good at first and then turn out to be horrifying. For example, there was a book that started out with four pictures: first there was a windup toy; then there was an automobile; then there was a boy riding a bicycle; then there was something else. And underneath each picture it said, “What makes it go?”

    I thought, “I know what it is: They’re going to talk about mechanics, how the springs work inside the toy; about chemistry, how the engine of the automobile works; and biology, about how the muscles work.”

    It was the kind of thing my father would have talked about: “What makes it go? Everything goes because the sun is shining.” And then we would have fun discussing it:

    “No, the toy goes because the spring is wound up,” I would say. “How did the spring get wound up?” he would ask.

    “I wound it up.”

    “And how did you get moving?”

    “From eating.”

    “And food grows only because the sun is shining. So it’s because the sun is shining that all these things are moving.” That would get the concept across that motion is simply the transformation of the sun’s power.

    I turned the page. The answer was, for the wind-up toy, “Energy makes it go.” And for the boy on the bicycle, “Energy makes it go.” For everything, “Energy makes it go.”

    Now that doesn’t mean anything. Suppose it’s “Wakalixes.” That’s the general principle: “Wakalixes makes it go.” There’s no knowledge coming in. The child doesn’t learn anything; it’s just a word!

  6. There’s going to be a good amount of kinetic energy lost in friction between the marble and the track going down, and the friction between column of marbles and the walls of the tower going up. Because of the energy loss due to friction, (without even worrying about drag/ air resistance) the kinetic energy of the marble when it reaches the bottom is going to be well below the amount of energy required to increase the potential energy of the rest of the marbles by pushing them up.

    Based on the description given, there pretty much has to be a hidden source of mechanical energy in the marble tower, and it does not operate exactly as it appears. I doubt stationary magnets or environmental energy sources would work in this case.

    I am having a hard time envisioning how stationary (permanent) magnets could be of any use at all. The attractive force exerted by the magnets could accelerate a marble towards the magnet and increase its velocity, but the magnet would also continue to attract the marble after the marble passes and travels away from the magnet and reduce its velocity by the same amount.

    It’s too bad we can’t see the item in question to get a better picture of its operation.

    • Jim Shaver says:

      I agree, and I think the machine in the “Perpetual Motion” video above is not what it seems to be. There is a significant amount of mechanical movement (so friction) and sound being produced that would together sap the kinetic energy from the steel ball much more quickly than is depicted.

      The machine is fairly large, and there are plenty of places there to hide a small circuit and battery to power one or more electromagnets. That is my guess as to how this device works.

  7. Jim says:

    Like Karl said, natural (or manufactured) magnets don’t have “energy”. Energy can’t be extracted from a magnet (unless you were to convert it’s mass into energy).

  8. MadScientist says:

    The device described by Karen sounds like it is driven by an Archimedean screw. As the screw turns it lifts the marbles in a smooth and continuous motion. If you want the lift to occur when the falling marble reaches the bottom then you can put in a light sensor to sense when the marble is at the bottom and then turn the screw until the marble leaves that position (and enters the screw like the previous marble). I’d like to see the gizmo. :)

    A real Foucault pendulum (well, one following Foucault’s originals) would have a very heavy weight to reduce the apparent effect of air friction. Most Foucault pendula which you see around have an iron weight and an electromagnet; the electromagnet is triggered intermittently and at the frequency of the pendulum. I’ve implemented such a device with two timers – one for the pendulum frequency and one to control the duration of the pulse on the electromagnet. The pulse on the electromagnet is adjusted to maintain the desired amplitude on the swing of the pendulum; too long a pulse and a small push will eventually result in the pendulum swinging widely and too short a pulse results in a pendulum which barely swings or which even comes to a complete stop.

  9. “Magnets may be used to give a ferromagnetic component a subtle push, just enough to replace losses due to friction. Of course, this takes energy away from the magnet which will eventually wear down.”

    To expand on my earlier comment, permanent magnets, not in motion, would not be of any use here. If the magnet(s) were in motion, you could maybe do the magnetic equivalent of a gravity assist/ slingshot (, but then you’d have to have something moving the magnets.

    Also the magnets would not “wear down” any more than the gravitational pull of a large body “wears down”. Magnets exert a force, they do not contain energy, per se, any more than a gravitational body does.

    Permanent magnets can loose their magnetism through various means, such as heating, jarring, exposure to degaussing coils, etc, but not by loosing or imparting energy to other objects.

  10. Paul says:

    It is not quite accurate to suggest that permanent magnets may be a hidden source of energy as they “wear down”. A permanent magnet is analogous to a spring; it provides a conservative force that is a function of distance. By “conservative” I mean that an object moving toward the magnet will feel the same force at a given distance as it feels when it is moving away. Conservative forces store energy temporarily within the cycle but they do not add or subtract any net energy over time. A spring may wear out and get flimsy after a very long period of time. As it wears, the effect on the system would be a negligible deviation from the conservative force rule. It would not be measurable but if it were, the direction would be to dampen the system and release energy as heat. The same thing applies to a permanent magnet. So a permanent magnet cannot be a hidden source of energy. The 2nd law won’t allow it.

    An electro-magnet, on the other hand, has the ability to transform electrical energy to mechanical energy and vice versa. But in this case the hidden source of energy would ultimately be electrical. It would not be coming from the magnet itself.

  11. Michael E says:

    The clock that is powered by changes in atmospheric temperature is the ATMOS made by LeCoultre in Switzerland. I own one that has been running without attention (other than resetting for daylight time) for more than 14 years. It is a fascinating piece of mechanical art and about as close to perpetual motion as anything I’ll ever see, but it does not violate any physical laws.

  12. Kyle V says:

    Interestingly, Paul Pantone has been released from serving at a Utah mental health facility. Believe it or not, he’s already managed to dupe a number of news organizations into interviewing him and letting him talk about his silly GEET engines, in which he claims to power gasoline lawnmower engines with an evaporator system and fuels ranging from urine to Mountain Dew. It’s utter nonsense, but I’d love to have someone with more knowledge than myself break down what is likely happening.

  13. I always figured the whole perpetual motion argument would have eventually lost momentum and stopped. Ha!

    I need coffee SO BAD!

  14. Nikolay Burenkov says:

    I propose Mechanical Perpetual Motion – “BURANLO”, not contradict of fundamental laws of physics, and the opening new physical law-

    « Transformation static loading (springs, magnetic fields and others
    Springing materials) in dynamics{changes} of rotary movement on the basis of planetary
    Systems of tooth gearings. For the first time an energy source are not spontaneous
    Forces of the nature, and force of statically loaded spring acting on dividers of forces
    Infinitely in time. The engineering specifications under a heading « MECHANICAL
    Self-propelled – BURANLO (БУРАНЛО) » is to the address of:

  15. David Lloyd Paterson says:

    Check out US Patent Number 6,362,718, “Motionless electromagnetic generator”

    From the Patent:


    1. Field of Invention

    This invention relates to a magnetic generator used to produce electrical power without moving parts, and, more particularly, to such a device having a capability, when operating, of producing electrical power without an external application of input power through input coils.



    It is a first objective of the present invention to provide a magnetic generator which a need for an external power source during operation of the generator is eliminated.

    It is a second objective of the present invention to provide a magnetic generator in which a magnetic flux path is changed without a need to overpower a magnetic field to change its direction.

    It is a third objective of the present invention to provide a magnetic generator in which the generation of electricity is accomplished without moving parts.


    Perhaps you should put your academic arrogance aside and take a closer look at what has already been patented.

    Don’t forget that only a few generations ago, NOBODY would have believed that only a few kilograms of U235 could take down a whole city, and this incredible release of energy was actually only the energy stored in the binding energy of the U235.

    “When an atom fissions, it loses only about 0.1% of its mass, and in a bomb or reactor not all the atoms can fission. In a fission based atomic bomb, the efficiency is only 40%, so only 40% of the fissionable atoms actually fission, and only 0.04% of the total mass appears as energy in the end.”


    When a discovery, a patented discovery, of this importance is not only ignorged, but sarcastically put down by leading academics, perhaps the word “supression” comes to mind.

  16. David Lloyd Paterson says:

    Taking a closer look at Einstein’s E = mc2:

    When the “Fat Man” was dropped on Nagasaki,

    “about two and a half of the thirteen pounds of plutonium in the pit, (about 20% of the 6.2 kilograms (14 lb) ) fissioned, and converted probably less than 1 gram (0.035 oz) of mass into energy, releasing the energy equivalent of 21,000 kilotons of TNT or 88,000 terajoules.”


    So 1 gram of matter contains the energy of 21,000 kilotons of TNT. If this is true, why is it so hard to believe that there might be other ways, outside of fusion or fission, to tap into an extremely small percent of this energy that is stored in everything we touch, without violating the laws of physics?


    Here is the link to the Motionless electromagnetic generator patent:,362,718.PN.&OS=PN/6,362,718&RS=PN/6,362,718


    And here is another interesting patent:

    “System for electrolysis and heating of water”, US Patent Number 5,635,038:,635,038.PN.&OS=PN/5,635,038&RS=PN/5,635,038

    From the patent:

    What is claimed is:

    1. A system for producing excess heat in a liquid electrolyte for separate external use …



    Experimental test procedures and results and graphic display of those results from my previous U.S. Pat. Nos. ‘675 and ‘688 are repeated by reference thereto. Similar tests with respect to the new multi-layer conductive microspheres were conducted which showed substantially above 100% heat outputs (yields), also referred to as “excess heat”. Excess heat is more generally defined herein as the ratio (greater than 1.0) of heat energy output to electrical power input.

    Independent verification of my previous experimental procedures and reliability, repeatability and heat output performance of a prototype of one embodiment of my improved system and cell were conducted and reported by Dr. Dennis Cravens, who is currently a professor at Vernon Regional Junior College in physics, chemistry, math and microbiology and Department Chairperson of Math and Science and a consultant to Los Alamos National Laboratory. This testing verification occurred in two separate experimental procedures. The first was conducted at my lab on Feb. 25-26, 1995 on a system and cell which I had previously set up. The second procedure was independently conducted at Dr. Craven’s lab where he had complete charge of equipment set-up and operation. The embodiment verified was that of a cell having conductive microspheres of nickel/palladium/nickel composition.

    The results of this independent verification were reported during a presentation, accompanied by presentation material entitled “Flow Colorimetry and the Patterson Power Cell Design” dated Apr. 10, 1995 at the 5th Annual International Conference on Cold Fusion in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. These presentation materials are attached hereto as Exhibit A.

    The text describing those experimental verification results was separately reported by Dr. Cravens in a published report entitled “Flowing Electrolyte Colorimetry” dated May 1, 1995 attached hereto as Exhibit B. In Exhibit B, Dr. Cravens reports that, during the I.C.C.F.-5 conference which I attended, this same improved prototype embodiment of my invention (nickel-palladium-nickel plated microspheres) was in continuous operational display producing excess heat. Several conference attenders were witness to this display who actually took data which clearly depicted continuous production of excess heat by the prototype.

  17. David Lloyd Paterson says:

    “All truth passes through three stages.
    First, it is ridiculed, second it is violently opposed,
    and third, it is accepted as self-evident.”
    -Arthur Schopenhauer, Philosopher, 1788-1860

    “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It is simply too painful to acknowledge — even to ourselves — that we’ve been so credulous”
    -Carl Sagan

    “Speaking the truth in times of universal deceit is a revolutionary act.”
    -George Orwell

    Strange, don’t you think, that 2 US Patents on devices that clearly extract more energy from the universe than is input, has apparently ended the debate on this subject.

    We seem to be at Schopenhauer’s second stage.

  18. David Lloyd Paterson says:

    Still waiting for a reply……

    Perhaps an argument against 2 US Patents.

  19. Feffoisir says:

    Ok here’s a reply to the so called “MEG”. I know the ‘inventor’ of this marvelous eh.. transformer, uses a lot of made up jargon and misuses equations, so maybe he fooled the patent office. That doesn’t make it true.

    Bearden posted pictures of readings he made on the meg while it was operating. He then went on to show through AC power calculations that he was a way over unity device. If you looked at the pictures however, and did the (correct) power calculations, you ended up with what basically was.. a transformer working under unity.

    Another problem is he likes to use ‘conditioned’ resistors. Which is simply a resistor that he over heats causing broken connections. These broken connections cause the resistor to behave non-linearly and change resistance at different voltages. This means when read with a multi-meter the resistor will read one resistance (a multimeter generally uses low voltage), and when higher voltage is used (the MEG output) it runs at a different resistance. This can then be used to badly calculate the output power.

    Skeptics aren’t here to bash people into believing what we believe. We don’t ‘believe’ anything, we analyze the facts and we see what is true. The MEG simply isn’t true. The problem is Bearden thinks everyone else is not smart enough to understand what he’s doing. We understand what he’s doing, and it was invented before he was born.

  20. David Lloyd Paterson says:

    Interesting response: The inventor is a fraud, and the Patent Office has been duped, even though for years they had a policy of not granting patents for devices that appeared to violate the laws of physics.

    Perhaps you would identify yourself. What is your educational background? How did you come to know the inventor?

    Anybody can post a response on this board under any name. Why should you be believed, and not the Patent office?

  21. David Lloyd Paterson says:


    From the American Chemical Society:

    SALT LAKE CITY, March 23, 2009 — Researchers are reporting compelling new scientific evidence for the existence of low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR), the process once called “cold fusion” that may promise a new source of energy. One group of scientists, for instance, describes what it terms the first clear visual evidence that LENR devices can produce neutrons, subatomic particles that scientists view as tell-tale signs that nuclear reactions are occurring.

    “Our finding is very significant,” says study co-author and analytical chemist Pamela Mosier-Boss, Ph.D., of the U.S. Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR) in San Diego, Calif. “To our knowledge, this is the first scientific report of the production of highly energetic neutrons from an LENR device.”

    The above from:


    And from Kimberly-Clark, the people who brought you Kleenex:

    United States Patent Application # 20090147905


    A thermonuclear fusion system having a treatment chamber in which gas isotopes are fused to initiate a thermonuclear fusion reaction is disclosed….


    The present disclosure relates generally to systems for fusing hydrogen isotopes together for the release of large amounts of energy for both industrial and residential use. More particularly a thermonuclear fusion system is disclosed for ultrasonically treating and electrolyzing a flowing carrier liquid and hydrogen gas isotopes to generate a sufficient temperature and pressure to initiate thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen gas isotopes.

  22. David Lloyd Paterson says:

    “You could write the entire history of science in the last 50 years in terms of papers rejected by Science or Nature.”

    -Paul C. Lauterbur, winner of the Nobel Prize for medicine, whose seminal paper on magnetic resonance imaging was originally rejected by Nature.

  23. “Perpetual motion’ is used as an excuse like “Global Warming” for
    many agendas, good and bad! If Americans have a “Right” to genetic
    integrity, which is life itself, the issue is non-toxics vs toxics!
    Why are there world wide epidemics of cancer, diabetes, obesity,
    birth defects, etc.? It is no accident! Get a Geiger counter! They
    have one model on a wristwatch!
    IPR program:
    Conference on Michigan’s Future
    Date: 11/25/2009

    Harvey Wasserman and Patrick Moore on Public Radio:

    Patrick Moore says nuclear energy is the most cost-efficient way to replace fossil fuels. He calls it clean. Harvey Wasserman calls it a failed technology that is dangerous.

  24. Patrick Ryan says:

    Hi my name is Patrick Ryan my friend Chris and I have been trying to make a perpetual motion machines over 30yrs, all have failed? I live in Vietnam I ‘m a teacher there,I send Chris my ideas and he makes them, After my last idea didn’t work I thought about what was wrong with it so I sent him the plans telling him how to fix the machine,Chris said he is a bit short of money now but, he should b able to make my jdea in 6 months time,it could have been made a 150years a go?