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Another Energy Scam

by Steven Novella, Mar 08 2010

A Utah company, Manna of Utah, is planning on building a plant in Odessa MO that will, among other things, build generators for home use. I wrote recently about another home generator company, Bloom Box, cautioning against accepting corporate hype at face value. Bloom Box appears to be a legitimate generator, surrounded by some misleading hype. But the generators promised by Manna of Utah seem to take the company name seriously, promising energy from heaven.

The generator they plan to build was designed and patented by another company, Maglev Energy, Inc. They claim to be able to generate electricity with magnets. Here is their description of their technology:

A running prototype using a new way to control attract – repel forces generated by permanent and electromagnet interactions.  Our unique configuration and intellectual property manipulates these forces to apply its product towards useful work. With chip technology, laser measuring devices, and MagLev Energy, Inc. (MEI) developed proprietary algorithms, this prototype produces clean, renewable, and better power conversion ratios than fossil fuels.

Most skeptics should instantly recognize this description as an utter scam – we are in Dennis Lee and Orbo territory here. You simply cannot generate free energy by cleverly interacting magnets. This seems to be the perpetual free-energy deception – whether self-deception or conscious fraud.

Notice the attempt to dazzle with technology terms – wow, they use chip technology and lasers. That space-age (i.e. 1960s) technology.

They further claim that their generators use less fossil fuel than conventional generators – “or no fuel at all.” What seems to be the scam here is that they have a fancy generator they claim is more fuel efficient than a typical generator. This in itself is not an amazing claim. Generators can burn fossil fuel in an engine that uses the energy to rotate magnets inside a coil that generates an electrical current. There are cheap and basic generators and more sophisticated and expensive generators. Building an elaborate generator that shaves off a few percentage points of energy loss is nothing new or amazing.

Free energy scam often use conventional generators as a bait and switch. They produce a fancy looking generator that burns gasoline (or some other conventional fossil fuel) and claim a higher efficiency than what you can buy at Home Depot. But then they claim that the same technology that provides an incremental increase in efficiency can be extrapolated to produce energy with less and less fuel, until you have a device that uses no fuel at all. They can then show investors and politicians their conventional generator to back up their claims – hey, it’s actually making electricity. And of course they have a “prototype” of the free-energy version (which just needs a couple of tweaks).

There is of course the pesky problem of thermodynamics. You cannot make energy from nothing – there is no free lunch. Current generator technology is pushing up against the barrier of efficiency, and any gains at this point are going to be minimal and diminishing – approaching 100% efficiency asymptotically but never reaching it. The first law of thermodynamic says you can never surpass 100% efficiency (sometime called “over unity”), and the second law of thermodynamics says you cannot reach 100% efficiency (there is always something lost to entropy).

Maglev Energy promises consumers:

Reduction or elimination of home power bills – Using conventional fuels, an MEI generator will reduce home electric bills by 50% or more. When coupled with solar or wind, power bills can be completely eliminated.

Sure – burn fossil fuel and make your own electricity and you will reduce your electric bill. Duh. (That is the Bloom Box model.) But is it cost-effective? And where are you getting the fuel from. If you have natural gas being pumped into your house maybe you can decrease your electric bill while you increase your gas bill. Or will you need to bury a huge tank in your yard?

The last line is classic – “coupled with solar or wind” – right – and that doughnut is “part of this nutritious breakfast.” Of course, you could just install wind or solar, which themselves would have to be analyzed for cost-effectiveness.

The public’s attention has been focused recently on the monetary and environmental cost of energy, and “renewable” energies is a hot buzzword. It is no surprise that we are seeing an explosion of companies looking to make money off this fascination. We may be in the midst of an energy scam bubble.

Here’s a tip for the media – get a clue. The information is out there, just exercise some Google skilz before writing that gullible report on the latest scam.

And here’s a tip for politicians and investors – get a clue. Consult with an actual scientist before investing in the latest free-energy con. Politicians in Utah and Odessa are hoping to gain attention for being so environmentally responsible and forward-looking. But instead they will simply be the targets of a round of ridicule from those with a clue.

29 Responses to “Another Energy Scam”

  1. Brian M says:

    I’m surprised companies even try this any more. Mind you, the public is so gullible that they just eat this stuff up…

  2. A former Odessan says:

    I have spoken to one of the local politicos involved in this embarrassing sham, and he is basically doubling down and saying it is absolutely a wonderful technology that will put the oil companies out of business. This is faith-based science at it’s worst, since the mayor is quoted as saying the CEO is “very much a Christian man of his word.” If someone has to tell you what an honest Christian they are, then that alone should send you running for the door.

  3. Robo Sapien says:

    This is inspiring me to sell my own brand of generators that run on biodiesel, with the claims that it generates power for FREE from an infinitely renewable source. The fine print will mention that you have to grow and process all of your fuel.

    For the cost of a few acres and some minimum wage help, you can be self-sustaining too!

  4. qbsmd says:

    “control attract – repel forces generated by permanent and electromagnet interactions. Our unique configuration and intellectual property manipulates these forces to apply its product towards useful work.”

    Anyone else read that and think they were trying to patent a motor so they could start suing motor manufacturers?

  5. KC says:

    Ooo…they’re using Chip Technology! As opposed to what, vacuum tubes? Small mammals? The blood of virgins?

    Did a sixth grader write this PR for them???

  6. feralboy12 says:

    But they’re using algorithms! We know that’s scientific–they use them to solve crime on TV.
    I’m also reminded of a half-remembered episode of Addams Family, where Gomez announces he’s going to go sky-diving using a smaller parachute each time. Eventually, he won’t need a parachute at all.
    Simple extrapolation, right?

  7. I think Rep. Skelton saying it would be a “magic moment” summed it up nicely. Besides, what could go wrong when you have a “Christian man of his word” and a factory closed on Sunday because “it’s important for people to go with their family to a church of their choice” (Jews and Adventists need not apply?). Couldn’t possibly be a scam.

  8. Lucci says:

    I liked the way they used all these buzz words in one paragraph.
    Ohhh yeah!! Chip technology
    ohhhh laser measuring!!!!
    Mmmmm algorythm ohhh keep it going yeahhh!!!

  9. MadScientist says:

    The claims sound like 100% horse manure – for example, what do they mean by “better power conversion ratios than fossil fuels”? Coal (a fossil fuel) is burned to boil water to generate steam and the steam spins the turbines which generate electricity, so exactly how is electricity being generated without fossil fuels? Wind is one scheme, nuclear power is another, hydroelectric power yet another, geothermal, and then there is thermal solar (solar photovoltaic doesn’t count because you don’t need a mechanical generator for that). So which method is it?

    I’d also like to point out that except for solar photovoltaic and thermocouples in radioisotope thermal generators, all electricity for general consumption is generated with magnets. The schemes vary enormously, but the some common ones either rely on a few permanent magnets or else residual magnetism to provide the initial current needed to boost the electromagnets in the generator (but perhaps the most common these days is to take electricity from another generator to provide the initial current for the electromagnet in any particular generator).

    • MadScientist says:

      Oops .. i left out other important electricity sources such as batteries, including the ‘fuel cell’ variety – but these are not primary sources of power on the grid – then again RTGs aren’t either.

  10. MadScientist says:

    Oh, since the patents are already pending, you can ask the company to disclose the patents.

    Now a quick search for (issued) patents shows nothing about “Maglev Energy” nor does anyone on the “contacts” page appear as an assignee or inventor (although no history of previous patents does not make you a fraud). None of those people show up as a research engineer or anything of the sort either. For me one way to ascertain fraud is to ask about the patents. Once a patent application has been received by the office it’s OK to make the details public (says someone whose name appears on a number of applications). Of course if there are any patent attorneys out there who would like to do us all a public service, fire up that tool to search the Applications database and tell us about Maglev-Energy.

  11. Lone Wolf says:

    People are still trying to peddle this crap? People have been messing with magnets and electricity for over a hundred of years if there was some way make energy from magnets we would be using it.

    You’d think they at least be smart enough to make some science sounding technobabble bullshit claim like “it uses quantum effects to get energy from the fabric of space time”

    • MadScientist says:

      Like I said, magnets are a major component in the the primary sources of electricity in our electric grids. You just need a few loops of wire and either something to move the wire or something to move the magnet. No turbine generator on the planet can function without either permanent or electromagnets (and small generators often have a combination of both).

  12. bogged says:

    MadScientist, here is the patent:

    The inventors list includes the CEO’s and CFO’s names, but it is filed as “Dunn, et al.”

    I found the link on the Depleted Cranium blog:

    Depleted Cranium further cites another Kansas City Star article which includes this comment about the patent:

    “[Bob] Park, the Maryland professor, said the generator’s patent at one point described generating electricity and energy from permanent magnets, but he said those contained only a small amount of energy. Overall, the patent is obtuse and poorly written, perhaps on purpose, he said.

    “It is my personal opinion, based on years of experience in debunking perpetual-motion machines, that the language in this patent is deliberately obfuscating,” he said.”

    Seems like these Maglev-Energy and Manna people are best at a whole lot of hand-waving and misdirection. “Magic moment”, indeed. Randi-style! I hope the people of Odessa and MO can kill this project before they spend a penny of that $90 million.

  13. MadScientist says:

    Ah, I missed that bit about the “Christian man of his word”. Good ol’ christian anecdotes – that’ll bring in all those christians. Hmmm… wasn’t there some huge scam fairly recently in Utah which involved some good ol’ “Mormon man of his word”? It’s also reminiscent of Bernie Madoff’s Modus Operandi. However, anecdotes do not prove fraud, they are merely inadmissible as evidence for a claim. Some questions to ask the mayor: did he have the intelligence to bring along any relevant expert to have a look at this generator? Did he even ask for information such as when the patent application was lodged and the publication date of the application (if it’s “pending” as claimed, then the claims must have been published by the PTO as part of the process).

  14. There’s a follow up article featuring inspired skeptics and one from The Odessan with the headline “Questions many, answers few about Manna of Utah project”

    They have questions. I wonder if Manna of Utah has answers?

  15. LovleAnjel says:

    The worst part abut this is that it negatively effect an entire community. One of students is the child of the local soon-to-be plant owner, and she said that people from Odessa and the surrounding communities were there to cheer it on. People are so desperate for work around here. I’m afraid that when this crumbles the area will be ruined.

    • MadScientist says:

      I’ve seen that sort of thing a few times – and I even remember Mark Twain writing a few such stories (such as the King and the Duke in Huck Finn). Well-dressed con artists go into some small community and exploit their good will. I used to hear a lot of those stories when I was a scientist out in the field. A few times locals have greeted me with shotguns thanks to scamsters (and sometimes oil or gas companies) coming through and ruining their impression of all strangers. For example, when the infamous Murchison Meteorite fell in Murchison (Australia), at least one con artist was out there telling the locals that he was a government official looking for fragments of some hazardous material that’s fallen in the neighborhood and that the incident was reported as a meteorite crashing to earth. So he fleeced a few people of substantial fragments of an interesting (and now quite famous) space rock.

  16. UtahSkeptic says:

    Every time another scam shows up in Utah I have to check to see if it’s a relative… Yeah, I know one of them. No, I’m not related. Whew!

  17. J-Mo says:

    Wow. I know the COO of Manna of Utah. Always knew he was slimy – didn’t realize HOW much though.

    Leave it to a Mormon (he is) to sell a dream to the desperate. I hope he and his little group go down hard before anyone else gets hurt.

  18. But…what if Jesus doesn’t love you? Does that mean you get no free energy? Maybe there’s a belief tax applied.

  19. Robo Sapien says:

    One of my skeptical red-flags in marketing is the use (or misuse) of “patent pending” — The label is granted by the patent office to all applicants while their claim is being reviewed, the purpose is to allow them to use it as a warning to others who would steal the invention, to let them know they could be sued for back-royalties.

    Instead, people are using it to give false legitimacy to the junk they are selling. The public sees “patent pending” and they assume that is the next best thing to an actual patent, and that it must be legit. I could take a dump in a box, file a patent application with the claim that it cures acne, and call it “patent pending”. So whenever I see this on something I’m considering buying, I usually avoid doing so until a patent is approved.

    • MadScientist says:

      Many snake oils were peddled with “patent pending”. or even “patented”. After all, who has the resources to search for patents? Fortunately in the past few years some people have been working towards providing free patent searches via the internet (I love ‘freepatentsonline’).

      Unfortunately I don’t seem to be able to find any free searches for patents pending. Freepatents has the publications online, but who could possibly search those volumes without a computer? It’s unfortunate that the newspaper, though claiming to have shown experts the ‘patent’ (patent application at best if it is still pending – obviously the journalist doesn’t understand the differences), no useful information such as application number or publication date are provided. Of course the company could have put in an application and be claiming ‘pending’ even though they hadn’t received a notice from the PTO yet, but in principle that still means you can show others your patent (if no applications are ever lost). Want to write to the newspaper and obtain a copy of these patents?

  20. current Odessan says:

    I attended the press conference for this. It was absolutely ridiculous! Most of the mayor’s & the COO’s speeches were about thanking everyone who played event the slightest role in bringing this about. The mayor was obviously reading a speech that he himself did not write. Then when it came to explaining the technology, etc. they were very obsure. Most Odessans I have spoke with are very skeptical about the whole deal. We are not as stupid as the mayor & Kram (the COO) would like to believe. The mayor & Kram are long time friends so of course the mayor is not going to take the time to investigate the company. This is definitely a campaign strategy to help him win the next election. The election is on April 6th so that’s why they had the press conference before anything had been nailed down. Plus, it has been found out that the woman who has the “secret recipes” for the food-processing part of the plant is actually Kram’s mom & the doctor who is in charge of the portable ER unit side is Kram’s brother-in-law. But they were not introduced as such at the press conference. It really iritates me that this deal is making Odessans look like a bunch of idiots. Only a handful of locals were involved in the whole deal. The discussions between the mayor, board of aldermen, & Kram were all held in closed sessions, which meant that the public had no idea what was going on. Now it seems that the property for the plant has been secured so the powers that be are still going along with their plans. Hopefully, the results of the upcoming election will change things.
    Odessans do want & desperately need economic growth. But we also want our city officials to do their homework & investigate these companies. Obviously that didn’t happen in this case.

  21. JB says:

    The below comments were taken from another forum, that should have as good as point as the claims that Mr. Mad Scientist wants to try and put forward

    Dear Mr. Mad Scientist:

    You’ve written standard internet polemics, but have not written a scientific paper. Manna of Utah will succeed and hire people here, or it won’t. The outcome will matter, but the pre-outcome debate won’t. I’m not offended that you have an opinion, and have no reason to think you’re wrong or right, but I do wish you wouldn’t make science look bad by claiming more than you’re doing.

    A scientific writing has three parts. Part one is to write a testable hypothesis. You’ve done the hypothesis part for Manna’s generators, but it could be tough to do a real test without having either a working generator or some help from Manna.

    Part two of a scientific paper is to describe the hypothesis test methods and results. I think you’ve given us three bits of evidence, none of them scientifically valid. One of the evidences in your links is that many people agree with your hypothesis, but that’s not really evidence; many people also once agreed that night air caused malaria.

    Your other tests allege violations of the accepted thermodynamic principle that it isn’t possible to create energy. One of the ways you come at that is to say Manna people claim the generator isn’t a perpetual motion machine, so therefore it must be. That notion requires an assumption you didn’t prove. You also say that because you can’t think of any way the machine could work without creating energy, it can’t work. But pure ignorance isn’t a test. I don’t understand how computers work either, but we know they do.

    After writing a hypothesis and describing test results, a scientific paper will discuss possible conclusions that can be based on the results. Since you have neither real tests nor real results, you’re left with an unproven hypothesis, or an opinion.

    Finally, it’s fine for you to have an opinion and to express it. It isn’t fine to confuse opinion with science.

  22. Herlin says:

    You can get nothing from a balanced system. However you can unbalance a system. You should also consider the source of magnetism. Also consider how electromagnetism is created.

  23. Greetings from THE FUTURE says:

    @JB (21): So MadScientist has to write a scientific paper to prove that Manna of Utah’s technology doesn’t work, but they don’t have to write one proving it does?

  24. Elver says:

    I think that before you start talking about thermodynamics and scrutinize the work and research that MEI has done, you should do your homework and check how things ACTUALLY work. Based on the paper that you wrote, you are definitively NOT involved in either physics or engineering, so I am sure you may not be familiarized with inductive forces or magnetic forces. There has been a SUBSTANTIAL work completed by the University of Florida, and this prototype HAS been reviewed and optimized to deliver and surpassed its current requirements they claim. So please, if you are further interested on knowing more, go directly to MEI (NOT Mana of Utah) or UCF and ASK about the prototype… THEN write something more productive based on facts and not extrapolations on what a simple paragraph may or may not state.

  25. Rudolph says:

    I am in 100% agreement with what Elvis wrote to these Non-Savvy critics that have NO Clue of Modern technologies!!!GO to MEI… and LEARN as you obviously have no Knowledge of this material!!

    Elver says:
    April 4, 2013 at 1:36 pm
    I think that before you start talking about thermodynamics and scrutinize the work and research that MEI has done, you should do your homework and check how things ACTUALLY work. Based on the paper that you wrote, you are definitively NOT involved in either physics or engineering, so I am sure you may not be familiarized with inductive forces or magnetic forces. There has been a SUBSTANTIAL work completed by the University of Florida, and this prototype HAS been reviewed and optimized to deliver and surpassed its current requirements they claim. So please, if you are further interested on knowing more, go directly to MEI (NOT Mana of Utah) or UCF and ASK about the prototype… THEN write something more productive based on facts and not extrapolations on what a simple paragraph may or may not state.