Time after time,
Lee made the
kind of misunder-
make high school
Testing a “300% Efficient Motor
|By Andrew Greenberg|
This article and more information on Dennis Lee's claims can be found on the Phact Website.
Tuesday, October 19, 1999, turned out to be a much, much longer night than any of us suspected when I met a couple friends and Dave Chapman at Madison High school in NE Portland. We were there to see Dennis Lee, founder and chief evangelist of United Community Services of America and Better World Technologies. Lee was on a whirlwind, nation-wide tour to show off his “free energy” inventions and other technologies to “free America from ‘The Grid’.”
Why were members of Oregonians for Rationality there? We were three electrical engineers and a physics/math nerd -equipped with several thousands of dollars worth of test equipment stashed in my nylon book bag - ready to test Lee’s inventions.
The Madison High School auditorium is a standard high school auditorium, complete with a 6-foot elevated stage and classically uncomfortable molded wooden seats. There was quite a setup on stage: an old Briggs & Stratton engine, a huge 5-foot diameter disk motor, and lots of other complicated apparati. Between 100 and 200 people attended; the mean age was around 50. Although we had not seen it, Lee had taken out a full-page advertisement in USA Today to advertise this cross-country tour. As far as we could tell, we were the only audience members with the intent to test the machine.
Show and tell
Dennis Lee, a large, fiftyish man with a booming voice, started promptly at 7:00 PM-and talked on for four hours straight. It was an amazing display of stamina. We were exhausted from listening and a bit upset no one told us he’d talk so long. Lee demonstrated his products with a mixture of evangelicalism, paranoia and enthusiasm, complete with high-school level science experiments and a grade-school level “show-and-tell” mentality. The last hour was exclusively about how to sign up to buy future 300% efficient motors.
Finally, about 11:45 PM Lee ended his lecture. We rushed to the stage to examine Lee’s main claim: a 300% efficient electric motor. At least that was what Lee’s crew had measured: 700 watts in and 2400 watts out. We received permission to test the machine and began immediately. Unfortunately, Lee’s crew ran the machine only a couple minutes and then immediately began tearing it down.
During the lecture, we had asked Lee’s people for details about their setup. To our surprise, they didn’t seem to have a single knowledgeable technical person with them. They were, and not necessarily in a pejorative way, all amateurs. They referred to their “scientists and engineers” in New Jersey, but never mentioned names and never pointed to anyone on the tour circuit. This was disappointing, since talking with a technical person is a much faster way to understand a large system than by just observation alone.
Testing the claims
In the brief time we had to test, we captured enough data to make an efficiency estimate. Based on the AC and DC current measurements (and assuming a nominal 12 volts for each battery), we calculated an efficiency of 64%. This is much more likely than the claimed 300% (in fact, it’s about right for a standard efficiency electric motor). However, since we didn’t have time to take the exact measurements we wanted, we can only say that we think our measurement techniques were acceptable and it’s probably true that it’s closer to 64% than 300%. To say that with more confidence, we would need to go back and measure the machine with a oscilloscope, rather than meters, and for longer than two minutes. (For technical results and suggestions for future measurements see the Appendix.
After examining their test equipment and measurement techniques, we can safely say that Lee is not measuring the power input of his motor correctly, and that his data is not good enough to warrant his extraordinary claims.
Examining the message
Besides Lee’s technical claims, I was fascinated by his rhetoric. I don’t often hear the fundamentalist-Christian, conspiracy-theorist world view, and it’s always interesting to hear someone you disagree with expound his or her views. Viewpoints aside, there were three main problems with Lee’s demonstrations that drove me nuts:
1. He took huge, unfounded leaps of logic. Lee claimed that no one knows the truth about magnets - not even at the “big universities.” Heck, I agree with that. Although we all love Maxwell’s equations, there’s clearly a lot about electromagnetism that we don’t understand. He then claimed that since no one understood everything about magnetism, he and his coworkers understood just as much as the experts. Not only was this a terrible leap of logic, but it was clearly not true: Lee confused units of power, voltage, and current, and clearly didn’t understand the basic concepts of electromagnetism behind the products he demonstrated.
2. He made extraordinary claims based on common scientific principles. For example, Lee dropped a ceramic magnet down a thick copper tube. Since the copper isn’t ferromagnetic, it dropped right through. Then he dropped a magnet “specially developed” by his group (I strongly believe it was a cylindrical neodymium iron boron rare-earth magnet) down the same tube. The magnet magically floated down the tube, taking a good six seconds. It was a great science experiment, and well worth the enthusiastic applause. If you don’t understand electromagnetism, this experiment is impressive - almost magical. How could a magnet be affected by nonferrous metal? But the phenomena is a common high school physics experiment: It shows how a magnetic field moving past a conductor generates a current flow in the conductor which then produces a magnetic field that counters the original field. There’s nothing new and nothing extraordinary about this demonstration. Unfortunately, Lee used it to claim the magnet he developed had special properties that could turn nonferrous materials into ferrous materials-which of course isn’t true.
3. He made outlandish predictions and statements that were clearly wrong:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is in league with the power companies and on Y2K the power companies will shut off the power so FEMA can declare martial law. Looks like that didn’t happen.
If the waste-tank mixers at the Hanford Nuclear Reserve ever stop mixing the waste tanks, a nuclear cloud could form that would kill every living thing in Oregon and Washington.
Brown’s gas, a stoichiometric mixture of hydrogen and oxygen (2 H2 to 1 O2), can be used to deactivate radioactive waste.
Brown’s gas implodes rather than explodes. (Note: in the long run this is true, since after the initial thermal energy has been dissipated, the volume of the resultant water is much less than the original gas; however, the Space Shuttle uses “Brown’s gas” to attain orbit in a way that makes the “implosion” seem mightily explosive.)
Using a Tesla coil to transmit wireless power does not produce electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and, thus, is not a health threat. I think the FCC would strongly disagree with Lee about this one. Turning on any AM radio would have quickly shown that Tesla coils do generate EMFs.
There are other examples, but even more annoying was how Lee slaughtered the fundamental science behind his technologies. Time after time, Lee made the kind of misunderstandings that make high school physics teachers groan: confusing power with energy and force, mixing up cause and effect, and making extraordinary claims about “ordinary” science.
Does Lee know he’s doing all of this? I couldn’t say. We were all impressed with his enthusiasm and good will. He really looked like he believed in what he was talking about. I can’t believe, however, he doesn’t know something is wrong with his technologies; there are just too many holes in his logic and technologies for even Lee not to notice.
Based on our measurements, the presented claim of better than 100% efficiency seems in doubt. The objective evidence is unclear, but the most likely interpretation is that the exhibited motor operated at below 100% efficiency.
The lecture was not set up to provide opportunities for verification of the claims made. There was insufficient time to do a decent job of testing the devices. Even though we were the only attendees who did any tests, our total time in testing was no more than 15 minutes, and during only about two minutes of that was the device actually running. Further, if verifiability were an important goal of these lectures, then the apparatus could easily be improved.
Put simply, believable claims of revolutionary technical advancements require those making the claims to be thorough in their proofs. Dennis Lee has not yet met that standard.
Appendix A: Summary of Technical Findings
Oct. 20 1999
This is a summary of observations made at Madison High in Portland Oregon during a demonstration given October 19th 1999 from 7-11pm by Dennis Lee. It concerns some measurements we made after the lecture on an electric machine that had a claimed efficiency of over 300%.
What we measured:
The extraordinary components were the actual motor, which appeared to be a 3-phase affair, and a motor controller which was connected to both a single 12V starter or deep cycle type battery and to a bank of 8 smaller 12V lead acid batteries which appeared smaller than an average car battery. Together these 8 batteries provided the main supply voltage of nominally 96V. The motor itself appeared to connect only to the controller.
Lee's Tektronix 465 oscilloscope (100 MHz Bandwidth) w/150MHz probes
Lee's resistive current shunt, reported as 50mV @ 50A
Lee's Digital multimeter reading the shunt (Mytex model M4650CR)
Lee's AC/DC "True RMS" current probe (Amprobe model ACDC3000)
Lee's Horsepower meter, reported to be calibrated (Land Sea Model ??)
Our clamp-on AC/DC current probe (Fluke model i8110)
Our Digital multimeter reading the current probe (Beckman Model 2020)
The measurements were all taken from the three wires connecting to the motor controller. These were the negative battery lead, which was the common negative to both power supplies, the Positive 96V-supply lead and the positive 12V supply lead.
The 50mV @ 50Amp shunt was inserted in the common lead and connected
to both the 465 oscilloscope and the Mytex DMM. The Amprobe clip on AC/DC
ammeter was clipped over the 96V positive supply wire, and our AC/DC probe
was clipped over the 12V supply wire. The oscilloscope was turned off during
For the test, the controller was turned on and the current probes were initially set to DC, the Mytex meter was left on its AC setting. Here are our readings:
Lee's dynamometer reading fluctuated but was read off the digital meter as 2.2 +/- 0.3 HP
Lee's Amprobe DC reading was -26.3 +/- 0.4 A (note the minus sign)
Lee's Amprobe switched to AC yielded a reading of 2.7 +/- 0.3 A
Our Fluke ammeter on DC read 3 A
Our Fluke ammeter switched to AC read 1 A
The Mytex (left on AC) read 2.4 +/- 0.6 mV
An aside: Earlier in the evening, the machine was run and a video image of Lee'ss oscilloscope was shown on a large projection screen. The image was a steady line at 0 divisions with large, sharp spikes about every division. The scope was later checked (and assuming it hadn't been changed since that first demonstration) was set at 50mV/div, 50us/div and was AC coupled. From this we can assume that the switching frequency of the controller was around 200kHz. The peaks of the spikes could not be seen.
The fact that the oscilloscope was turned off was a big mistake since the integration of the waveform would have been the most accurate measurement (Tim actually asked the demonstrator to turn on the scope, but he may not have even noticed). It does illustrates a fundamental problem with the whole experiment, however: the inspection was put off so long (it was tested around 11:50pm) that the test had to be done very quickly (less than 15 minutes) before they tore down their equipment. We were all rushed and the atmosphere was chaotic with many people milling around and asking questions. There was no opportunity to refine the tests because the equipment was dismantled immediately after our initial test.
The most straightforward interpretation of the experiment is that the meter readings represent the power in and power out of the motor. However the true meaning of the measurements is not really clear yet. For instance how should the AC and DC values be combined? What is the frequency response of the meters? What is the effect of applying high frequency power to clamp on ammeters, which were designed to read lower frequencies?
The answers to these questions are unresolved as far as we know. However, let's try the most likely interpretation and see what we get. If we assume that the meters read accurately then the correct formula to combine AC and DC readings is:
Power [Watts] = Volts x
This is just the ordinary quadrature addition of RMS values. Applying this to our case yields:
P(96v pack) = 96V x = 2,538 Watts
P(12V battery) = 12V x = 38 Watts
So total input power is:
P(96v pack) + P(12V battery) = 2538 + 38 = 2,576 Watts
Total output power is:
2.2 Horse Power = 745.7[W/HP] x 2.2[HP] = 1,641 Watts
This is an apparent efficiency of: x 100% = 64%
This efficiency certainly seems to be in line with the apparatus and conventional theory.
We did present these preliminary results to our demonstrator, and he pointed out that the AC/DC true RMS Amprobe clamp-on ammeter, while operating in DC mode may perform as an AC peak detector when presented with a high amplitude low duty cycle input. Indeed this may be true. The problem is it may also be untrue. It seems as likely that the meter would respond as a low-pass filter and read a quite low value under these conditions.
It may also be true that the Amprobe meter operating in AC mode, when presented with a signal containing significant high frequency components, acts as a low pass filter and under-reports the current consumed. This seems likely, since many true RMS type circuits do exhibit this kind of frequency roll-off. If this were the case, it would be significant because the low AC readings of the Amprobe were used in the lecture-part of the evening to prove the extraordinary efficiency of the motor. In fact the frequency characteristic of the meter is not well documented, which when dealing with high frequency applications is a serious problem. Perhaps the specifications of the Amprobe meter could be obtained from the manufacturer, or a similar unit tested?
Things we didn't have time for:
Obviously we should have had the scope turned on. It was the only instrument available conceivably capable of confident measurement of the high frequency components of the current. By examining the pulse shape and possibly photographing the tube's image, the RMS content of the wave could be estimated.
Another method would be to clip a digital scope of know calibration to the shunt and store some waveforms. This would allow very easy and accurate RMS calculations.
Another experiment we would have done if allowed another run is to apply both clip-on ammeters to the 96V lead at the same time. It's quite unfortunate that we did not have the opportunity to do this. If we had obtained the same DC reading from both meters at the same time then it would suggest that the reading was not an artifact of the measurement. Further the meter we provided could be taken back to the lab and characterized for its response to high frequency pulsed current.
Also the calibration of the output shaft-power meter is of some interest. We were assured that this meter was in calibration, but there was no opportunity to verify this fact.
Recommendations for future tests:
The chief recommendation is that interested parties consult with Dennis Lee or his staff and arrange in advance an agreeable protocol for testing, with plenty of time available for measuring the machine.
A recommended instrument is a calibrated means of measuring current which is drawn in abrupt pulses in the 50A range, I would think a bandwidth of around 0-100kHz is probably adequate, but more is better. Perhaps a digital storage oscilloscope with a DC-reading current clamp, or perhaps an AC clamp and a DC clamp-on of known high frequency characteristics would be appropriate. Even a digital storage scope connected to the shunt they provide would be useful.
Such instrumentation is unusual however, so an acceptable substitute
might be a DC responding clip-on ammeter whose high frequency response
is known. Such an instrument would be unable to see the power transmitted
to the device under test at high frequencies, but it is possible that there
is sufficient power flowing at low frequency to account for all of the
shaft-output power. A convenient power source for characterization of ammeter
frequency response might be a 1kW or above MOSFET motor controller such
as is found in electric vehicles. This could be used to drive a non-inductive
resistive load and the waveform, which would be a variable duty rectangular
wave, could be monitored on a scope. It then should be an easy matter to
calculate the current and to observe the ammeter readings. Acceptable ammeters
would continue to show the average reading even when the pulses went below
a 50us on-time.
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