INTERVIEW AND PHOTOS BY WARD JOPPEN
The holy grail of technology is a device called the perpetuum mobile. It is, in theory, a machine that remains in constant motion, moving entirely on its own, and all the while amassing more energy than it uses. It is an endless source of power. And as it requires no natural resources for fuel, its creation would mark the end of conflicts in the Middle East, oil-driven politics in Ukraine, and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. One thing, though: Modern science has unanimously decided such a machine can’t be made. This is because it doesn’t jibe with a scientific framework known as the laws of thermodynamics. Among other things, these guidelines maintain that surplus energy cannot be created. Of course, this has done nothing to deter centuries’ worth of dreamy-eyed humans. One such mobile enthusiast is Wessel di Wesseli, a 70-year-old Belgian who’s been hard at work on his own version since he was 12. To Wesseli, even your most advanced thermodynamic maxim is a “giant misconception and an instrument of the multinationals.” Some say he’s mad, and much of the academic elite despises him. I met him at a bar, where he taught me how his invention works and explained a few other secrets that science would rather we all ignored.
Wessel Di Wesseli:
How much is 1+1?
Are you dead?
Well, how can one and one be two, as your parents conceived you? You’re a living person, aren’t you?
What is energy, according to you?
How about this: What do you think energy is?
Scientists mostly come up with formulas, but formulas are an abstract language. They’re unable to catch the richness around them. Scholars also get confused very easily because they think within the limits of what they’ve been taught.
Help me understand.
There is, for instance, the giant delusion that warmth is a form of energy. I think it is
. I mean, a bicycle works with pressure on the pedals. And in a similar way a car works with pressure on the pistons.
So the misunderstanding is on a fundamental level?
During the industrial revolution people confused the pressure on the steam valves as energy through heat.
And you believe otherwise.
In fact, it’s the
that is the energy. The heat is just an intermediary factor. That’s why I think thermodynamics are rubbish.
Who could perpetrate such a fraud?
The science, or as I call it, the tyranny of thermodynamics, is controlled by the oil industries. And I suspect the scientists cooperate with them so they can be generously funded, just as they did in China in the 1920s.
They did? How?
They gave everyone oil lamps so the people were dependent on oil. Then they got rid of the alternatives.
At the Brussels Car Exhibition in 1911, there was an electric car with a range of 50 miles. Yet we still use gas. How many plans were stolen or kept secret in the vaults of the multinationals? Why did they abandon the Citroën 2CV, a light and easy car?
I’ll assume you’re being rhetorical.
Why do we use two tons of steel today to transport 170-pound human beings?
All good questions. Do you have any answers?
It’s all just
made possible by thermodynamics.
We’ve been duped?
We fall for it because cars get warm when we drive, even though you can drive on air pressure alone.
Are your objections to the laws of thermodynamics based on the fact that they obliterate the very idea of a perpetuum mobile?
Rebellion is healthy. Had Edison listened to his colleagues we wouldn’t have light bulbs. I’m not comparing myself to Edison or Copernicus, but I’m strongly against deciding something can’t be true without fully understanding it.
Nobody wants to be on the wrong side of history.
Even a smart guy like Leonardo da Vinci mistakenly concluded that a perpetuum mobile would never be invented, simply because he couldn’t build one. As a matter of fact, perpetua are all around us.
Newton, for instance, noticed the apple falling from the tree. The apple gradually turns into minerals that get picked up by the tree again. It’s a natural perpetuum mobile.
Can you harvest energy from that process?
Yes. We could tie threads to the apple and attach it to a little direct current generator. I understand this is a very slow process, but imagine if we used that technique on all apples, bananas, kiwis, and other fruits. That would create huge amounts of energy.
How does your perpetuum mobile work?
It consists of two cylinders that are connected to each other and filled with water. In those cylinders there are rails to where accordion-shaped volumes are attached.
What do they do?
These accordions work as balloons and are connected to an air tube and a cable. They turn around according to Newton’s law of gravity and a special system with joints, which I developed.
And where does the energy come from?
The entire machine is then linked up to an electric generator. Otherwise the system would go into overdrive.
What creates the movement?
On the right side, the balloons sink due to gravity. On the left side, the joints open up so the volume gets bigger and sucks the air in through the tube. Pressure comes with increased volume, which moves the balloon back up, where the rails bring the joints back to their original positions.
What increases the volume under water?
It’s the principle of the potter’s ceramic wheel. A potter pushes the clay on the outside while it spins on the wheel, which makes the inner volume of the pot bigger. I use joints that act as leverage instead of clay.
That alone gives the desired effect?
There’s also an extra dimension in the surface. We usually define it as length times width. But what about the surface of water in stormy weather? Remember that one and one can be more than two. That’s why I think these volumes can grow to an exponential level with pressure on the sides of the accordion.
Where’s the concentric movement that made the clay grow?
It’s the outside pressure that makes the clay grow. You have to keep in mind that the potter stands for potential. See, it’s all in the language. Beautiful, isn’t it?
Sure, if a bit confusing.
The joints act as leverage. They are coated with flexible air-tight fabrics so if the pressure underwater rises, they will be pushed open to suck air in from the surface. This is transported inward by little air tubes. It’s an air-breathing system, like lungs.
It sounds fairly simple.
One more thing: The angle of the sides is really important. To activate the water pressure on the accordion, the sides have to be less than 90 degrees. The rails put them in this position, so they’ll open up accordingly. As long as the angle is bigger, the accordion stays locked.
But what about friction? I imagine there will be a pretty powerful force on the objects in the water.
Good point. You can never analyze a machine without paying attention to friction. But what is friction?
It is caused by contact between surfaces.
The bigger we make the machine, the less friction we have. Scale effect. A mammoth tanker has less contact with the sea than two smaller boats carrying the same amount of oil. Plus, we create a circular movement with the water. It wants to go with the flow of the balloons.
Is there a working version of your invention?
No, it has to be scaled. One balloon should measure at least 100 feet to overcome the friction. The government and universities don’t want to fund it because their scientists don’t believe it will work. I don’t have enough money to build one myself.
Did you study physics or engineering in college?
School is rather unimportant. They teach you stuff that you just have to absorb thoughtlessly. I was lucky to have a kidney problem at the age of nine.
The doctor made me stay in bed for an entire year. This crucial year safeguarded me from the propaganda, and I started reading books on my own.
Was that when you started your quest for the perpetuum mobile?
That must have been three years later. I remember having a friend of my parents over for a dinner party. He was an engineer and told me all about machines that were in perpetual motion. I announced to everyone that I was going to build one. He wished me the best, as he didn’t believe it was possible.
And you’ve been at it ever since?
I eventually grew up to be an artist and a car mechanic, which helped a lot with the practical development of my machines. The real knowledge I gathered is derived from critical thinking about my environment and reading books. Education only stops when you close your eyes for the last time. But your imagination as a kid is really strong.
Children used to visit your warehouse and I’m told they were fascinated by your art. Do you still work with kids?
No. As much as I enjoyed the amazement in kids’ faces, explaining and advertising my theories now consume all of my time. I left the warehouse and sold a lot of the art to concentrate on this project.
Your dedication is admirable.
The world needs this. When I was working as a volunteer in Nigeria I saw that third-world countries were not only taking on our technology, they were also importing our bad habits.
And your device will help save the world?
It’s a beautiful invention in a sense that Archimedes, Pascal, Newton, Einstein, von Guericke, and Galileo worked on parts of it. I’m the composer. I was privileged to find the synthesis. And I’m really grateful for all their work. However, I don’t take myself too seriously.
Really? That seems a bit contradictory.
In my position self-humor is necessary to get past all of the critiques. Older scientists often don’t have that kind of humor because they have an image or position to defend. And I’ve made lots of mistakes. But I believe in this project. It’s what I wake up for in the morning.