Out of gas? Just add water!

OK, I understand that we all want a zero-emissions car, but this is getting out of hand. Just this past weekend a woman called up the Car Talk guys to ask if her husband was crazy for trying to modify the family SUV into a water-powered car. Coincidentally, veteran technology query-artist Sam and her boyfriend sent me a note a few weeks ago with a YouTube video they’d found of a newscast interviewing the inventor of just such a car. To their credit, Sam, her man, and the Car Talk caller were extremely skeptical about this seeming solution to our energy and global-warming crises. And with good reason, as it turns out (for the record, a Wikipedia entry debunks the water-fueled car, too, but I thought it a bit dense).

OK, we’ll start with what the water-powered car advocates claims it will do: Generate energy from water. How? First, electrolyze the water. That will split the water into its component elements, namely, hydrogen and oxygen. Then pump that H2 and O2 mixture (known to the Car Talk caller’s husband as “hydroxy” and the fellow in the video as “H-O-H”, but we’ll stick with the common names) over to the engine. Now burn the gasses to move the pistons and thus move the car. The waste product will be water, once again (O2 + 2H2 —–> 2H2O). Water in, water out. Perfect!

Of course, Oyster’s Garter readers are all smarty-pantses (Bet you didn’t know the plural of that word. We’re a full-service operation here at TOG.), so you’re wondering about step 1, with the electrolyzing of the water. “Where does the electricity come from?” I hear you asking. Sadly, that’s the downfall of the water-powered car. The electricity comes from the battery, of course. And where does the battery get its energy? Why, from the battery factory, of course. Well, water-powered car advocates will argue that the battery is recharged from the alternator with the normal running of the car, just like any car battery. But it takes far more energy from the battery to split the water atoms then you get back from burning the component gases (water is very stable and its bonds prefer not to break), so there’s a substantial net loss.

Ultimately, the water-powered car is not actually water-powered at all. It’s battery powered, but very inefficiently battery powered. Of course, given our current experience with fueling our cars from food, maybe it’s for the best that we don’t fuel them with water.

I’ll close with this wonderfully understated line from the Wikipedia entry:

It is theoretically possible to extract energy from water by nuclear fusion, but fusion power plants of any scale remain impractical, much less on an automotive platform.

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6 Responses to Out of gas? Just add water!

  1. jebyrnes says:

    Whenever I’ve brought up the fact that this will tap into the impending water crisis to engineers, they merely say “well, it will come down as rain again, anyway” – yes, but WHERE?! What goes up does come down – but not where it goes up.

    There seems little consideration given to this. Of course, I’ve heard others say “well, we’ll just do it from sewage, anyway”, but I have yet to hear any research, plans, or infrastructure for this pathway.

    Given the colossal problems corn based ethanol is demonstrating, I shudder what to think would happen if we opened up our drinking water pipes to hydrogen.

    That said, if you can have solar/wind generated electrolysis on sewer water, then, heck, sure, I’m all for it!

  2. sky says:

    The author of this article doesn’t understand the concept properly. The idea is not to run the car solely on hydrogen and oxygen generated from water, but to use a small amount of hydrogen and oxygen (called Brown’s gas, btw) to effect a more complete burn of the gasoline the car mostly runs on. Because hydrogen has a much faster flame front than gasoline, it also causes the gas to burn, not only more completely, but more quickly, thus transferring the force to the piston earlier in the cycle, thus resulting in more torque from the same amount of gas.

    Because the gas is burned more efficiently, you can get away with a leaner gas/air ratio; however, unless you’re using an older car, you’ll need some electronics (available in kit form) to fake out your car’s O2 sensor; otherwise your car’s computer will think it’s not sending enough gas and you’ll lose any mpg gains because you’ll be running a rich mixture instead of a lean one.

    As far as clean emissions go, the “hydroxy booster” is an excellent way to cut down on pollution, because it causes the gasoline in your engine to be burned much more completely. This has been verified by studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as far back as the 70s.

  3. Zachary says:

    The concern for the inefficient use of the battery is aleviated when one considers what those 12 volts are mostly used for. That is, turning a heavy-laden starter pinion on start-up. Otherwise, most of the stored energy in a battery is not utilized during vehicle operation. The alternator and voltage regulator provide an output that operates electronic devices during driving. You could disconnect your battery as long as the motor is running and not notice the change during driving. Therefore, drawing off of that 14.5 volts or so during driving to electrolize is not taxing on a battery or on an alternator. My less than $30.00 project has already yielded a 14% increase in mpg. That’s like getting a raise from $10.00/hr. to $11.40/hr. You just need to get your own hands dirty and start caring about how you spend your dollar a little more. Study and you’ll understand.

  4. sudip says:

    Hello i like that car or jeep.

    I work in agniair

  5. je moeder says:

    dit is zo nep hoe dom kan u zijn deze site is tijds verspilling

  6. Anonymous says:

    The common concern is violation of the law of conservation of energy. Of course this law can’t be violated, and there seem to be three choices. One, it actually does require more energy in than is produced by the efficiency increase. Two, the water must use some catalyst to help with electrolysis so there is more energy out than is put in. Three, the efficiency increase in gasoline combustion must, as said above, be greater than the energy input required for electrolysis.

    Final note: when someone says something about the energy required to do something, they need to define their system. Gasoline requires more energy in than we get out of it too. One little spark is not enough to drive a car. Energy must be spent making the gasoline in the first place. Transportation cannot be viewed as some sort of self sustaining operation, no matter the energy source in the vehicle.

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