A car can run on air, but can hydrogen-turned-oxygen-turned-electricity propulsion support their claims-or did they just add to the hysteria of a gas shortage? In his biweekly online column, PM’s senior automotive editor focuses his chemistry prowess on the case of miracle water fuel, then builds an HHO car himself.
An automobile that receives its energy directly from water is referred to as a water-fueled vehicle. A number of international patents and newspaper and magazine articles on water-fueled cars have appeared, as well as local television news coverage and websites. The claims for these devices have been found to be pseudoscience and some were found to be tied to investment frauds. Water may be used to generate fuel for the vehicle without any other input, or the vehicle may be a hybrid that in addition to conventional energy sources (such as gasoline), draws energy from water.
Yes, you can run your car on water. All it takes is to build a “water-burning hybrid” is the installation of a simple, often home-made electrolysis cell under the hood of your vehicle. The key is to take electricity from the car’s electrical system to electrolyze water into a gaseous mixture of hydrogen and oxygen, often referred to as Brown’s Gas or HHO or oxyhydrogen. Typically, the mixture is in a ratio of 2:1 hydrogen atoms to oxygen atoms. This is then immediately piped into the intake manifold to replace some of the expensive gasoline you’ve been paying through the nose for these last couple of months. These simple “kits” will increase your fuel economy and decrease your bills and dependence on foreign petroleum by anywhere from 15 to 300 percent.
There’s even a Japanese company, Genepax, showing off a prototype that runs on nothing but water. On June 13 Reuters published a report on the prototype, complete with a now much-blogged-about video even showing an innocuous gray box in the Genepax vehicle’s trunk supplying all the power to drive the car. All you have to do is add an occasional bottle of Evian (or tea, or whatever aqueous fluid is handy), then drive all over without ever needing gasoline.
In light of all this, what is my opinion?
The only real definitive claim Genepax makes on its Web site is that its process is going to save the world from global warming. (A request for comment was not returned at press time.) Their Water Energy System (WES) appears to be nothing more than a fuel cell converting the hydrogen and oxygen back into electricity, which is used to run to a motor that drives the wheels. Fuel cell technology is well-understood and pretty efficient at changing hydrogen and oxygen into electricity and water, which is where we came in, right? Except the hydrogen came from water in the first place–something doesn’t add up here.
Here’s the deal, people: There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.
There is energy in water. Chemically, it’s locked up in the atomic bonds between the hydrogen and oxygen atoms. When the hydrogen and oxygen combine, whether it’s in a fuel cell, internal combustion engine running on hydrogen, or a jury-rigged pickup truck with an electrolysis cell in the bed, there’s energy left over in the form of heat or electrons. That’s converted to mechanical energy by the pistons and crankshaft or electrical motors to move the vehicle.
Problem: It takes exactly the same amount of energy to pry those hydrogen and oxygen atoms apart inside the electrolysis cell as you get back when they recombine inside the fuel cell. The laws of thermodynamics haven’t changed, in spite of any hype you read on some blog or news aggregator. Subtract the losses to heat in the engine and alternator and electrolysis cell, and you’re losing energy, not gaining it–period.
Is it impossible for us to build cars that are truly water-fueled?
Updated On: 22 Jan 2022 By Hussain Kanchwala Table of Contents Chemistry of water playing the spoilsport Problem with electrolysis But I have heard about water-powered cars!
Suggested Reading Water cannot burn, so the only way to get energy from water is by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. The problem in doing this is that the amount of energy required to separate water into constituent elements is more than what you get back when they recombine inside the fuel cell.
Cars running on water is a long-cherished dream of every consumer and environmental warrior. Whenever the oil prices surge, newspapers, magazines, and other media publications start to run stories of how an XYZ company or ABC inventor is building the car of the future that runs on water. These claims are generally misleading and often chicanery in order to amass large investments from unsuspecting investors by selling them the dream—water as a fuel to revolutionize the automobile industry!