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June 13, 2008

An engine that runs on water?
Posted by Teresa at 10:59 AM * 175 comments

A Japanese company, Genepax, has announced and demonstrated a new fuel cell system that runs on water.

No, really.

Some links:

From Reuters India:

Tired of petrol prices rising daily at the pump? A Japanese company has invented an electric-powered, and environmentally friendly, car that it says runs solely on water.

Genepax unveiled the car in the western city of Osaka on Thursday, saying that a liter (2.1 pints) of any kind of water—rain, river or sea—was all you needed to get the engine going for about an hour at a speed of 80 km (50 miles).

“The car will continue to run as long as you have a bottle of water to top up from time to time,” Genepax CEO Kiyoshi Hirasawa told local broadcaster TV Tokyo. “It does not require you to build up an infrastructure to recharge your batteries, which is usually the case for most electric cars,” he added.

Once the water is poured into the tank at the back of the car, the a generator breaks it down and uses it to create electrical power, TV Tokyo said.

Whether the car makes it into showrooms remains to be seen. Genepax said it had just applied for a patent and is hoping to collaborate with Japanese auto manufacturers in the future.

From Fuel Cell Today:
It is claimed the Water Energy System (WES) developed by Genepax can generate power by supplying water and air to the fuel and air electrodes. The basic power generation mechanism of the system is similar to that of a standard fuel cell. The main feature of the new system is that it uses a membrane electrode assembly (MEA), which contains a material that breaks down the water to hydrogen and oxygen.

Though the company did not reveal any more detail the company president said that they had “succeeded in adopting a well-known process to produce hydrogen from water to the MEA”, similar to the mechanism that produces hydrogen by a reaction of metal hydride and water. However the company claims that compared with the existing method, the new process produces hydrogen from water for a longer time.

Genepax unveiled a fuel cell stack with a rated output of 120W and a fuel cell system with a rated output of 300W. The 300W system is an active system, which supplies water and air with a pump. In the demonstration, the company powered the TV and the lighting equipment with a lead-acid battery charged by using the system. In addition, the 300W system was mounted in the luggage room of a compact electric vehicle “Reva” manufactured by Takeoka Mini Car Products Co Ltd, and the vehicle was driven by the system.

From TechOn:
According to Genepax, the main feature of the new system is that it uses the company’s membrane electrode assembly (MEA), which contains a material capable of breaking down water into hydrogen and oxygen through a chemical reaction.

Though the company did not reveal the details, it “succeeded in adopting a well-known process to produce hydrogen from water to the MEA,” said Hirasawa Kiyoshi, the company’s president. This process is allegedly similar to the mechanism that produces hydrogen by a reaction of metal hydride and water. But compared with the existing method, the new process is expected to produce hydrogen from water for longer time, the company said.

With the new process, the cell needs only water and air, eliminating the need for a hydrogen reformer and high-pressure hydrogen tank. Moreover, the MEA requires no special catalysts, and the required amount of rare metals such as platinum is almost the same as that of existing systems, Genepax said.

Unlike the direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC), which uses methanol as a fuel, the new system does not emit CO2. In addition, it is expected to have a longer life because catalyst degradation (poisoning) caused by CO does not occur on the fuel electrode side. As it has only been slightly more than a year since the company completed the prototype, it plans to collect more data on the product life.

At the conference, Genepax unveiled a fuel cell stack with a rated output of 120W and a fuel cell system with a rated output of 300W. In the demonstration, the 120W fuel cell stack was first supplied with water by using a dry-cell battery operated pump. After power was generated, it was operated as a passive system with the pump turned off.

This time, the voltage of the fuel cell stack was 25-30V. Because the stack is composed of 40 cells connected in series, it is expected that the output per cell is 3W or higher, the voltage is about 0.5-0.7V, and the current is about 6-7A. The power density is likely to be not less than 30mW/cm2 because the reaction area of the cell is 10 x 10 cm. …

For the future, the company intends to provide 1kw-class generation systems for use in electric vehicles and houses. Instead of driving electric vehicles with this system alone, the company expects to use it as a generator to charge the secondary battery used in electric vehicles.

This looks kinda real. How much more do we know, or can we guess? Also, would I be correct in assuming the system throws off oxygen? That could get exciting. (Thank you, Bill Brazell.)
Comments on An engine that runs on water?:
#1 ::: Aaron Bergman ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 11:37 AM:

It's tough to see how this is possible given conservation of energy. Hydrogen and oxygen separately have more energy than water, so you need to put in energy somehow to separate them, and you're not going to get more energy that you put in by recombining them back into water.

#2 ::: Tom Scudder ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 11:40 AM:

Right. I'd want to know what precisely goes into creating the MEA thing. (Also, how pure does the water need to be?) Mind, it still could be a good way to turn power-plant-generated electricity into vehicle-running fuel.

#3 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 11:55 AM:

> Mind, it still could be a good way to turn power-plant-generated electricity into vehicle-running fuel.

Not in a vehicle though. Storing electricity in batteries to break water down into hydrogen and oxygen so you can use a fuel cell to generate less electricity than you started with in the batteries would be silly.

It's not clear whether the claims are missing out vital facts or just made up, but they clearly aren't true as presented.

#4 ::: Macavity ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 11:55 AM:

If it's real, very very cool.

If it's a hoax, BOOOOOOO!

#5 ::: Peter Shor ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 11:57 AM:

It can't be real ... it violates the second law of thermodynamics. Either the inventors have deluded themselves, or it's a scam aimed at deceiving investors. Is Genepax listed on the Tokyo stock exchange? What's happening to its stock?

#6 ::: Bill ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:02 PM:

Something has to be sacrificed (electrons released) to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen. That process is a reduction reaction which requires electrons to do it. Where does it get the electrons? There has to be another material oxidized to reduce the water to elemental components. There's got to be a story behind the story.

#7 ::: Andrea A. Phillips ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:08 PM:

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch, right? My first thought was along the lines of "Well, since corn ethanol makes people starve, let's do them quicker and dry them out instead." I'm having trouble working out the life cycle here, though, and trying to see if the end game here is massive drought or if I'm just missing smething.

So yeah, I'm suspicious but I yearn for it to be the good thing it looks like: Cheap, abundant energy. Yum.

I really hope this gets widespread press notice; that more coverage out there, the more pieces to try to put together how it works and what the catches or nasty side effects might be.

#8 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:12 PM:

I'd assume that, when engineers take a look at the MEA, it will contain the moral equivalent of fuel. I'm sorry, folks, but it's not the least likely this is true in any meaningful sense.

#9 ::: JLundell ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:20 PM:

==Peter#5. Yet another perpetual motion machine scam.

#10 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:20 PM:

Yep. We're taking little unwound springs (chemical bonds in H2O), and turning them into little wound-up springs (H2, O2--you can tell they're wound up, because you can burn them together and get a bunch of energy (as they come unwound), plus H2O.); the energy to do the winding has to come from someplace; that's effectively your fuel source.

#11 ::: samuel orr ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:22 PM:

This Technology is around from 1960s and shutting down buy all goverments of the worlds why, so they can make huge profits, Arab countries hand & hands with western countries all getting rich on regular common people, until common people develop brains and start making their own simple devices its only that goverments cant stop when people want free energy to better their lifes style i order this device from japan and installing it next week in my regular car. its on you tube, genepax, hydrogen generator kits , etc etc belive it water has enough power and 12 volt from yoru car its all it need to convert to power to run anything welcome to new world.

#12 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:22 PM:

Also, salt and electrodes.

The power is low enough to believe that they're working with essentially a battery (3w/cell), and that the water is essentially an electrolyte.

3w is nothing not even charge a laptop range. Hell, 120w is well within reach of most cyclists.

#13 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:22 PM:

Part of the technology involved may be this, which improved hydrogen production by adding gallium into the equation.

As for the power source to split the water up into its components--could an alternator/generator be involved here, running off the driveshaft? You'd need a battery to start the reaction, but could generate more electricity to run the reaction once the engine was running, the same way a gasoline-powered car re-charges its battery and runs such accessories as lights &c. Of course, this would mean heavier fuel use, just as running the air conditioner in a car affects fuel use now, but it might be one explanation.

#14 ::: samuel orr ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:24 PM:

This Technology is around from 1960s and shutting down buy all goverments of the worlds why, so they can make huge profits, Arab countries hand & hands with western countries all getting rich on regular common people, until common people develop brains and start making their own simple devices its only that goverments cant stop when people want free energy to better their lifes style i order this device from japan and installing it next week in my regular car. its on you tube, genepax, hydrogen generator kits , etc etc belive it water has enough power and 12 volt from yoru car its all it need to convert to power to run anything welcome to new world.

#15 ::: Scott Harris ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:25 PM:

"I'm having trouble working out the life cycle here, though, and trying to see if the end game here is massive drought or if I'm just missing smething."

Well, yeah - the fact that water is *far* more abundant on this planet than any sort of burnable fuel. Therefore, *if* this device worked exactly as advertised (and I'll note that it claims to work with salt water the same as fresh, which sounds like a nifty if unlikely trick), then no, it wouldn't really introduce any concerns about 'using up all our water'.

On the other hand, we can be sure it either doesn't work, or they left out some important details like something being oxidized or otherwise used up in the converter. It will *always* take more energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen than you can ever get back by burning them, no matter how you gussy the description up. That extra energy must come from somewhere else, whether it be electric current or the consumption of some other energy/substance in the converter.

The only way you could conceivably be getting more power from the hydrogen than you're putting into the electrolysis or catalytic water splitting is if you were using it for some other kind of power generation, like cold fusion. However, these guys don't seem to be claiming to have invented Iron Man's arc reactor, so that's out.

#16 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:26 PM:

I wish reporters would remember the three laws of thermodynamics. It would make things that much easier on the rest of us.

* You can't win.
* You can't break even.
* You can't even leave the game.

#17 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:28 PM:

I can't believe anybody sensible enough to post here would believe this is possible. Water is not fuel.

If they ran an experiment in a room provided by someone else, where the total energy released (over any time period) exceeded the energy that would be available from the initial weight of the equipment in, say, gasoline (they're allowed to add all the water they want), then I'd believe.

If all they did was a press conference showing it "generating" power for 15 minutes or so, it's way too easy to hide the real power source.

#18 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:29 PM:

Oh, and read 1kw class as about 1 1/3 hp class, for all of you who aren't in metric countries.

#19 ::: JLundell ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:30 PM:

I wish bloggers would remember the three laws of thermodynamics. It would make things that much easier on the rest of us.

* You can't win.
* You can't break even.
* You can't even leave the game.

#20 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:31 PM:

I'm not so sure this isn't true. It isn't a perpetual motion machine -- you have to add water to it regularly, which means you're adding hydrogen and oxygen to the system.

If hydrogen fuel cells work, and they do, then a system to recharge them from cracking water ought to make them work better. The cracking system is clearly a consumable, if it's based on a metal hydride method, as it says.

#21 ::: samuel orr ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:35 PM:

Experments are the only way to learn new technologies, and laws are made on what we learn and understand, the more we experiment the more we learns their are much more things to learn that we never thought about lots of mathamatics equations that we never thought possible. simple things have more power then people imagine their are various ways of doing same things by making it law we shutting our minds to what is out thier technology is like pandora box keep digging and you keep finding more stuff that was always their. just closing our minds and eyes is not the answer.
water has enough power to run anything..

#22 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:39 PM:

OK, so let's seem them send plans to an independent 3'rd party, have the 3'rd party assemble the gadget, plug in a hose, and see how long the thing runs.

#23 ::: Andrea A. Phillips ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:41 PM:

"Well, yeah - the fact that water is *far* more abundant on this planet than any sort of burnable fuel."

Yes, this is most certainly true; but water is also very poorly distributed, and there are places in the world where water scarcity is a meaningful problem even today... and they're not all in the deserts of Africa, either. (I'm thinking of all the construction in Las Vegas with certifications of 20-year water supply. And what happens after THAT, one might ask?)

That said, I'm with you that it's probably a non-issue due to those important missing details. Though it remains an interesting mental exercise either way!

#24 ::: Hob ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:41 PM:

Randolph @8 has probably got it, but I was also rather curious about this:

"In the demonstration, the 120W fuel cell stack was first supplied with water by using a dry-cell battery operated pump."

How long did this take? How much power did the pump consume?

Doesn't really matter though -- any tiny chance that this could be for real is destroyed by the manner of presentation. In other words, if you just created the most amazing advance in energy technology ever, and you're about five seconds from getting rich and saving the planet, do you unveil your miracle at a press conference in Osaka that is apparently attended by (judging from the number of differently phrased reports that were quoted in various minor venues) two guys? No, you do not. If you are a brilliant inventor and you know that everyone else with a shred of scientific training will assume your announcement is a joke, do you take a few moments in your press release to acknowledge that this sounds ridiculous and at least hint at some kind of significant new principle you've discovered? Yes, you do.

These articles are the equivalent of a guy calling up the Arcata Eye and a bird-watching magazine and saying "I have the ability to fly, entirely under my own power. My technique is more effective than previous attempts at unassisted human flight because I've managed to get my body fat down below 1%."

#25 ::: Michael Phillips ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:44 PM:

I am not making any claims as to the reality of this actual product. I just want that to be made clear right up front.

This looks kinda real. How much more do we know, or can we guess? Also, would I be correct in assuming the system throws off oxygen? That could get exciting.

Sadly no. If this is real, what you have is the separation of water into O and H2. The power to run the car would then come from their recombination into H20. Your exhaust will be water vapor, which is actually a very very problematic thing in cases with high vehicle densities.

If it really is a case of lysing water, then it doesn't have to break the laws of thermodynamics. Water is, as all chemicals, in a constant state of equilibrium between various different possible combined state (OH+H, O+H+H, O+H2, and H20 and about a dozen other sets). If they've found a way to catalyze the transition reactions from H2O to the other possible forms and then sequester/capture the H ions or the H2 molecules, then you can run it without an extra (non-environmental) energy source (A catalyst will let you run a reaction further into energetically unfavorable realms than you could do otherwise for a given set of conditions.) It is probably an endothermic reaction series, so you'll need a heat exchanger to keep the water warm enough to produce reasonable amounts of H2, and it wouldn't work in places where the temperature was too low.

#26 ::: Peter Shor ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:48 PM:

Hydrogen fuel cells work because you take water and use energy to break it into hydrogen and oxygen. You then stick the hydrogen in a fuel cell, combine it with oxygen to make water, and get a reasonable fraction of the original energy back as electricity.

The reason this invention can't work is that there is no possible source for the energy, unless there's something they don't mention in their publicity statements.

#27 ::: JLundell ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:58 PM:

There's a pretty steady supply of these scams. They're not worth the energy, so to speak, to debunk them, except perhaps to the gullible investors, who aren't going to bother anyway.

One of the nice things about science is that it saves us the bother of wasting a lot of time on scams. If somebody has found a way around the laws of thermodynamics, I'll find out about it by some method other than some corporate PR.

#28 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:59 PM:

According to Genepax, the main feature of the new system is that it uses the company’s membrane electrode assembly (MEA), which contains a material capable of breaking down water into hydrogen and oxygen through a chemical reaction.

Ah, so that's where the energy is coming in from, assuming this isn't a con. Should be fairly simple to cost out production of the chemicals needed for the reaction, and get some sense of how easy they are to mass produce.

Albatross has it. Smart bird.

#29 ::: Scott Harris ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 12:59 PM:

Beth @ 20: The problem is, you can't burn the hydrogen unless it's first separated from the oxygen. This is *always* going to take more energy than you'll get back from burning it. Any claims to the contrary are either ignoring where the energy is really coming from, or claiming the equivalent of perpetual motion.

Andrea @ 23: Note again that the company claims the thing can run on sea water. There is certainly no shortage of that, and if the system can handle that kind of salinity, you could probably pee in the tank for similar results. What there is sometimes a regional shortage of is *potable* water.

samuel @ 21: What makes for new discoveries is *repeatable* experimentation. Until these folks tell others how the process works and let them try it out for themselves, there's every reason to be skeptical, even if the claimed results *didn't* contradict literally hundreds (well, almost two hundred going back to Carnot) of years of experiments and observations to the contrary. Observing that something appears to be a natural law is not a matter of closing one's eyes or mind, it is simply a statement that a whole lot of evidence to date supports that viewpoint. And pray tell, exactly what kind of energy do you think water contains so much of? Chemical energy? Not so much; although there are certainly exothermic (heat-producing) reactions involving water, they uniformly consume something else that is in more limited supply - limestone and sodium come to mind. Nuclear? Sure, if we can lick the problem of controlled fusion. Mass-energy? Certainly, but then so does every substance, and we're even further from direct mass conversion than we are from practical fusion.

#30 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 01:00 PM:

Fools! I will destroy you all!
(Ask me how.)

#31 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 01:00 PM:

unless there's something they don't mention in their publicity statements

Batteries in the car that they aren't talking about and also aren't showing to reporters?

This really fits under 'too good to be true'.
I'd bet that the reporters have no real knowledge of physics and chemistry, either, so they couldn't ask the right questions.

#32 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 01:07 PM:

samuel orr@21: yes, experiments are good, and so on: but there are four real possibilities here:

- the actual energy source is contained in the fuel cell membrane assembly. If it's really capable of storing much more energy than a tank of petrol before it needs replacement (as the articles imply) then its energy density must be utterly staggering for a chemical compound. We have a word for chemical compounds with a staggering energy density: 'bomb'. That they're not ringing this about with warnings implies that they're not actually worried about people damaging themselves, which makes me think that all is not as it seems.
- the energy source is contained in the fuel cell membrane assembly but is not chemical. There aren't many other possibilities: it could be kinetic (no flywheels so I don't think so) or nuclear (even more unlikely, and even more dangerous: what else does it emit? slow neutrons? ;) )
- these guys are scammers or deluded.
- these guys have found a way around the law of conservation of energy. Note that this law is much more fundamental than it first appears: it's based off Noether's theorem, which (roughly speaking) describes the necessary emergence of conservation laws in systems with any kind of symmetry. The symmetry from which the law of conservation of energy emerges is time-translation symmetry. You *can* violate the law of conservation of energy, but only *at the moment that the laws of physics change*. Otherwise, free energy is impossible. (If you think otherwise, learn some math first and find a mistake in Noether's proof.)

Perhaps you're right. Perhaps these guys have really invented a fuel cell based on constantly changing the laws of physics. But I doubt it.

#33 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 01:07 PM:

I'm surprised they caught you, Teresa. This is a classic long con. It hasn't been around since the '60s, it's been around in various forms since the '20s. Every time there's an oil crisis or rise in fuel prices this kind of thing gets dredged up over and over.

It does however require one little bit of chemistry knowledge to recognize it, which is not a priori obvious. For the people who don't have a chemistry background, the reaction 2 H2 + O2 -> 2 H2O releases energy; in other words, hydrogen + oxygen burns to make water.

That means to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, you must add energy. The standard way to do this is with electrolysis (add energy via electricity) but you can also do it with reactive metals. For instance, add sodium to water - the sodium will react with water and release hydrogen. Once that reaction is done, it's now at a lower energy state and nothing happens until you get more sodium or add energy in some other way.

In other words, the actual fuel here, the energy source, is not the water, it's hidden in the "fuel cell" in the form of a metal, a previous charge, or something else. Very possibly they're using sodium; it's relatively cheap and available, and as reactive metals go it's relatively nontoxic. Alternatively, what they've constructed is actually a variety of battery, and is being charged before being put out for "demonstration".

Oddly enough, I was just noting a day or two ago on Charlie's blog entry on cons and frauds that all of the fuel-saving hoaxes and cons are coming back with the high fuel prices.

P.S. If they'd made a good bidirectional water-based fuel cell - i.e. one that could cycle freely in both directions without depleting the electrodes - that would be an interesting achievement, but it wouldn't be free energy.

#34 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 01:08 PM:

You guys need to read more carefully, ...
"This process is allegedly similar to the mechanism that produces hydrogen by a reaction of metal hydride and water."

Try this patent on for size. Word of interest: nanocrystalline
http://www.patentstorm.us/patents/6572836/fulltext.html
Note: The patent was issued June 3, 2008

Very cool, ... my electric boat will never need refueling. You could drive in a rain storm without stopping... I wonder if you could suck water out of the air...say for planes...

#35 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 01:11 PM:

(A catalyst will let you run a reaction further into energetically unfavorable realms than you could do otherwise for a given set of conditions.)

No. A catalyst may let you bypass energy barriers between states. It can't affect the overall energy balance for the net reaction.

Samuel: what's your connection to Genepax?

#36 ::: Tom Scudder ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 01:16 PM:

How odd, this is the first post that both Steve (at #34) and samuel orr have posted to on Making Light.

#37 ::: Scott Harris ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 01:28 PM:

Steve @ 34:

Read the patent; did you? It seems apparent that the metal or metal hydrides mentioned are all *consumed* by the chemical reactions mentioned, in most cases by becoming oxides or being converted from hydrides to oxides. That is, the magnesium, lithium, sodium, or whatever in use is the real source of the energy, just being used more efficiently than in past applications if the patent is correct; in fact, the patent even says, "Such a comparison makes it obvious that, for use as non-rechargeable energy source, the metal hydrides used in the method according to the invention have much higher specific and volumetric energy densities than conventional batteries."

Note that they're non-rechargeable (e.g., if the Genepax MEA is the same thing, you need to swap it out for a new one eventually), and I'll bet you dollars to donuts that these nanocrystalline structures take a fair amount of energy to produce in the first place; probably considerably more than they ever provide for hydrolysis and running the engine.

#38 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 02:11 PM:

"Water engine" schemes go WAY back.

I read about one in the editorial and letters columns of Scientific American circa 1850. Some clowns were filling lecture halls with suckers^H^H^H^H^H^H^H potential investors to hear about their cold steam engine. Rather than using expensive coal to turn water into the vapor that drove the pistons, they did it mechanically! Imagine the savings! Imagine how this would benefit the country! But the politicians and the powerful coal trust don't want us to succeed!

Same old story, new details.

Somewhere along the line, phone calls will go unanswered, an office will be found empty except for a baffled secretary whose paycheck bounced, and some people who got in on the ground floor will quietly fume.

#39 ::: spotwelder ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 02:14 PM:

The fact that any of you believe this is possible is a sad commentary on our elementary school system.

#40 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 02:14 PM:

I saw this on an episode of the Lone Gunman (the X-files spin off). It didn't make any sense then either.

Also: I can't tell if samuel orr is genuine human or canned meat. Anyone have a Turing test handy?

#41 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 02:22 PM:

As described here, (and assuming it's not an outright scam) it sounds most like a bidirectional fuel cell, as misinterpreted by various reporters. If so, and if it's reasonably efficient and durable, it would be a major advance over current methods, but not a "miracle", thermodynamic or otherwise.

Basically, it would be a potential answer for greenhouse gases, but not for the energy crisis as a whole, because you'd need to plug it in to "recharge". Just a better electric car... But I'd be worried about impurities in the water.

Naturally, if they really are claiming to generate energy from the water itself, then... they're all wet.

#42 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 02:28 PM:

Wow, Stefan, you're right. For some reason I never made the mental connection between the steam versions of the "water-fueled engine" con and the internal combustion versions. That puts its origin a good 60-70 years earlier than I'd thought.

Hmmm... now I wonder how long this does go back.

"Uggh show Ogg! Now Ogg no need hunt good sticks, dry grass, pull firebow to make red flame. Uggh invention let Ogg get flame from stream in meadow! Easy! Uggh sell to Ogg for only 3 bearskin and two deer carcase."

"Ogg - what that word? - suspicious. How come Uggh always start red flame before showing to Ogg? And how come it look like burnt sticks hidden under water skin?"

#43 ::: Ben M ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 02:34 PM:

Steve @34 "This process is allegedly similar to the mechanism that produces hydrogen by a reaction of metal hydride and water."

This process may well exist, but it destroys the metal hydride---the hydride isn't a catalyst, it's a fuel.
You do not, however, a car fueled by water and producing exhaust water. You have a car fueled by water, oxygen, and metal hydrides, and producing exhaust water and metal oxides.

There are lots of ways to "produce hydrogen" with water: try, for example, adding water to some metallic sodium. You'll get hydrogen gas out (which you can run through a fuel cell) --- and, by the way, enough heat to run a small generator. This is not a water-fueled car with a water exhaust, it's a sodium-fueled car with a soda lye exhaust.

At best. At worst, you have a car powered by a carefully-hidden battery or fuel tank, which runs just until it's out of sight of its gullible investors/press, then stops until recharged.

#44 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 02:42 PM:

Seth Breidbart @ #17 If all they did was a press conference showing it "generating" power for 15 minutes or so, it's way too easy to hide the real power source.

Actually, rereading the 'Fuel Cell Today' release, it's worse than that. Quote: "In the demonstration, the company powered the TV and the lighting equipment with a lead-acid battery charged by using the system."

Got that? They didn't even run any decent power drain on the system, they said "take our word for it that we charged a battery from the system."

FAIL.

I demand a better grade of swindler!

#45 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 02:42 PM:

Wikipedia has a nice summary of the history of this notion, and David Mamet wrote a play on the subject.

#46 ::: Egg ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 02:46 PM:

Michael Phillips above has already shown the way forward. To paraphrase his hypothetical idea of how this might work:

1) the energy source for cracking the water could be the heat in the water--anything at room temperature always has some energy in it.
2) the rate at which the water is cracked would depend on the temperature, and in particular it would happen slowly at low temperature.
3) the temperature of the water (and then the equipment) would drop pretty quickly as the cracking proceeds, by conservation of energy.
4) without intervention the cracking would slow down to an impractical rate, basically waiting for the water to warm up a bit in order to crack the next few molecules.
5) so you have to keep the thing warm. Maybe run in it a hot place, like the desert in the daytime.

Maybe one could use some sort of mechanical/optical device to focus heat? The old magnifying glass trick?

#47 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 02:50 PM:

Note that all of these descriptions are second-hand or worse; we can't tell from them if Genepax is claiming that water alone is the power source, or if that's an error on the part of the writers. The company's website is http://www.genepax.co.jp and has a variety of documents -- but it's entirely in Japanese. Can anyone here read the company's own claims?

#48 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 02:51 PM:

The phrase "cut it out, nj" leaps to mind. Sadly, I don't think I can explain that to anyone but maybe Clifton, and I doubt he needs it.

#49 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 02:56 PM:

There's not a lot of energy to be gotten out of small thermal differentials. Stirling engines do pretty well at converting small thermal differentials to energy, and I'd be very doubtful that this would be a better way. (Not unless their magic membrane implements Maxwell's Demon.) Occam's razor is whispering "fraud."

(j h w: [choke, splutter]! Of course, I'm sure you know that Rictus Hep has invented a perpetual energy source - it's run on the keystroke energy generated from blog commenters.)

#50 ::: David Wahler ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 02:57 PM:

#46: That avoids violating conservation of energy, but then you run straight into the second law of thermodynamics. You can't extract energy from heat without a temperature gradient, and it costs at least as much energy to maintain that gradient than you can extract from it. (See Stirling engines, for example.)

#51 ::: David Wahler ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 02:58 PM:

Jinx!

#52 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 03:05 PM:

Why do I keep flashing on McGyver? A car that runs on water and air. Right.

All yur hydrogen r belong to us...

#53 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 03:11 PM:

Lizzy L @ 52... Me, I keep thinking of Wile E. Coyote.

#54 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 03:12 PM:

Clifton (33), I know about the water engine scam; note the second sentence of my post. That's what initially intrigued me about the story.

(I'm trying to not sound whiny and defensive. It's a famous scam.)

It wouldn't surprise me to see Reuters fall for a water engine story. What puzzled me about this one was the presence of reporters from a couple of technical publications that were both taking it at face value, and the absence of debunking articles.

Michael Phillips (25), I was in junior high when I learned that you can split water into oxygen and hydrogen, then recombine them (BANG!). It was entertaining and educational. I've never studied transition reactions, though, and they sound like the pertinent issue, so I'm glad you know about them.

The reason I wondered whether this thing was throwing off unconsumed oxygen was because the reports were going on about how much hydrogen it produced, and barely mentioning oxygen at all. I figured that if they were only playing with the hydrogen, the oxygen would have to be going somewhere.

Of course, if they've figured out a clever way to sequester hydrogen atoms, the whereabouts of the oxygen is still an interesting question.

Scott Harris (29), thank you for explaining that to Samuel Orr.

Steve (34), you are in violation of the "You guys" rule, but thanks for the link. What's a "metastable nanocrystalline metal hydride," aside from the best rubber-science phrase since the invention of unstable molecules?

Tom Scudder (36), Samuel isn't a shill or an astroturfer. He's someone who's bought the story.

#55 ::: Sean Sakamoto ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 03:16 PM:

1. People doubted the perpetual motion machine and now look where we are. There are steampunk marble and lever machines powering doomsday devices that we'll never see until it's TOO LATE!

2. What if, as a friend of mine suggested, the MEA is made from the trapped souls of an alien race?

Think about it!

#56 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 03:22 PM:

Teresa @ 54... the best rubber-science phrase since the invention of unstable molecules

"Why, I do know about unstable molecules. Take the ones in my head."
(The MoleculeMan, when the Fantastic Four were roasted and toasted.)

#57 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 03:23 PM:

Teresa, I don't know what "nanocrystalline metal hydride" is either, but Google gave me three pages of hits, all of them technical in nature and about half of them from non-English sites. (I was having enough trouble reading the snippets the search engine was producing.) I gather they take some kind of metal compound - one formula I saw involved lanthanum - and run hydrogen over/around particles of it under pressure.

#58 ::: klg ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 03:26 PM:

A sucker born every minute - and more when the price of fuel is high.

#59 ::: JLundell ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 03:30 PM:

TNH, if by "technical publications" you mean Fuel Cell Today and TechOn, it looks to me like they're primarily aggregators of industry news and (mostly) press releases.

If not...what reporters?

#60 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 03:30 PM:

What's a "metastable nanocrystalline metal hydride"

"Metal hydride": a compound of metal(s) and hydrogen. These tend to be reactive with water and oxygen. "Nanocrystalline" describes extremely tiny crystals; i.e., the crystal grains are very small. Since most of the material is therefore on the surface of crystal boundaries, it's more reactive than it might otherwise be.

"Metastable", in this case, describes the chemical composition (according to the patent). The high-energy mechanical process on tiny particles results in a composition that's not "normal" for the materials involved, and if they were left to sit long enough (or if the temperature was raised) there would be some kind of recombination or separation into several more stable compounds, mixed together. In other circumstances, it might refer to the nanocrystalline structure, since such things would tend to recrystallize to give fewer larger crystals.

#61 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 03:44 PM:

Teresa: Ah, now I get you. I misread the implied tone of that "really".

I was surprised at the thought you wouldn't know that one, because you are clearly a fellow fan of great cons and hoaxes.

Digressive rant:

Journalism has always had a problem with science knowledge, and so has the general public (cf C.P. Snow) but it seems lately as though there is a growing portion of people in technical-related fields who are completely ignorant of even the most basic science ideas.

I recently noticed that Boing-Boing Gadgets has been pounding on the apparent trend of beautiful, elegant, clever "design prototypes" of electronic gizmos and devices that could not possibly work.

For instance, there was the desk light which would be powered by a small sliding weight, needing to be lifted only once per day. A little math showed that it could not even put out enough electricity to light a small LED. More egregiously, there was the recent "design prototype" dumbbell which would allow you to simply dial in the weight you wanted and would somehow generate the appropriate mass by swirling some ball bearings around at the right rate. (What?!?)

As product designs go, these are up there with my siblings and my childhood drawings of our catalog for magic lamps. (Out of which a genie would pop, with his turban color-coordinated to the gem on the lamp. See, design value!)

#62 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 03:53 PM:

Clifton (61): I also read that as meaning the opposite of what Teresa intended. One of those things that doesn't really (heh) work in print, I suppose.

#63 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 04:01 PM:

The other variants of water fuel I've seen recently:

Guy turns water into fuel using sound. Demonstrates it with a welding torch.

Guy turns water into fuel with a magic ingredient. (Possible similar to this metal hydride.) Demonstrates it with a welding torch.

Gadget which pumps hydrogen into your car's fuel injection system, miraculously increasing mileage. (Where does the power for the electrolysis come from? How much better performance do you get?)

Just search YouTube. People fall for this crap over and over again.

#64 ::: JLundell ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 04:05 PM:

Well, the meaning of "really" is illuminated by TNH's closing lines: "This looks kinda real. How much more do we know, or can we guess? Also, would I be correct in assuming the system throws off oxygen? That could get exciting."

No, it couldn't.

#65 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 04:23 PM:

Me: "a growing portion of people in technical-related fields who are completely ignorant of even the most basic science ideas."

Uh-oh, re-reading in context...

Before I feel the need to fall on my sword here, can I just make it clear that was not meant to go with the first part of my post, and not meant to imply Teresa among that group? Blood is so hard to clean out of the carpets. I shut up now. kthxbye.

#66 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 04:46 PM:

Can I have my bandwidth back?

#67 ::: Garrett ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 04:50 PM:

Wasn't this the plot of the movie Chain Reaction?

#68 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 04:55 PM:

Press conference. Wild claims. Initial enthusiasm. Possible small technological advance underneath the hype.

Didn't we go thru this with cold fusion?

#69 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 04:59 PM:

Remember how all the zombies in I Am Legend ('07) came from a cure for cancer and the zombies in 28 Days Later came from trying to cure rage? I totally think it would be cool if in trying to cure oil addiction we got Water Zombies.

Jim, I'm still waiting for what to do when the inevitable zombie uprising occurs. The Max Brooks book sucked.

#70 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 05:10 PM:

Oops. I've been neglecting con games in my blogging. A couple of older pieces I'm still fond of:

The underlying forms of fraud, on basic taxonomy.

Follow the money, on PublishAmerica and similar enterprises.

#71 ::: cajunfj40 ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 05:14 PM:

@Stefan Jones #63:

Gadget which pumps hydrogen into your car's fuel injection system, miraculously increasing mileage. (Where does the power for the electrolysis come from? How much better performance do you get?)

This is the one I've been looking at "most closely". Without spending money to snag any plans, nor being able to find a patent, I think I figured out how this one is supposed to "work" on conventional gasoline-fueled spark-ignition engines. They don't just dump the hydrogen in, IIRC, at least the simpler ones don't - they dump the intimate 2 to 1 mixture of H2 and O2 into the intake. Common ducted products of electrolysis - much simpler to build the device. (see Brown's Gas, et al.) The key is where they mention having to mess with the O2 sensor. Hydrogen has a much lower "lean burn limit" than gasoline, so it will ignite even when running a lot leaner than stoichiometric. What these guys do, I think, is sell you a gadget to make the fuel injection computer lean the engine out (inject less gasoline per unit of air taken in) by fooling with the 02 sensor signal. This alone will increase your MPG (less fuel in = less fuel used) but the H2/O2 mixture present presumably allows you to run even leaner mixtures before you get too many misfires/rough running. The additional leaning-out is what I think "covers for" the thermodynamic losses in the engine to alternator to electrolyzer to engine loop.

There's a catch, though: Running the engine in "lean-burn" mode when the fuel injection and emissions control systems are not designed to do so properly leads to higher emissions - chiefly NOx, a primary contributor to "smog".

Diesel engines already run lean up until they start smoking from over-fueling. It's possible that having some "ready to burn, pre-mixed homogeneous charge" in the cylinder helps with turbulence or flame front propagation or radical formation or other ways to burn the fuel in a shorter period of time. I've no reliable data available to validate the idea, unfortunately.

Overall, though, the vast majority of these "gas saver/replacer devices/fuels" either don't work or have adverse effects or cost more than they save. TANSTAAFL, YMMV.

later,
-cajun
(who used to drive a vehicle that got 12mpg, so was very interested in gas-saving devices and did much research on the subject many years ago)

#72 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 05:28 PM:

I'm still waiting for Mr. Fusion. 2015 isn't that far away.

#73 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 05:32 PM:

Teresa: Have you found time to check out Charlie Stross's blog lately? He did a recent post on cons and frauds, inviting reader contributions. The readers collectively mentioned several interesting-sounding books, one from the '30s on the language of con men (modern cant), and two essay anthologies from the '50s. They've all gone onto my "want" list.

#74 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 06:26 PM:

Lively bunch...

from the patent mentioned in #34 (that is simply an example of what is possible)

"The calculations were made assuming that part of MgH2 in a separate
tank would be reacted with water vapor and the high heat generated by the
reaction would be used to desorb the other part of MgH2 stored (in
another tank). The MgH2 in this other tank would actually be a
MgH2 --V composite and would work as a reversible metal hydride (in
this case, the reaction temperature should be at 573° K or above)."

So, without getting into the exact details of material science, there is a possibility of a reversable metal hydride. Granted some will be consumed, but what you are not getting is the H2 distribution network issue is solved with this technology. Before this announcement, the country would need a H2 filling station on every corner for the Hydrogen economy, now buying a few pounds of metal hydride will do the trick or whatever consumable the Genepax generator will need.

And no the energy is not in the hydride; it is in the chemical bonds within the water and the hydride.
Energy/mass is not created. So, what we look for in a new energy source is getting easy access to enough energy to do our work. I say a generator consuming water and some powder or whatever is far better than our current setup of sending Trillions of dollars outside the country to the oilmen.

Based on one patent, this technology appears to at least be possible, practial after much engineering work.

#75 ::: spotwelder ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 06:53 PM:

But the energy *is* in the hydride. It takes a great amount of energy to make these chemicals.
The cost per pound of hydride can be as much as
$100. To re-form it in your car means you will have to plug the car into the power grid and consume far more electricity than the equivalent amount of fossile fuel. The plant that makes sodium and sodium hydride is connected directly to the hydroelectric dam at Niagra Falls. Sodium and Potassium Hydride are so energetic that they will ignite and burn or explode on exposure to air.

#76 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 07:07 PM:

Steve:

One part of what you are saying might be correct, if the magnesium hydride pans out into a fully reversible fuel cell reaction. (Or if the aluminum/gallium alloy mentioned in another comment does the same.) Essentially it would become an very-high-efficiency battery, which could double as a hydrogen generator for hydrogen fueled engines. (Alas, an issued patent is no indicator that the science is right or that the engineering is workable.)

However.... it will generate no power. Let me repeat that:

It doesn't generate any power at all; it only stores, or transforms, power generated via other means. Where's the power to make the metal hydride going to come from? Power plants, mostly burning oil or coal.

Therefore, if the claims for it are true, the oil usage it could displace would be the efficiency difference between burning gas or diesel in an internal combustion engine and burning oil to generate that power in an electric power plant. (Minus whatever weight overhead is associated with the fuel cell.) That would still be a Good Thing, but nothing like what's being claimed for it in the PR, or up-thread, or in your last couple paragraphs.

The only big gain would come if all our electric power plants were running on some non-polluting source such as wind or hydroelectric power. (I won't get into the whole solar vs. nuclear debate here.)

#77 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 07:32 PM:

What I think is neat is that this scam is coming out of Japan. I haven't heard anything about great Japanese cons or con men, though surely they must exist... We had some brilliant cons in my home state of Colorado (which, note, does not have any good diamond mining sites).

#78 ::: don delny ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 08:28 PM:

Echoing Clifton Royston, at #76:

...if the magnesium hydride pans out into a fully reversible fuel cell reaction. ... Essentially it would become an very-high-efficiency battery, which could double as a hydrogen generator for hydrogen fueled engines.

Or in layman's terms: "fully reversible" = a battery that can be charged and discharged over and over again ad infinitum.* Great if the energy density is high enough.

In the case of this invention, like lots of other fuel cells, it's also a way to get around the problems of storing hydrogen aboard a hydrogen fueled vehicle. Hydrogen has the disadvantage of being both tiny and chemically active. Tiny is a particular problem, because fittings and whatnot that are adequate for storing bigger stuff become leaky, and have to be engineered to resist Hydrogen's tendency to want to stick it's one electron to everything in creation. Exchanging that for storing water** instead is helpful.

*impossible in practice due to entropy, etc, but "close enough" would be kinda cool.

**a rather thoroughly solved problem, but I have this invention...

#79 ::: spotwelder ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 08:34 PM:

If it's a battery of some sort, why should it consume water? Their press release makes big emphasis on the fact that water *is* the fuel.

#80 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 08:42 PM:

Why am I having visions of former drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, each with their own wind turbine, electrolysing sea water with that aluminum-gallium process? Of course, then you have to get the hydrogen off the platforms...

#81 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 08:48 PM:

Does their press release say that water is the fuel? Or is that just what's being reported by blogs and apparently-not-very-savvy magazines?

#82 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 09:04 PM:

May I invite your attention to the Etheric Force Machine, currently housed in the American Precision Museum in Windsor, VT?

With this device John Worrell Keely harnessed the power of the ether back in the 19th century. He gave amazing demonstrations of etheric force, collected a great deal of investor capital, but (fearing his machine would be used for evil) never described how it worked. The secret died with him.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demonstration.

#83 ::: spotwelder ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 09:30 PM:

What an amazing character...much more creative than today's scammers!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ernst_Worrell_Keely

#84 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 09:30 PM:

David@50: stirling engine

Stirling engines are my most recent infatuation. these guys (big corporation actually) have come up with a 25 foot diameter reflecting dish that focuses sunlight onto a stirling engine, which drives an electric generator, and produces about 25 kilowatts of power in New Mexico.

They're currently extremely expensive, but they're also first generation. I think if you give it another generation or two, and the cost will drop to something competitive.

Unless they come up with some new fangled semiconductor that does a better, cheaper job of converting sunlight to electricity, I think I'd put my money on good old fashioned thermal engines.

25kilowatt, damn.

Even if it was 2x or 3x of grid electricity, I think I'd buy one if I had some place to install it. Just to be able to get off the grid.

If I could just buy a fricken stirling engine, I would think I could build my own. does no one make stirling engines in the ten kilowatt range?

And they make megawatt windmills, for crikes sake. One windmill powers about 500 homes.

#85 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 09:44 PM:

From time to time our hosts disapprove of piling on, but I think we have fair game here.

#86 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 09:50 PM:
a liter (2.1 pints) of any kind of water—rain, river or sea—was all you needed to get the engine going for about an hour at a speed of 80 km (50 miles).
I'm surprised nobody has commented on this yet - anyone who thinks that 80 km is a *speed* can hardly be trusted to tie their own shoes, let alone understand any scientific concept whatsoever.
the 120W fuel cell stack was first supplied with water by using a dry-cell battery operated pump.
I'm going with the Rube Goldberg battery hypothesis. Possibly the water is recycled, which is why it only takes a bottle once in a while (to compensate for leaks).

Although that's more useful than nothing - if your local power grid is powered by Niagara Falls, then you'd effectively have a car powered by Niagara Falls, which is a big improvement on a car powered by the Carboniferous Period. Because there isn't all that much Carboniferous Period left, but Niagara is an indirect form of solar and we're good on fuel for that one for a couple billion more years. (Actually, the Carboniferous Period is an indirect form of solar, too, but the recharge process is really inconvenient.)

#87 ::: Trey ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 10:32 PM:

I present the Seven Signs of Bogus Science. Perhaps we can send it to the editors and reporters involved?

#88 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 10:37 PM:

That old fraud thread is interesting, too. I like the Nigerian scam based on getting your reparations for being a previous victim of Nigerian scams. For a small processing fee, of course.

And someone, who is a professional scammer, who makes their living scamming people, thought that this would fool enough marks to be worth the effort of distributing it.

But that's not even the best part - it says in the message that their processing center is in Spain. They *built in* to their *own scam* an allusion to the original Spanish Prisoner! (Knowing, of course, that the targets would never get the reference. Which ought to make it less funny, but somehow doesn't.)


Connecting the two threads is easy - there's always someone with an *almost* finished invention that will revolutionize some industry or other as soon as they get the bugs out, and for just a few hundred dollars you can get a significant percentage of stock in this company... It works because people know about companies like Apple that really did start in a garage, but they don't know about the million other companies that started in garages and promptly went bankrupt. (Or if they do know, they're sure that this will be one of the successful companies.)

#89 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 10:48 PM:

Personally, I think this sounds like a Doctor Who plot.

"Doctor, have you figured out how the miracle device, now deployed across the entire globe, works?"

"Yes, Companion, I have! It doesn't run on water at all--the energy source is human joy!"

"Gasp!"

"Mwaha ha! Now that the hu-man race's will to resist has been sapped by my insidious device, there will be no one to stop my CONQUEST OF EARTH!!!!! MWAHA HAAAAA!"

#90 ::: spotwelder ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 11:03 PM:

Another note: 300 watts is less than one-half horsepower! (1hp = 746 watts)

#91 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 11:36 PM:

Tangentially: one thing I found intriguing is that the first samuel orr post(s) at #11/14 read to me like someone whose first language wasn't English, but the second, #21, didn't.

Maybe it's just my lowered reading comprehension, or enthusiasm overriding clarity in the first one. Did anyone else get this feeling of a jarring change of personality?

#92 ::: Jordin Kare ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2008, 11:54 PM:

Teresa @ 54: I never metastable nanocrystalline metal hydride I didn't like.

#93 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 12:02 AM:

Chris @ 86:

a liter (2.1 pints) of any kind of water—rain, river or sea—was all you needed to get the engine going for about an hour at a speed of 80 km (50 miles).

I'm surprised nobody has commented on this yet - anyone who thinks that 80 km is a *speed* ...

It can do the Kessel Run in under 80 km!

I was sorely tempted to retcon this lapse by saying "what do you expect for an article edited in India from a translation to English by a Japanese speaker?" The truth, of course, is that I didn't notice it because my brain neatly filled in the missing "/hour" as I skimmed through.

#94 ::: YoungSoul ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 12:08 AM:

If it requires a "special material" in the MEA to breakdown water into hydrogen and oxygen, then some form of chemical reaction must occur at the MEA as in non-rechargeable bateries. If so, there is no inovation here; the whole system is just a live battery with a lifetime limitted by the amount of this "special material" in the MEA as in any non-rechargeable battery. I agree with many of you in here that the law of physics does not lie; you can't just gain some extra energy from no where. Unless this "special material" is massively available in nature, it will take more energy to produce this material than the amount of energy that can be generated and utilzed to produce mechanical works. Also, remember Carnot Cycle concept in your early physics and chemistry class? Some energy is lost in the process in the form of heat or eletromagnetic radiation.

To me, this is just a coordinated scam with some possible intention to lure and steal money from some unawarre naive investors.

#95 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 12:19 AM:

heresiarch @ 89... "Doctor, have you figured out how the miracle device, now deployed across the entire globe, works?"

"I'll explain later."

#96 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 12:20 AM:

<*Shrug*> The "special material in the MEA" could be a medium in which the hydrolysis occurs smoothly and reversibly, with a long life and allowing many cycles, using externally-supplied electrical energy to power the hydrolysis. Or it could be a hydrogen-storage medium, not consumed in the process or regeneratable. Insufficient data.

The claim that any kind of water (salt/fresh) can be used argues against this -- but that, too, is second-hand or worse.

#97 ::: Gwen ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 02:02 AM:

heresiarch@89:

Exactly what I was thinking. There seems to be a pattern on Doctor Who, lately, of "too good to be true" ubiquitous new technology being, well, too good to be true--coming from aliens with an ulterior purpose. If this water thing worked, this publicity would clearly be the first off-screen stages of the aliens' side of a Doctor Who plot.

I do like the "human joy" idea, though. (Tanj--now I really want to see/read this episode....)

#98 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 02:04 AM:

Now I'm curious if anyone has tried to sell a machine that extracts the the zero-point energy of the vacuum, frinstance using the Casimir Effect? We're talking Quantum Mechanics here folks, not just your ordinary Auto Mechanics, so it ought to really dazzle the marks.

#99 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 03:54 AM:

Mez @ #91:

I note, for what it's worth, that the two messages have different values for "Address, comma, email, comma, yours".

(Similar values, so it may not be worth much; but different values all the same.)

#100 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 04:19 AM:

Gwen @ #97:

There was a film some years back that turned out to be about an alien civilisation that survived and thrived by harvesting human joy. They made a point of creating new joy to skim off, though, rather than just taking whatever just happened to be lying around, so it was a winning situation for everybody.

Contrariwise, the current Buck Godot: Zap Gun For Hire storyline involves an alien menace that deprives humans of their joie de vivre; but it's not harvesting anything, it's working toward a sinister purpose that happens to require a large number of depressed and/or apathetic humans.

#101 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 07:29 AM:

Paul APaul A @ 100... The aliens speak French?

#102 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 09:44 AM:

Just as long as it's a Dr Who plot and not a Torchwood plot. We've already seen Torchwood's version of "human joy as a fuel source"...

#103 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 09:59 AM:

Greg Lodon @ 84--How about a home wind turbine--one designed to run on lower wind speeds?

Plus the solar film roofing products...

#104 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 10:10 AM:

Serge, so far nobody's heard the alien menace say anything in any language, or if they have they haven't recognised it as such.

I was just being pretentious trying to disguise the fact that it's not really about "human joy" so much a general loss of interest in all the enjoyable things of life.

#105 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 10:19 AM:

Paul A @ 104... So, the aliens may not look like Pépé le Pew, and they may not sound like Charles Boyer. That's a relief. The last thing I want is for French Accents(*) to be added to Homeland Security's list of suspicious characteristics.

(*) Fake or real, although it's sometimes hard to tell the difference because, when she speaks in English, my French friend Elisabeth sounds like Inspecteur Clouseau of the French Sureté.

#106 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 10:22 AM:

I could see an SFnal revival of The Love Boat that'd have the ship's new engine powered by extracting heat from the oceans, until its inventor (played by Claudia Black) realizes it's freezing all of Earth's oceans. At which point they switch to the backup engine, which is powered by joie de vivre and Loooooooooove.

#107 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 10:52 AM:

Bruce Cohen @98: These guys sell water cavitation heaters which, although they no longer make the claims, they originally sold as producing "over unity" ouput (i.e. the heat energy output was higher than the electrical energy input). Back when I first saw them discussed in the mid 90s, there was a lot of talk about zero point energy as the source of this heat. See here to see the kind of thinking that was going on.

#108 ::: Trey ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 11:34 AM:

Bruce @ 98: Tempting if it weren't for the possibility of going to prison.

#110 ::: Hob ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 01:50 PM:

Heresiarch @89: Were there two characters or three in that scene? I really hope it's not the Doctor saying that last line. I'm not sure I trust him to run the world.

#111 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 01:57 PM:

Bruce:

Jules reminded me of the magic keyword - if you google for "over Unity power", you should find a ton of free energy scams. (Well, not all of them are scams; I think a lot of these people actually believe what they're peddling.) And here you go - they're tapping free energy from the vacuum!

#112 ::: JLundell ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 02:13 PM:

/. offers "bonus points if you use Haiku". Here's one response from the comments:

Rainy season comes
bringing with it a fresh crop
of nutball scammers
#113 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 03:06 PM:

I poked around the Genepax website and found there is a link for the English language version. Have at it!
http://www.genepax.co.jp/en/

(And yes, the company claims right up front it "produces electricity and heat from water")

#114 ::: spotwelder ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 03:51 PM:

Clifton,
Thanks for the great link to Floyd Sweet. Yes, 'over unity' is the magic phrase that opens doors to a vast world of weirdness! I love that Floyd's triode amplifier could be adjusted to produce free electricity....or....anti-gravity. Just at a flick of a switch.

#115 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 04:21 PM:

Hmph. Most of the English part of the Genepax website is "under construction". But what little is there sounds like the usual free-energy scam.

#116 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 04:32 PM:

All the "scam" and "perpetual motion" stuff aside. If I can get further down the road cheaper "burning" some form of metal bar in a reaction with water than I can with gasoline or diesel I'm for it. There is no free energy, but there may be cheaper and cleaner, not to mention more stable forms, available. If I can use this system and save money I could care less if someone thinks he is pulling the old wool over the eyeballs. If its a cheaper scam for me than the oil scam going on right now I'm all for it!

#117 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 04:50 PM:

Quick math,, @ 25 mpg w/ $4.25/gal gas = $0.17/mile..... water scam, @ 25mp? w/ $4.00/? = Quick math,, @ 25 mpg w/ $4.25/gal gas = $0.17/mile..... water scam, @ 25mp? w/ $4.00/? =

#118 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 04:59 PM:

That didn't make it through. The point is, cheaper is better, dependable available energy that is more economical than oil is good and there is a huge market waiting to get off of the oil train. Maybe there is some deception but if these guys can extract a cheaper source of energy and make it solid, more power to them. If the cost benifit is better than oil they probably won't be sneaking out the back door anytime soon. Long live the inventors and scientists!!!

#119 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 05:37 PM:

Clifton Royston @ 111

Oh, thank you for that link; I needed a good laugh. Just reading the abstract of that paper is a hoot.

Such systems were arbitrarily omitted from Maxwell's theory by curtailment.

He's got the rhythm and cadence of academic language down pat; it's only the words that don't make any sense. Here's another gem:

Closed current loop design of present power systems insures that Lorentz symmetrical regauging is self-applied by every system.

The paper itself is even better; I've just skimmed through it, but at one point he develops a theory of longitudinal EM waves. I guess he never understood Maxwell's equations very well. In fact he does mention Maxwell, as above, but just to disparage his work. And he makes no mention of gyro-magnetic momeraths, or of hexapodia.

#120 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 05:42 PM:

They promise wonders,
is utopia ahead?
No, just a long con.

#121 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 05:49 PM:

Paul: Metal hydrides are expensive to make and difficult to handle. Ditto the metals that are reactive enough to use for energy storage by such methods. The point of using such substances in energy-storage devices is that the investment in the material is paid back by many cycles of use.

Given the nature of this scam, I wouldn't expect them to ever produce a consumer product for anyone to buy, since the devices would fail immediately -- this isn't like the gas-line magnets and laundry disks and similar placebo gadgets that people can fool themselves into thinking that they work. These people appear to be looking for investors to rip off.

#122 ::: Craig R ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 06:44 PM:

I'm having vibes of deja vu all over, with flashbacks to col fusion wars...

#123 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 06:50 PM:

At least with cold fusion I had the feeling that there's something real going on that we don't understand. (I've read about the earlier set of experiments, the ones from the 30s that they were replicating in Utah. Same results, except in Utah I don't think they had their lab blow up.)

This one, on the other hand, feels like a scam.

#124 ::: spotwelder ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 06:55 PM:

Oil and coal come essentially "ready to use" out of the ground. There is nothing else that remotely approaches this in terms of
cost-per-btu delivered. The energetic metals, such as sodium, potassium, lithium, magnesium, aluminum are *never* found in nature in free, unoxidized form. The only way to get these metals is to use electricity to "win" them from their oxides. The ammount of electricity needed is much greater than the amount of electricity you can get back out of them to run your car or TV set.

Other problems appear when you look at, for example, a lithium based economy vs. oil economy.
One expert noted that it would take 100 years of present day lithium production to convert all cars to lithium batteries.

Another big problem with metals and hydrogen itself is that none of them even come close to the
energy density of oil. Gasoline has an energy density of approx. 14,000 wh/kg. Lithium is approx. 300 wh/kg. So think about the practical ramifications of this: If your car has a 10 gallon gas tank, the equivalent lithium fueled car would need to carry almost four thousand pounds of lithium! The situation is just as bad considering hydrogen: pure liquid hydrogen (just like they fuel the space shuttle) has only one-fifth of the energy density of gasoline!

#125 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 10:17 PM:

#124:

Cute Name Stories

Sodium and potassium were both named and discovered by Sir Humphry Davy, who was having fun running electrical currents through things.

It must have been a real Science Wonder Stories moment when caustic soda turned into little bits of metal (sodium), and potash yielded potassium.

I think today's lunatic fringe inventors are looking for something like that. An E.E. "Doc" Smith moment where a techie runs a current through a metal plate only to have it fly through the wall. They wrap wires around carburetters, spin disks next to other disks, fiddle around with superconductors, and the most they can hope for is for a desperate junior reporter to stumble on one of their press releases and give them fifteen minutes.

A friend in college had a saying which I think sums it up: "Neat shit like that never really happens."

#126 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 10:21 PM:

Gwen @ 97: "(Tanj--now I really want to see/read this episode....)"

Well, if you have an in with Davies, by all means! I'm willing =)

Hob @ 110: "Were there two characters or three in that scene? I really hope it's not the Doctor saying that last line. I'm not sure I trust him to run the world."

Clearly there is also a false Doctor sub-plot going on. This is Who, after all.

#127 ::: al g ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 10:52 PM:

I'm new here, and this is my first post.
I've pretty well read all the posts on this thread, and noticed that no one picked up on the catalyst for this "water car". In the article from "TechOn", third paragraph, it reads....
"Moreover, the MEA requires no special catalysts,and the required amount of rare metals such as PLATINUM is almost the same as that of existing systems, Genepax said". I don't know how to link the platinum info site here, but I'll try.
http://periodic.lanl.gov/78.html
On a side note, I have no science or chemical background, so I don't know if this an important find or not. Oh, and thanks, Clifton, for posting the link for the english version of the Genepax web site.

#128 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 11:25 PM:

fidelio@103: How about a home wind turbine--one designed to run on lower wind speeds

Hm, if those prices are in euros, then that seems a tad expensive for a kilowatt generator.

#129 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2008, 11:31 PM:

The use of platinum is probably not particularly significant; it's commonly used in solid catalyst systems such as catalytic converters. The metal is expensive, of course, but only a small amount is used in each converter system -- it's very finely divided, and a little goes a long way.

#130 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2008, 05:10 AM:

Paul A. @ 100 / 104: I take it you haven't read this storyline before? Trying to avoid spoilers, I'll just say that the "sinister purpose" isn't going for mere apathy, but something rather worse.

#131 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2008, 05:37 AM:

As noted upthread, the English-language version of the Genepax site is very limited. Google appears to be able to translate some of the original Japanese, frex here. For varying values of 'translation.' Unfortunately my personal physics skillz are about at the level of my mad Japanese skillz, so I'll continue following the real discussion from the sidelines.

#132 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2008, 09:43 AM:

The translation of their FAQ page includes:

Q. Water really only a generation?

A. Power generation. Again, the new external energy is not used. There is the theoretical explanation.

... Which is about the quality of translation that I'd expect, but is sufficient for me to say: scam.

#133 ::: Thinker Hardyg ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 09:26 AM:

"A. Power generation. Again, the new external energy is not used. There is the theoretical explanation."

Sounds like they say they don't use the new energy source that's believed to be
non-existent, so no electrolysis adding free energy - or whatever you want to call it.

#134 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 09:44 AM:

I've heard people make claims that "all you have to do is modify your car to run on pure alcohol" to eliminate the fuel problem we're currently in.

At which point I respond with "b*ll***t" and explain that distilling enough alcohol to allow your vehicle to get more than one tank of fuel is going to use a LOT of grain, not to mention all the rubber tubing is going to turn into goo, and your fuel efficiency is going to suck too.

Then they respond with "but, but, but, alcohol fueled racing cars! Nitrous oxide!".

Some people have no clue. We'd be better off right now if, instead of people looking for "quick fixes" like water based fuel systems (probably got the idea from the water injection systems used in WWII fighter planes, but they STILL used aviation fuel), we invested in synthetic oil programs similar to what Germany used during WWII to produce nearly all their oil from.

#135 ::: moe99 ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 10:31 AM:

Well, Honda is introducing a hydrogen fueled car, the Clarity:

http://money.cnn.com/2008/06/16/autos/honda_zev.ap/index.htm?cnn=yes

No gas involved.

#136 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 11:00 AM:

David Goldfarb @ #130:

I have, actually, read the original dead-tree version of the story.

My recollection is that apathy is all that is required to serve the alien menace's sinister purpose. The chosen method for inducing apathy will incidentally result in far worse in the long run, but that's (as far as the alien menace is concerned) beside the point; by the time it comes to that, the purpose will have been served and the aliens will have moved on.

#137 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 11:01 AM:

Yeah, and good luck getting it refueled anywhere but at the small handful of stations selling hydrogen. Not to mention the lack of storage space, the (relatively) low mileage...

Our office has a fleet of LNG fueled cars. They are always the LAST ones taken when a car is needed, because even though the state has LNG refueling stations in the largest cities, they have no storage whatsoever and limited range. Hydrogen fueled vehicles aren't that different.

#138 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 11:04 AM:

Ethanol as a fuel becomes much more plausible if one is able to convert cellulose rather than just starch (as now, with grain) -- the latter is very wasteful. There's a company local to me that's working on cellulose conversion by enzymes. It's also possible to hydrolyse cellulose in acidic water; it's very slow under normal conditions, but quick in supercritical water (e.g. 400°C, 250 atm.). The supercritical process involves low tech but obviously requires energy input for heating.

#139 ::: spotwelder ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 11:43 AM:

It's very funny that no one ever mentions the one immediate thing we can do to cut fossil use by at least 20%: SLOW DOWN. Driving 55 is the equivalent of owning a technology-impossible car of the future 8^) Slow the &%^$ down and enjoy the ride. In generations to come, people will look back an dream to have the freedom of movement we take for granted.

#140 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 11:49 AM:

Driving slower (not necessarily 55mph) will indeed result in using less gas; it depends on your vehicle. Modern cars' maximum fuel efficiency per speed is somewhere between 60-70mph, assuming you don't run the AC and keep the windows up. And don't jackrabbit your stops, use the cruise control, keep your tires inflated, don't idle the vehicle much, etc, etc.

But, driving slower (even if it's from 75mph to 65mph) will save you gas; some drivers will tell you their time is worth the extra fuel they use, though, even when the difference in travel time is miniscule.

#141 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 12:08 PM:

@67 wait, Chain reaction had a PLOT?

I sat through it twice and never noticed.

#142 ::: spotwelder ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 12:21 PM:

Most cars get their best mpg at the slowest speed where they get into 5th gear. That's typically around 40 miles per hour. A Prius gets almost
90 mpg at 30 miles per hour, but drops steadily after that. Same trend for conventional cars:
http://www.metrompg.com/posts/speed-vs-mpg.htm

#143 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 12:45 PM:

spotwelder, #139/142: That's good for short-distance (in-town) driving. On the 250-mile trip from Houston to Dallas, the difference between 55 MPH and 75 MPH is about an hour of driving time, which is already a significant amount. And that's one of the shorter trips we regularly have to make.

#144 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 01:02 PM:

Back in the late 70s, the Colorado state DOT had two drivers go from Grand Junction to Denver-- 245 miles, says Google Maps. One went at 55, the other at 70 (70 being the "old" speed limit). The 70-mph guy got to Denver twenty-some minutes before the 55 guy did. That *was* I-70 in the seventies-- a four-lane route with fairly narrow shoulders, and there were lots of turns where going over sixty meant ending up in a river or down a cliff-- but, still.

There's also the much-more-common person who drives ten, maybe twenty miles to work. For that guy to get on the freeway and do anything more than 60 is just silly.

#145 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 01:57 PM:

Garrett in #67:

The energy gimmick in Chain Reaction involved producing nuclear fusion through cavitation (the implosion of bubbles in liquid), an idea suggested by the weird phenomenon of sonoluminescence. Turns out that fantastic temperatures and pressures are reached in cavitation. It was an unlikely road to fusion that has been investigated seriously.

I judged it more than plausible enough to support the plot of a technothriller. It's a little less fantastic than the palladium-electrode cold-fusion scheme of 1989. (Plus, hey! chase scenes at Yerkes Observatory! Argonne National Laboratory! And the drawbridge right beside the Chicago Worldcon hotel!)

Alas, the people chasing tiny-bubble fusion in the real world don't seem to have replicated results. There may be "no royal road" to fusion.

#146 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 02:10 PM:

Yes, that was my point; if you value your time over the price of gas and fuel efficiency, then you'll drive faster. If not, you'll drive slower, but the longer the trip, the bigger the difference in travelling. An hour chopped off a long trip is a significant amount; going to the store or commuting 20 miles, not so much.

Also, that 30-40mph efficient speed is at a constant velocity; city driving is anything but that, with signals, stop signs, other traffic, etc. I wouldn't recommend travelling 30mph on an interstate, or any rural road that had a posted speed limit above that...

#147 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 02:30 PM:

Here in the Bay Area, BTW, cheap gas at the no name brand stations where I always fill up costs $4.50/g, today anyway. I drive a 13 year old Toyota Corolla automatic 4-door with 140,000 miles on the engine; I get between 26-29 mpg. I'm trying to conserve. I plan my trips. I do mostly local trips. When I get on the freeway I don't go faster than 65; otherwise, I'm in stop and go traffic on the surface streets. I expect gas to go up to at least $5/g. My goal is to limit my monthly expenditures to $100/m for gas.

Meanwhile, over in Europe, George Bush is expressing his irritation at those short-sighted legislators who wouldn't allow the oil companies to drill for oil and gas in places like ANWR and the California coast, because yanno, we just wouldn't have this problem if the oil companies had been able to do that.

#148 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 03:25 PM:

#144 mjfgates: ...do anything more than 60 is just silly

I drive a Honda Insight, so I'm keenly aware of the mpg vs speed tradeoffs: the Insight has a constant readout of the mpg you're getting at that instant, and calculates mpg over trips and over the lifetime of the car. So I play a game of maximizing my mpg on the Bay Area highways, with a car whose main mpg savings come from being light and having extremely low air resistance, with a bit of the energy lost in braking fed back into acceleration via the electric aid system (instead of having a separate electric propulsion system a la the Prius). It's a car more like most cars on the highway than Toyota's hybrids.

The trouble with driving below the speed limit is jack-sses on the road... NorCal drivers have a real problem with passing people on the left. A significant percentage will go around on the right on a completely open highway with two lanes open on the left and only the getting on/getting off lane on the right. A significant percentage will ride the bumper of a car for miles before tossing a coin to decide whether to pass in the wide-open lane to the left or the right. Since I came from a state where you passed on the left like a person maximizing safety, the right-passers come off to me like people out to consciously be jerks... So driving below the speed limit requires a lot of zen to not get pissed off and become in anger a worse driver or a worse person, and the tailgaters make it a more dangerous proposition than going the usual 68ish of the highway.

#140 John L: I doubt there are cars out there that get their best mpg per speed at 70, and even 60 seems unlikely. Air resistance is a huge factor at the high speeds.

#149 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 04:10 PM:

Madeline,

Some of the hyper-aerodynamic sports cars may get their best fuel efficiency at 65+mph, but then they aren't getting really good fuel efficiency in the first place.

My Saturn SL2 gets 30+mpg, but I try and avoid traffic signals when possible and drive a steady speed on the freeways. It helps that my commute is 6 miles one way, too. My wife's commute, OTOH, is 50 miles one way, but at least she's got an SL2 with similar gas mileage.

#150 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 06:28 PM:

Without having read the entire thread, I shall rely on my many years experience of explaining to people on forums that no, that Fox news video about running a car on electrolysed water is not true, to say that this story stinks very badly.
My first thought is that you could hide some sort of electrical reaction inside the battery case which would be activated by the addition of water. Then the customer is happy for long enough for you to make it to the airport and for the money transfer to go through.

It reminds me of that perpetual motion machinet that some company in Dublin claimed to have invented.

DAmmit, PaulA at post #100, you just gave away Buck Godot- I'm still reading it. Next time you could you please Rot13 it or warn of spoilers.

#151 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 06:36 PM:

Teresa #54 said:
"puzzled me about this one was the presence of reporters from a couple of technical publications that were both taking it at face value, and the absence of debunking articles."

The impression I have gotten the past few years, is that a lot of ostensibly technical or technical related publications re run by either cheap journalists, or people who don't know much about anything outside their own speciality.
This sort of thing almost makes me want to take the sociologists who witter on about the social construciton of science, seriously. By presenting their scam in the correct way, they have managed to create a different reality, at least for long enough to fool people.

#152 ::: Pyre ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2008, 08:14 PM:

So the new engine takes water as "fuel", splits the H2O into H, H, and O, recombines it into H2O for power, and emits water as exhaust.

Why, then, ever refill the water tank? Instead, simply point the exhaust into the tank, and recycle the water endlessly. A closed system generating energy!

By the same principle, one should be able to run a generator windmill indoors, by plugging an electric fan into the current and letting it blow air at the windmill vanes.

Heck, leave off both the windmill vanes and the fan blades, and eliminate the energy lost in misdirected air flow: set a generator and electric motor side by side, plug the motor into the generator, and have the motor crank the generator. Simple, efficient, and compact.

Do you think these ideas would be as easily marketed, or is the flaw a bit more visible to the general public when it involves mechanics rather than chemistry?

#153 ::: spotwelder ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 01:42 AM:

Here's an update of sorts. Now they seem to admit the actual fuel is an active metal such as sodium or potassium:


http://techon.nikkeibp.co.jp/english/NEWS_EN/20080616/153301/

#154 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 03:15 AM:

guthrie @ #150:

At the risk of sounding unsympathetic, I don't think I can have given away all that much. My description at #100 encompasses only a very small fraction of what goes on in the current storyline.

#155 ::: wayne ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 04:02 AM:

By the logic, a hydrogen fuel cell car would put us all in the same position basically as a combustion engine, in that we would still need someone to supply us with fuel. So what is the benefit of the purported Hydrogen fuel cell car? It will still take energy (oil?) to break down the water to get the hydrogen. Still at the mercy of others.

#156 ::: wayne ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 04:09 AM:

This is from the ISA InTech website

http://www.isa.org/InTechTemplate.cfm?Section=Industry_News&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=63705

Hydrogen generation made easier, cheaper

A new technology that can produce hydrogen may soon be able to power vehicles from golf carts and cars to submarines.

The technology produces hydrogen by adding water to an alloy of aluminum and gallium. When you add water to the alloy, the aluminum splits water by attracting oxygen, liberating hydrogen in the process. The work now is to develop a method to create particles of the alloy that could go in a tank to react with water and produce hydrogen on demand, said researchers at Purdue University.

The gallium is a critical component because it hinders the formation of an aluminum oxide skin normally created on aluminum’s surface after bonding with oxygen, called oxidation. This skin usually acts as a barrier and prevents oxygen from reacting with aluminum. Reducing the skin’s protective properties allows the reaction to continue until all of the aluminum generates hydrogen, said Jerry Woodall, a distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue who invented the process.

Since they unveiled the technology in May, researchers improved a form of the alloy that contains a higher concentration of aluminum.

Because the technology could generate hydrogen on demand, the method makes it unnecessary to store or transport hydrogen, which are two major obstacles in creating a hydrogen economy, Woodall said. In addition, the gallium component is inert, which means they can recover it and then reuse it.

“This is especially important because of the currently much higher cost of gallium compared with aluminum,” Woodall said. “Because gallium can be recovered, this makes the process economically viable and more attractive for large-scale use. Also, since the gallium can be of low purity, the cost of impure gallium is ultimately expected to be many times lower than the high-purity gallium used in the electronics industry.”

As the alloy reacts with water, the aluminum turns into aluminum oxide, also called alumina, which can be recycled back into aluminum. The recycled aluminum would be less expensive than mining the metal, making the technology more competitive with other forms of energy production, Woodall said.

In testing, engineers rapidly cooled the molten alloy to make particles that were 28% aluminum by weight and 72% gallium by weight. The result was a “metastable solid alloy” that readily reacted with water to form hydrogen, alumina, and heat, Woodall said.

Following up on that work, researchers discovered that slowly cooling the molten alloy produced particles that contain 80% aluminum and 20% gallium.

“Particles made with this 80-20 alloy have good stability in dry air and react rapidly with water to form hydrogen,” Woodall said. “This alloy is under intense investigation, and in our opinion, it can be developed into a commercially viable material for splitting water.”

The technology has numerous potential applications. Because the method makes it possible to use hydrogen instead of gasoline to run internal combustion engines, it could work in cars and trucks. Combusting hydrogen in an engine or using hydrogen to drive a fuel cell produces only water as waste.

“It’s a simple matter to convert ordinary internal combustion engines to run on hydrogen. All you have to do is replace the gasoline fuel injector with a hydrogen injector,” Woodall said.

The U.S. Department of Energy has set a goal of developing alternative fuels that possess a “hydrogen mass density” of 6% by the year 2010 and 9% by 2015. The percent mass density of hydrogen is the mass of hydrogen contained in the fuel divided by the total mass of the fuel multiplied by 100. Assuming they can recover 50% of the water produced as waste and cycle it back into the reaction, the new 80-20 alloy has a hydrogen mass density greater than 6%, which meets the DOE’s 2010 goal.

“This technology is feasible for commercial use,” Woodall said. “The waste alumina can be recycled back into aluminum, and low-cost gallium is available as a waste product from companies that produce aluminum from the raw mineral bauxite. Enough aluminum exists in the United States to produce 100 trillion kilowatt hours of energy. That’s enough energy to meet all the U.S. electric needs for 35 years. If impure gallium can be made for less than $10 a pound and used in an onboard system, there are enough known gallium reserves to run 1 billion cars.”

Researchers said for the technology for work in cars and trucks, a large-scale recycling program would be required to turn the alumina back into aluminum and to recover the gallium.

“In the meantime, there are other promising potential markets, including lawn mowers and personal motor vehicles such as golf carts and wheelchairs,” Woodall said. “The golf cart of the future, three or four years from now, will have an aluminum-gallium alloy. You will add water to generate hydrogen, either for an internal combustion engine or to operate a fuel cell that recharges a battery. The battery will then power an electric motor to drive the golf cart.”

Another application is for emergency portable generators that will use hydrogen to run a small internal combustion engine. The generators are likely to be on the market within a year, Woodall said.

The technology also could make it possible to introduce a non-polluting way to idle diesel trucks. Truck drivers idle their engines to keep power flowing to appliances and the heating and air conditioning systems while they are making deliveries or parked, but such idling causes air pollution, which has prompted several states to restrict the practice.

The new hydrogen technology could solve the truck-idling dilemma. “What we are proposing is that the truck would run on either hydrogen or diesel fuel,” Woodall said. “While you are on the road, you are using the diesel, but while the truck is idling, it’s running on hydrogen.”

The new hydrogen technology also would work for submarines because it does not emit toxic fumes and it fits in confined spaces without harming crew members, Woodall said. “You could replace nuclear submarines with this technology,” he said.

At one point, researchers thought making the process competitive with conventional energy sources would require the alumina be recycled back into aluminum using a dedicated infrastructure, such as a nuclear power plant or wind generators. However, the researchers now know recycling the alumina would cost far less than they originally estimated, using standard processing already available.

“Since standard industrial technology could be used to recycle our nearly pure alumina back to aluminum at 20 cents per pound, this technology would be competitive with gasoline,” Woodall said. “Using aluminum, it would cost $70 at wholesale prices to take a 350-mile trip with a mid-size car equipped with a standard internal combustion engine. That compares with $66 for gasoline at $3.30 per gallon. If we used a 50% efficient fuel cell, taking the same trip using aluminum would cost $28.”

For related information, go to www.isa.org/manufacturing_automation.

#157 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 03:16 PM:

#155: "Still at the mercy of others."

Unless you have solar cells on your roof or a windmill in your back yard. Or if your town runs on hydroelectric, or has a tidal power system offshore.

Electricity can be generated in many, many ways.

If this fuel cell system is at all efficient, a home-bound version could store your windmill or solar panel's juice for use at night.

#158 ::: spotwelder ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 04:31 PM:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genepax

New info here. The car is a pre-existing electric model with large battery capacity built-in. The Genepax device is providing a few percent of the total energy.

#159 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 04:58 PM:

Ah, that explains a lot. They're basically just trying for publicity.

#160 ::: Glen Blankenship ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2008, 05:27 PM:
set a generator and electric motor side by side, plug the motor into the generator, and have the motor crank the generator.

That was actually a very popular technology back around the turn of the century (umm, the previous century, that is, not this one).

Of course, it wasn't used to generate energy, but, rather, to convert one form of energy into another (AC to DC, multi-phase AC to single-phase, high voltage to low voltage and vice-versa) and to provide line isolation.

They were quite popular with electric trolley systems for converting the multi-kilovolt AC from transmission lines into the ~600v DC that the trains generally used.

Movie studios also used them to convert incoming AC supplies to the flicker-free DC power required by early carbon-arc spotlights.

These days, motor-generator sets have mostly been supplanted by solid-state rectifiers, transformers, and other more modern tech, though there are some specialist applications that still employ them.

#161 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2008, 01:57 AM:

Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey @ 145

From what I've read, cavitation doesn't sound like a path to fusion either. When they say "fantastic temperatures and pressures" they're talking about 35 to 40,000°C; even at a few hundred thousand atmospheres (unlikely, I'd think, but let's be generous) that's not enough to get even a rich deuterium-tritium mixture to fuse. It would need 3 orders of magnitude more temperature.

#162 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2008, 08:55 AM:

Speaking of finding energy elsewhere, I really want to believe this. ("Scientists find bugs that eat waste and excrete petrol" - I count at least three errors in the headline, but the article seems to be ok?) But it sets off all the "too good to be true" bells and whistles. Anyone else know anything about it?

(I remember doing a "science in the news" article on this idea in the 8th grade, but nothing else that was "5-10 years from now" back then has panned out...)

#163 ::: spotwelder ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 05:05 PM:

Happy summer to all you northernhemisphere-ians!

Update from Genepax; they stand behind their claim of perpetual motion:

http://en.epochtimes.com/news/8-6-20/72135.html

#164 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 07:10 PM:

Graaaah! Arrgh! And words of that description.

I just spent four months [admittedly, four somewhat slack months] trying to learn about/work on/invent alternative energy sources. I rejected 18 ideas, and they were ALL better than this one. Even my worst one, which turned out to be a perpetual motion machine.

I have one "non-disproven" idea left, but it isn't quite cost-effective at current fuel prices. And I can't even build a tabletop prototype because it uses flammable gasses at high temperatures. My back yard is small, and "build bomblike objects that don't explode" isn't in my skillset.

Anyway, these people are stupid and I wish them obscurity and poverty.

#165 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 05:06 AM:

By the same principle, one should be able to run a generator windmill indoors, by plugging an electric fan into the current and letting it blow air at the windmill vanes.

Well, you can if you're a Kim Stanley Robinson character...

#166 ::: don delny ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 09:26 AM:

Cat Meadors, 162,
Speaking of finding energy elsewhere, I really want to believe this. ("Scientists find bugs that eat waste and excrete petrol" - ... But it sets off all the "too good to be true" bells and whistles. Anyone else know anything about it?

There's a couple of variations on this, and yes, they are mostly true, and no, they are not commercially viable yet. The usual issues of scaling up production from tens of mL to thousands of L is where the problem is. Getting large vats of homogeneous bacteria/algae/grey goo to not spontaneously die off or mutate to a useless form is hard. Getting them to quickly process raw feedstocks like raw cellulose -> ethanol in a single step, also hard.

They have that last one down to two steps now, I understand, but that's still twice as much intervention as you'd want. More human intervention = more energy overhead = further from large net energy gains.

There's reason to hope for this engineering method.

#167 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 12:53 PM:

For the Europeans amongst us, I remembered the last time this happened. It was last year, a Dublin based company called "Steorn" made a perpetual motion machine.
Here is their claim:
http://www.steorn.com/orbo/claim/

"The sum of these claims for our Orbo technology is a violation of the principle of conservation of energy, perhaps the most fundamental of scientific principles. The principle of the conservation of energy states that energy can neither be created or destroyed, it can only change form."

After reading this, all scientists with any training in this topic (i.e. chemists, physicsists, and many engineers) start laughing.
Unfortunately plenty of people seem to believe it.

However the wheels began to come off when they did a public test in a gallery in London. Yes, thats right, the best place to test a perpetual motion machine is in a gallery, not a lab. Of course it didn't work, allegedly the lights were too hot. Of course, as I pointed out, it wouldn't take more than 30 minutes to nip out and buy some cheap cool lights rather than hot halogen lights. Not to mention the fact that were it a real working invention, the engineers involved would have tinkered the hell out of it, and it wouldn't break down when tested.

To summarise- Orbo are a bunch of scammers, and anybody who is taken in by them is an idiot. But then there are lots of idiots about. You can be intelligent on one or two topics and an idiot on others.
I really want to find out what is going on though. Unfortunately it seems that kidnapping the personnel is probably the only way, and of course that is illegal. Its not like their claim is possible anyway, the question is whether, like Tony Blair, they actually believe what they say.

#168 ::: Joshua W. Burton ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 02:24 PM:

Wikipedia has a nice summary of the history of this notion, and David Mamet wrote a play on the subject.

It's appalling to think that so many comments poking justified fun at a perpetual-motion engine can go by, without a single snicker at John Galt's atmospheric electricity engine in Atlas Shrugged.

#169 ::: Wow ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 06:42 PM:

Seriously... don't you read? They are admitting that the catalyst is being consumed in the process, thus still substantiating conservation of energy... somethings consumed.


the questions are, how much of IT do we have, how long does it last, how much energy is consumed in preparing it, what will it cost to replace, and where in the world is it located?

#170 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 08:06 PM:

Wow: I don't know who you're replying to, with the "don't you read", nor can I tell which of the various systems discussed up-thread you're discussing with "They are admitting..." I suspect that you did not bother to read the thread.

If you are referring to Genepax, the original subject of the article, you're just wrong as to their admitting it. See here, for the latest article quoting their PR manager, for example:

Genepax's system extracts hydrogen from water more effectively than any other known method. As long as water is added to the system, hydrogen is continuously extracted.
"Our technology needs no outside energy to split hydrogen and oxygen from [water]," explained Onishi. Onishi said that an authorized third party will produce data to backup the company's claims. When the results are ready media will be invited to attend a presentation. A press release will also be issued soon.

As to your third question, that was discussed exhaustively up-thread - strong reducing agents can not normally be found in pure form in nature, only in oxidized form. As a consequence, any material which could be used to decompose water into hydrogen and oxygen thus requires a greater-than-equal investment in energy to prepare it. It's that simple.

#171 ::: spotwelder ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 07:20 PM:

Wow: Just to add to what Clifton said, a 'catalyst' is defined as something that aids in starting or maintaining a chemical reaction, but that itself is not consumed. Nor does a catalyst add any energy to a reaction. Energy must come from some external source. A catalyst by itself cannot split hydrogen from water.

By the way the Genepax site is now updated in English. This graphic still seems to claim perpetual motion; it shows Water and Oxygen In and
Water and Oxygen Out! Plus Energy !! 8^)

http://genepax.co.jp/en/mechanism/system.html

#172 ::: Pyre ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2011, 07:05 AM:

Thanks to the spammer, I looked again at http://www.genepax.co.jp/, which now announces:

[W]e have yet to overcome the many obstacles we face in the current world, to bring our systems to market. Moreover, the costs of development have become very large. As our resources are very limited, we need to retrench and reassess our resources and our development plans at this time, and we are accordingly closing our website. ... February 10th, 2009

#173 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2011, 10:22 AM:

Also checking back on Wikipedia's page on "water-fueled cars", I see that Genepax is now their fourth example in a list of six.

#174 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2011, 10:40 AM:

I remember a commercial in the 1970s for toy racing cars called Blasters that were powered by a water balloon at the back.

Attempts to find it on the internet were unsuccessful.

#175 ::: B Polus ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2011, 11:19 AM:

Hydrogen Peroxide (25% Food Grade) = H2O2 produces heat.

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