A water-fuelled car
is an automobile
that is claimed to use water
as its fuel or produces fuel from water onboard, with no other energy input. Water-fuelled cars have been mentioned in newspapers, popular science magazines, local news coverage, and the internet (YouTube); at least some of the claims were found to be tied to investment frauds
This article focuses on vehicles which claim to extract chemical energy
directly from water, a process which would violate the first
and/or second law of thermodynamics
What water-fuelled cars are not
A water-fueled car is not any of the following:
Chemical energy content of water
Spontaneous chemical reactions do not create energy; they release it by converting unstable bonds into more stable bonds and/or by increasing entropy. The burning of conventional fuels such as petrol (gasoline), wood, and coal converts the fuel into substances with less energy, mostly water and carbon dioxide. In the combustion of fossil fuels water is a waste product, and the overall reaction can be represented with the following chemical equation:
- CnHm + (n + m/4) O2 → n CO2 + m/2 H2O
Water is such an abundant chemical compound in part because it has very stable bonds that resist most reactions. For water to participate in a reaction that releases energy, high energy compounds must be added. For example, it is possible to generate the combustible fuel acetylene by adding calcium carbide to water. However, the calcium carbide, a high energy material, is the 'fuel,' not water. Under conditions common on Earth, chemical energy cannot be extracted from water alone. (It is theoretically possible to extract nuclear energy from water by fusion, but fusion power plants of any scale remain impractical, and no allegedly water-fuelled cars are claimed to be powered by fusion.)
Many alleged water-fuelled cars obtain hydrogen or a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen (sometimes called "oxyhydrogen", "HHO", or "Brown's Gas") by the electrolysis of water, a process that must be powered electrically. The hydrogen or oxyhydrogen is then burned, supposedly powering the car and also providing the energy to electrolyse more water. The overall process can be represented by the following chemical equations:
- 2H2O → 2H2 + O2 [Electrolysis step]
- 2H2 + O2 → 2H2O [Combustion step]
Since the combustion step is the exact reverse of the electrolysis step, the energy released in combustion exactly equals the energy consumed in the electrolysis step, and—even assuming 100% efficiency—there would be no energy left over to power the car. In other words, such systems start and end in the same thermodynamic state, and are therefore perpetual motion machines, violating the first law of thermodynamics. And under actual conditions in which hydrogen is burned, efficiency is limited by the second law of thermodynamics and is likely to be around 20%. More energy is therefore required to drive the electrolysis cell than can be extracted from burning the resulting hydrogen-oxygen mixture.
Claims of functioning water-fuelled cars
Stanley Meyer's water fuel cell
Stanley Meyer claimed that he ran a dune buggy on water instead of petrol. He replaced the spark plugs with "injectors" to spray a fine mist of water into the engine cylinders, which he claimed were subjected to an electrical resonance. The "fuel cell" would split the water mist into hydrogen and oxygen gas, which would then be combusted back into water vapour in a conventional internal combustion engine to produce net energy. Meyer's claims were never independently verified, and in 1996 he was found guilty of fraud in an Ohio court. He died of an aneurysm in 1998, and conspiracy theories persist claiming that he was poisoned.
Garrett electrolytic carburetor
Charles H. Garrett allegedly demonstrated a water-fuelled car "for several minutes", which was reported on September 8
in The Dallas Morning News
. The car generated hydrogen by electrolysis as can be seen by examining Garrett's patent, issued that same year. This patent includes drawings which show a carburetor
similar to an ordinary float-type carburetor but with electrolysis plates in the lower portion, and where the float is used to maintain the level of the water. Garrett's patent fails to identify a new source of energy.
The firm Hydrogen Technology Applications
has also patented an electrolyser design and has trademarked the term "Aquygen" to refer to the hydrogen oxygen gas mixture produced by the device. Originally developed as an alternative to oxyacetylene welding
, the company also claims to be able to run a vehicle exclusively on "Aquygen" and invoke an unproven state of matter called "magnegases" and a discredited theory about magnecules
to explain their results. Company founder Dennis Klein claims to be in negotiations with a major US auto manufacturer and that the US government wants to produce Hummers that use his technology.
Genepax Water Energy System
In June 2008, Japanese company Genepax unveiled a car which it claims runs on only water and air, and many news outlets dubbed the vehicle a "water-fuel car". The company says it "cannot [reveal] the core part of this invention,” yet, but it has disclosed that the system uses an onboard energy generator (a "membrane electrode assembly") to extract the hydrogen using a "mechanism which is similar to the method in which hydrogen is produced by a reaction of metal hydride and water". The hydrogen is then used to generate energy to run the car. This has led to speculation that the metal hydride
is consumed in the process and is the ultimate source of the car's energy, making the car a hydride-fuelled "hydrogen on demand
" vehicle, rather than water-fuelled as claimed. On the company's website the energy source is explained only with the words "Chemical reaction
". The science and technology magazine Popular Mechanics
has described Genepax's claims as "Rubbish.
Thushara Priyamal Edirisinghe
Also in 2008, Sri Lankan
news sources reported that Thushara Priyamal Edirisinghe claimed to drive a water-fuelled a car about 300 kilometers on three liters of water. Like other alleged water-fuelled cars described above, energy for the car is supposedly produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using electrolysis, and then burning the gases in the engine. Thushara showed the technology to Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka
, who extended the Government’s full support to his efforts to introduce the water-powered car to the Sri Lankan market.
Hydrogen as a supplement
In addition to claims of cars that run exclusively on water, there have also been claims that burning hydrogen or oxyhydrogen in addition to petrol or diesel fuel increases mileage. Around 1970, Yull Brown
developed technology which allegedly allows cars to burn fuel more efficiently while improving emissions
. In Brown's design, a hydrogen oxygen mixture (so-called "Brown's Gas") is generated by the electrolysis of water, and then fed into the engine through the air intake system. Whether the system actually improves emissions or fuel efficiency is debated. Similarly, Hydrogen Technology Applications claims to be able increase fuel efficiency by bubbling "Aquyen" into the fuel tank.
A number of websites exist promoting the use of oxyhydrogen (often called "HHO"), selling plans for do-it-yourself electrolysers or entire kits with the promise of large improvements in fuel efficiency. According to a spokesman for the American Automobile Association, "All of these devices look like they could probably work for you, but let me tell you they don't.
Gasoline pill and related additives
Related to the water-fuelled car hoax are claims that additives, often a pill, convert the water into usable fuel, similar to a carbide lamp, in which a high-energy additive produces the combustible fuel. This "gasoline pill" has been allegedly demonstrated on a full-sized vehicle, as reported in 1980 in Mother Earth News. Once again, water itself cannot contribute any energy to the process, the additive or the pill is the fuel.
Hydrogen on demand technologies
A hydrogen on demand vehicle uses some kind of chemical reaction to produce hydrogen from water. The hydrogen is then burned in an internal combustion engine or used in a fuel cell to generate electricity which powers the vehicle. While these may seem at first sight to be 'water-fuelled cars', they actually take their energy from the chemical that reacts with water, and vehicles of this type are not precluded by the laws of nature. Aluminium
, and sodium borohydride
are substances that react with water to generate hydrogen, and all have been used in hydrogen on demand prototypes. Eventually, the chemical runs out and has to be replenished. In all cases the energy required to produce such compounds exceeds the energy obtained from their reaction with water.
One example of a hydrogen on demand device, created by scientists from the University of Minnesota and the Weizmann Institute of Science, uses boron to generate hydrogen from water. An article in New Scientist in July 2006 described the power source under the headline "A fuel tank full of water," and they quote Abu-Hamed as saying:
The aim is to produce the hydrogen on-board at a rate matching the demand of the car engine. We want to use the boron to save transporting and storing the hydrogen.
A vehicle powered by the device would take on water and boron instead of petrol, and generate boron trioxide. The chemical reactions describing the energy generation are:
- 4B + 6H2O → 2B2O3 + 6H2 [Hydrogen Generation Step]
- 6H2 + 3O2 → 6H2O [Combustion step]
The balanced chemical equation representing the overall process (hydrogen generation and combustion) is:
- 4B + 3O2 → 2 B2O3
As shown above, boron trioxide is the only net byproduct, and it could be removed from the car and turned back into boron and reused. Electricity input is required to complete this process which Al-Hamed suggests could come from solar panels.