Water as a transportation fuel

April 6, 2011

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

With oil and gas prices on the rise, interest in alternative fuels climbs. Many ideas of substitutes for expensive gasoline grab the headlines. Often ignored in the rush to sensationalize headlines are the practical things people can do to cut their fuel consumption today.

We can walk, bike, take public transportation, car pool, drive less and drive slower. A return to the 55 mile per hour speed limit could dramatically cut fuel consumption.

A recent Reuters report calls attention to a Japanese company, Genepax (www.genepax.com), that claims it has a car that runs on water. A video shows a moving car that is said to be fueled by hydrogen extracted from water. While many of the details of the system were not reported, the hydrogen appears to power a normal fuel cell that generates electricity to power the car.

The company uses a membrane electrode assembly, which involves the use of a metal to produce hydrogen at room temperatures. According to an article by Kouji Karitsumare in Tech-on in June 2008, the company claims to be able to control the reaction of the metal so it can operate for an extended period of time, thus producing hydrogen over a longer period of time. Upon completion of the chemical reaction, hydrogen generation ceases and power production stops. Since the prototype is only a year old, Karitsumare indicates the company plans on collecting more data about the product life of the process.

The unit only produces a total of 300 watts, which is too small to power the car directly, so it is used to charge a battery for several hours before the car is driven only a short distance. Future plans call for developing a 1-kW system for use in electric vehicles and houses.

Production cost in U.S. dollars for the fuel cell system is around $18,522, but the company estimates costs could be reduced by a factor of four if the product can be mass produced.

Many plans and products are available through the Internet for using water as a source of producing hydrogen to serve as a fuel for powering existing gasoline engines. Mike Allan, senior automotive editor for Popular Mechanics, indicates he plans to build a water electrolyser car now as he already has an electrolysis cell assembled and ready to install to determine whether it works. With all the conflicting claims about their performance and fuel savings, he prefers to test the unit for himself to determine if the hype is believable.

As former presenters at the annual International Emissions Controls Conferences in Colorado, we heard numerous presentations on alternative fuels, drove a variety of electric cars, some of which were built to prove they were not practical or cost effective, and were excited by the numerous approaches to cutting oil dependence and damaging emissions from gasoline-powered engines.

An underlying premise for many of the innovations is that Americans are not willing to reduce their car travel, so some new innovation that allows us to continue with business as usual is the only answer. We don’t believe there is just one answer.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the April 6-12, 2011 issue

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