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Viability of Converting a Car to Burn Water and Gas

Posted Sep 07 2008 2:10am

NOTE: audio and presentation file for this post are linked at the end

Life is dangerous. Driving an automobile is dangerous. Burning any type of fuel is dangerous. However, millions of people drive gasoline-powered automobiles every day because the risks are known and manageable.

Depending on the application, hydrogen is less dangerous than gasoline. That is a known, demonstrable fact. Converting a car to burn water and gas involves blending hydrogen with gasoline, adding one explosive compound to another. However, as my friend Adam Nehr of the Kennedy Space Center explains below, converting a car to burn water and gas involves the addition of hydrogen from water which has been reformulated from H2O into HHO, or oxyhydrogen, a useful but highly volatile substance.

Please read on for all the details or, better yet, scroll all the way to the bottom of this post to listen to my in-depth telephone conversation with Adam. It contains all of the information which appears below in a greatly expanded version along with a PowerPoint presentation (in Adobe format). As you will come to see, the idea of converting a car to burn water and gas is appealing but ultimately can’t work without violating entropy, not a good idea no matter how high fuel prices go.

Enough Danger To Make Even Will Robinson Tremble

CORBETT: Many of our readers have heard that conventional internal combustion gasoline engines convert to thrust only 40% of the kinetic potential of the fuel – and on a good day. Why is this?

ADAM: The mechanical conversion of combustion to linear and then rotary motion is inefficient. It’s really a mechanical problem due to the fact that as gases expand they become less dense relative to the square of expansion. As combustion happens the pressure builds and pushes the piston down but as the piston moves, the gas has a greater space to fill and soon it reaches the point where it is too weak to push further. It is still very hot, however, and that heat now has to go somewhere. That’s where the cooling system takes over but just like the alternator, it costs some horsepower to do its job. When you add it all up, the average engine only returns 30 – 40% of the energy potential of the gasoline in the form of power to move the car and the rest goes to heat dissipation and electrical generation.

CORBETT: Here on Keyboard Culture Global Warming, I have featured the fact that Ford currently makes a diesel version of the Fiesta and some owners report fuel economy of 60 miles per gallon. Back in the 1990’s, I knew a gentleman from Scotland who drove the diesel version of the Ford Escort and obtained upwards of 80 miles per gallon.

If it is possible for diesel automobiles to have such high efficiencies without exotic technologies such as regenerative braking, why don’t we have high-efficiency gasoline engines?

ADAM: Well first, the core problem is that we like BIG cars and, with big cars, come big energy needs. The more wind drag a car has, the more horsepower is required to push it against the invisible sea of air all around us. If you think about the root of my first answer, the engineering of today’s gasoline engine is pretty wasteful fuel -wise but it is about as good as a gasoline-burning mechanical engine can be made in a practical sense. We either have to drive smaller or think bigger when it comes to energy conversion for the size of cars we drive.

If we could find a low entropy means of using all of that heat the engine wastes to provide propulsion, it would be a start, but a better solution would be to get away from gasoline altogether. The diesel is more efficient than a gasoline engine because it compresses the air first – and because the fuel has a higher energy specific or energy content per liquid volume. The difference is around 15% more energy per gallon of diesel compared to regular gasoline. The hypermiling figures you stated are the result of many factors, all being optimized....including tire inflation. Good mileage has to be approached from a holistic system point of view.

CORBETT: We have heard prominent people, including George W. Bush, express enthusiasm about hydrogen in automobiles. If hydrogen is part of water, why won’t technologies which claim to allow us to run our car on water function?

ADAM: Well it’s a problem of entropy. If you made the hydrogen from solar energy at a station designed for high volume production and stored it in a high-pressure or nickel-metal-hydride tank onboard the car, like some of the H2 cars currently on the road, hydrogen is a good fuel but not a great one. The problem here is that the tanks are heavy plus the fuel cell is stuffed in and inaccessible to easy maintenance. Electric cars are ideal but that does not stop the use of hydrogen for energy storage – in fact, it encourages it! If you use hydrogen to store energy from solar production and then use the stored gas to create electricity when the sun is not shining, you are getting much closer to a viable and sustainable use of hydrogen for personal transportation, like the way the Interstate Traveler is designed. Batteries and super capacitors are making chemical propulsion look like it is in its last few decades and if we really put a push on the development of the new technologies, we can realize this dream quickly. Note that I talk only about hydrogen and not oxyhydrogen (or HHO) gas. That’s for safety reasons.

If you split water into its component parts, you get hydrogen AND oxygen at a ratio of 2:1. If you keep the gases together, you have oxyhydrogen (or HHO), which is very explosive. In fact, welders use this gas when they need to melt metals with melting points as high as 2700°F. In a car, this gas can be lethal in moderate quantities because it is so explosive. It is like running your car on acetylene and oxygen mixed together....not a good idea. Even more importantly, the systems for converting a car to burn water and gas take energy from the gasoline engine to make the HHO gas right in the engine compartment. That is not only dangerous but completely inefficient. In fact, it costs you a small amount of mileage which some of the systems for converting a car to burn water and gas cover up by convincing you to lean out the fuel mixture by reprogramming your engine computer. This decreases engine life but it does increase mileage right up to the point where the engine fails. The attached presentation tells the story...

CORBETT: If HHO technologies don’t function, what alternatives do automobile drivers have to improve fuel economy?

ADAM: Well, smaller cars for one – perhaps owning two cars, one for commuting and another for general hauling and errands. That’s what I am doing – I ordered a Smart for Two and will use it on my daily 45-minute commute instead of my mini pickup truck. There’s also tire inflation, good maintenance and using public transport when possible. As far as a miracle fix for fuel consumption, there isn’t one out there yet, but the electric car and the hydrogen storage of solar and wind energy is coming up fast! Right now, conserve, be smart and be patient.

Click here for written presentation (PDF)

Fomenting the Triple Bottom Line

Corbett Kroehler

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