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Fuel from the Tap
Is water the next great alternative energy source?
By NorCalCars guest writer Chris Somerville
As gasoline prices continue to rise at the pump, a number of alternative fuel sources are being touted as “THE NEXT BIG THING”.
Hybrid gasoline/electric vehicles are en vogue, with hundreds of thousands of them on the road already, with demand outstripping supply. Manufacturers are retooling factories to produce smaller more efficient high-mileage vehicles and shelving production of gas guzzling SUVs and pickups.
The promise of biodiesel has enterprising do-it-yourselfers converting classic diesel vehicles to run on recycled French fry oil and setting up fueling stations in their back yards. And while the green aspect and tasty-smelling exhaust make biodiesel appealing, not everyone has the knowledge or time and energy to schlep and process barrels of fry oil collected from their local MickeyDs.
Other alternative fuel sources such as all-electric, propane, hydrogen, and even compressed air are hot topics that might be viable options in the long run. But those will require substantial infrastructure and vehicle upgrades that will take years to implement.
But a number of companies are using the power of the Internet to tout water – yes, water – as the greatest fuel-saving technology available today. And since most Americans have access to running water, who wouldn’t want to save a bundle at the pump by turning on their faucets?
So what’s the deal with using water as an alternate fuel, and can using the tap help you save big at the pumps?
Water as Fuel: How Does it Work?
Do a Google search on “Water as Fuel” and hundreds of results pop up offering fuel-enhancement conversion kits to help you improve your gas mileage. Some claim that with as little as $50 in parts purchased from your local hardware store you can improve gas mileage by up to 50%.
Most conversion kits are based on a concept spread by Dr. Yul Brown, who extols the virtues of extracting energy from plain old water. Brown used electrolysis to separate water into two hydrogen molecules and one oxygen molecule. This mixture, called HHO (often referred to as Brown's gas or HHO fuel), can be burned and the resulting energy used to power your car [source: YulBrown.org]. This “fuel” requires very little water and is meant to supplement gasoline.
Why isn’t it in Widespread Use?
Sounds great, huh? So why aren’t major automakers cranking these systems out and becoming heroes to the masses with vehicles that get 60-80 mpg? Pressure from Big Oil? Can’t get access to valuable patents from tight-fisted inventors? Well, no, it might actually be simpler than that.
Like many other alternative fuel sources, these car HHO conversion kits have a negative net energy ratio, which means that the amount of energy you get out of the conversion is less than the amount you put in.
For example, if it takes one gallon of gas to convert water into HHO, the energy output of the HHO will be less than the energy output of a gallon of gasoline. In other words, the conversion process uses one gallon of gas to produce the energy of a fraction of a gallon. So in terms of energy savings, you would've been better off simply using that one gallon of gas to fuel your car. You would have gotten the benefit of the entire gallon, rather than just part of it.
As with many new fuel-saving products, a lot of the hype that surrounds this “Water as Gas” technology is making them especially appealing to consumers hard hit by recent economic troubles. And without a lot of reliable information out there about these technologies, many consumers are figuring it’s worth the $50-$100 to try out something that could help them save a few bucks at the pump.
But just because current HHO systems can’t deliver the massive fuel savings promised today, that doesn’t mean that some smart inventor isn’t out there figuring how to cheaply squeeze hundreds of miles out of a glass of tap water.
Chris Somerville is a freelance automotive writer based in the Pacific Northwest. Visit his Web site, Somerville Custom Publishing, for more information.