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Water, CO2, Hydrogen – Alternatives to Batteries and a Hydrogen Future?

Usually, blogging on CTRMCenter involves a lot of material about software and market trends. All valuable and useful to many in the industry given the statistics for the website. However, occasionally, I like to have a little fun and go a bit off target. This article is one of those and looks at water engines…. yes, you read that right, water engines. Well, why not because as I was always told – where there is smoke, there is fire and after a bit of research this last week, that does seem to be true here too….

Despite quite a bit of hype from the industry about EV sales and popularity, there are signs of weakness in the data. Once subsidies are removed, EV sales tend to fall off and, additionally, there has been some poor publicity afforded to EVs recently from people like Rowan Atkinson, for example, who says even as an early adopter, he feels duped. “In advance of the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow in 2021, Volvo released figures claiming that greenhouse gas emissions during production of an electric car are nearly 70% higher than when manufacturing a petrol one. How so? The problem lies with the lithium-ion batteries fitted currently to nearly all electric vehicles: they’re absurdly heavy, huge amounts of energy are required to make them, and they are estimated to last only upwards of 10 years. It seems a perverse choice of hardware with which to lead the automobile’s fight against the climate crisis,” he wrote recently. He isn’t the only one coming to terms with the fact that an EV isn’t that green, doesn’t get you far, especially in colder weather, is difficult and expensive to maintain especially if you need a new battery, and quite honestly, are beginning to exceed the pocketbook of many people. I will disclose that I have never been a fan of EVs although I have been, and remain, fascinated by the hybrid engine. So, after recently doing quite a bit of research in the last few weeks, I came to a startling conclusion. Could the future of the car actually be Hydrogen?

Now, I’ve never been a fan of hydrogen either. It’s a difficult and dangerous gas to move and store, and even with the best will in the world and a back wind to boot, I had difficulties seeing it emerge as the potential future. But, I have changed my mind and I am now looking forward to a hydrogen market developing. Here is why…… and it takes us down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories and more –  if we let it.

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If you google the water engine, you are led to a lot of sites debunking this technology. There are conspiracy stories and urban legends to be discovered with water-powered vehicles. It defies the laws of physics is a common complaint. As it turns out, a lot of this anti-water engine talk might have been down to marketing and suppression by those who wanted you to use other fuels. Sounds like a conspiracy theory right? Well, consider these facts and then make your own mind up. And for now, lets have fun with a few emerging ideas and innovations….

If you research water engines, you will discover that despite everything said about it, this technology is real and it seems to work. One example is indirect and that is adding a water fuel device to your existing gasoline engine to extend its MPG’s by anywhere between 30% and 60%. Such technology has actually been known about for decades and a number of firms now offer the devices to do this – for example, HHOPlus.com. Again, official skepticism is in contrast to actual user experience.

Water engines are really Hydrogen engines and apparently they work through electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen and oxygen (HHO). Actually, quite a bit of experimentation has been done on HHO as a fuel or as part of a fuel mix. Recently, for example, an engine using the concept of mixing hydrogen and air with a solution of water and a flammable fuel, then compressing it to create an explosive mixture, and igniting that, has been patented. The hydrogen source can be the water itself, using electrolysis to produce brown gas (a hydrogen-oxygen mix, or H2/O2). The commercial result is called Aquastroke by Maymaan seen as having potential in power generation and in many types of jet and combustion engines. There is a great deal of natural cynicism around waterpower vehicles and in particular because of the idea that water electrolysis consumes power in order to create a power source that goes back to water. I.e. A physical impossibility yet, there is research being done on using water as fuel as can be seen from the above. Whether, water-powered engines will ever emerge and be commercially viable is yet to be seen, but there are signs that  the idea perhaps has some potential?

Meanwhile a company called Plasma Kinectics has been getting quite a bit of publicity recently and, while there remain a few skeptics, it seems as if they have a potential solution to the hydrogen issue. The company has had the technology under wraps for some time and says it was ‘discouraged’ from commercialising it until recently. Essentially, it has found a way to store hydrogen in a reusable film and release it using laser technology – essentially it’s like a CD in a CD player except it releases hydrogen for immediate use. Each of these devices stores enough hydrogen for about 20 miles of driving they say. A bigger rolled film version is available to extend that range for trucks and larger vehicles. The science behind this is proven and “the system uses the same equipment that many semiconductor processes use, vapor deposition of layer after layer of materials forming a series of surfaces that get the job of capturing and storing hydrogen handled efficiently and safely,” according to this article which provides a lot more background. I can’t imagine, given the amount of research done in this area, that this company is the only one with an innovative solution like this. Gone is the problem of distributing and storing Hydrogen with all its attendant difficulties and dangers –  just like that!

The hydrogen fuel cell is another alternative though this does come with a need for hydrogen and a network of distribution, storage and delivery points. Toyota of course, is a leading champion of fuel cell technology saying – “Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) could revolutionise the way we drive. Using hydrogen as their power source, they’re able to provide comparable range to current internal combustion engines and emit nothing but water from the exhaust pipe. This is part of Toyota’s electrification journey into our carbon neutral future.” According to Toyota, this engine works by “powering an electric motor using the energy produced by hydrogen and oxygen chemically reacting to each other. Unlike an internal combustion engine, there is no burning or compression, and the only emission caused by this reaction is water.” However, it requires the use of hydrogen gas currently delivered under pressure and Toyota says that its hydrogen tanks “are so strong they can only be pierced by large calibre bullets fired at close range, and even then, the hydrogen simply dissipates.”

Finally, there are other alternatives such a eFuel from Porsche, for example. Apparently, Porsche has been investigating synthetic eFuels for many years and turned on a new plant in Chile recently to start making fuel from water and carbon dioxide. “”Porsche calls eFuel a practical alternative that allows internal-combustion-engine vehicles to operate in a “nearly CO2-neutral” manner and said its new plant would be able to produce up to 145 million gallons of biofuel each year before the end of the decade,” the article states and it has multiple millions of dollars in investment behind it. OK – its not hydrogen, but it is a way to extend the life of internal combustion engines while removing CO2 from the tailpipe and, its not an EV!

It seems then that there are a number of innovations emerging that have the potential to change the way we think about hydrogen as a fuel. The idea of simply swapping out a CD-changer-like device or devices suggests that some of the issues around hydrogen storage, transport and distribution can be addressed in other ways. It depends on the costs involved yet hydrogen vehicles potentially offer something EVs do not – range and reliability in range.

What do you think?