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Oxyhydrogen is a mixture of hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2) gases. This gaseous mixture is used for torches for the processing of refractory materials and was the first gaseous mixture used for welding. Theoretically, a ratio of 2:1 hydrogen:oxygen is enough to achieve maximum efficiency; in practice a ratio 4:1 or 5:1 is required to avoid an oxidizing flame.
This mixture may also be referred to as knallgas (German; "bang-gas"), although some authors define knallgas to be a generic term for the mixture of fuel with the precise amount of oxygen required for complete combustion, thus 2:1 oxyhydrogen would be called "hydrogen-knallgas".
Oxyhydrogen will combust when brought to its autoignition temperature. For the stoichiometric mixture, 2:1 hydrogen:oxygen, at normal atmospheric pressure, autoignition occurs at about 570 °C (1065 °F). The minimum energy required to ignite such a mixture with a spark is about 20 microjoules. At standard temperature and pressure, oxyhydrogen can burn when it is between about 4% and 95% hydrogen by volume.
When ignited, the gas mixture converts to water vapor and releases energy, which sustains the reaction: 241.8 kJ of energy (LHV) for every mole of H2 burned. The amount of heat energy released is independent of the mode of combustion, but the temperature of the flame varies. The maximum temperature of about 2800 °C is achieved with an exact stoichiometric mixture, about 700 degrees hotter than a hydrogen flame in air. When either of the gases are mixed in excess of this ratio, or when mixed with an inert gas like nitrogen, the heat must spread throughout a greater quantity of matter and the temperature will be lower.
William Nicholson was the first to decompose water in this manner in 1800. The energy required to generate the oxyhydrogen always exceeds the energy released by combusting it, even at maximum efficiency, the input energy of a closed system will always equal the output energy, as the first law of thermodynamics states. (See Electrolysis of water#Efficiency).
Many forms of oxyhydrogen lamps have been described, such as the limelight, which used an oxyhydrogen flame to heat a piece of lime to white hot incandescence. Because of the explosiveness of the oxyhydrogen, limelights have been replaced by electric lighting.
Oxyhydrogen was once used in working platinum because at the time such a torch was the only device that could attain the temperature required to melt the metal (1768.3 °C). These techniques have been superseded by the electric arc furnace.
The oxy-hydrogen blowpipe was developed by English mineralogist Edward Daniel Clarke and American chemist Robert Hare in the early nineteenth century. It produced a flame hot enough to melt such refractory materials as platinum, porcelain, fire brick, and corundum, and was a valuable tool in several fields of science. It is used in the Verneuil process to produce synthetic corundum.
Due to competition from the acetylene-fueled cutting torch and from arc welding, the oxyhydrogen torch is seldom used today, but it remains the preferred cutting tool in some niche applications—see oxy-fuel welding and cutting.
A "water torch" is a portable oxyhydrogen torch that combines a DC power supply and an electrolytic cell with a pressure gauge and flashback arrestor. Water is decomposed on-demand into oxyhydrogen, obviating the need for separate hydrogen and oxygen tanks. The original was designed in 1962 by William Rhodes and Raymond Henes of the Henes Manufacturing Co. (now Arizona Hydrogen Manufacturing, Inc.) and marketed under the trade mark "Water Welder". A hypodermic needle was originally used for the torch tip.
"Brown's Gas" is oxyhydrogen with a 2:1 molar ratio of H2 and O2 gases, the same proportion as in water. It is named after Yull Brown, who claimed that it could be used as a fuel for the internal combustion engine. It's also called "HHO gas" after the claims of fringe physicist Ruggero Santilli, who claims that his HHO gas, produced by a special apparatus, is "a new form of water", with new properties, based on his fringe theory of "magnecules".
Many other pseudoscientific claims have been made about Brown's Gas's pretended ability to neutralize radioactive waste, weld metals, help plants to germinate, etc.
Oxyhydrogen is also often mentioned in conjunction with vehicles that claim to use water as a fuel. The most common and decisive counter-argument against producing this gas on board to use as a fuel or fuel additive is that more energy is needed to split water molecules than is recouped by burning the resulting gas. Additionally, the number of liters per minute of gas that can be produced for on-demand consumption through electrolysis is very small in comparison to the liters per minute consumed by an internal combustion engine.
An article in Popular Mechanics reports that Brown's Gas cannot even increase the miles per gallon (MPG) of your vehicle, and that the only real savings come from tampering with your engine, which may confuse the anti-smog controls.