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A water-fuelled car is an automobile that hypothetically derives its energy directly from water. Water-fuelled cars have been the subject of numerous international patents, newspaper and popular science magazine articles, local television news coverage, and websites. The claims for these devices have been found to be incorrect pseudoscience and some were found to be tied to investment frauds. These vehicles may be claimed to produce fuel from water on board with no other energy input, or may be a hybrid of sorts claiming to get energy from both water and a conventional source (such as gasoline).
This article focuses on vehicles that claim to extract chemical potential energy directly from water. Water is fully oxidized hydrogen. Hydrogen itself is a high-energy, flammable substance, but its useful energy is released when water is formed—water will not burn. The process of electrolysis, discussed below, would split water into hydrogen and oxygen, but it takes as much energy to take apart a water molecule as was released when the hydrogen was oxidized to form water. In fact, some energy would be lost in converting water to hydrogen and then burning the hydrogen because some waste heat would always be produced in the conversions. Releasing chemical energy from water, in excess or in equal proportion to the energy required to facilitate such production, would therefore violate the first or second law of thermodynamics.
A water-fuelled car is not any of the following:
According to the currently accepted laws of physics, there is no way to extract chemical energy from water alone. Water itself is highly stable—it was one of the classical elements and contains very strong chemical bonds. Its enthalpy of formation is negative (-68.3 kcal/mol or -285.8 kJ/mol), meaning that energy is required to break those stable bonds, to separate water into its elements, and there are no other compounds of hydrogen and oxygen with more negative enthalpies of formation, meaning that no energy can be released in this manner either.
Most proposed water-fuelled cars rely on some form of electrolysis to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen and then recombine them to release energy; however, because the energy required to separate the elements will always be at least as great as the useful energy released, this cannot be used to produce net energy.
Charles H. Garrett allegedly demonstrated a water-fuelled car "for several minutes", which was reported on September 8, 1935, in The Dallas Morning News. The car generated hydrogen by electrolysis as can be seen by examining Garrett's patent, issued that same year. This patent includes drawings which show a carburetor similar to an ordinary float-type carburetor but with electrolysis plates in the lower portion, and where the float is used to maintain the level of the water. Garrett's patent fails to identify a new source of energy.
At least as far back as 1980, Stanley Meyer claimed that he had built a dune buggy which ran on water instead of petrol, although he gave inconsistent explanations as to its mode of operation. In some cases, he claimed that he had replaced the spark plugs with a "water splitter", while in other cases it was claimed to rely on a "fuel cell" that split the water into hydrogen and oxygen. The "fuel cell", which he claimed was subjected to an electrical resonance, would split the water mist into hydrogen and oxygen gas, which would then be combusted back into water vapour in a conventional internal combustion engine to produce net energy. Meyer's claims were never independently verified, and in an Ohio court in 1996 he was found guilty of "gross and egregious fraud". He died of an aneurysm in 1998, conspiracy theories persist which claim that he was poisoned.
In 2002, the firm Hydrogen Technology Applications patented an electrolyser design and trademarked the term "Aquygen" to refer to the hydrogen oxygen gas mixture produced by the device. Originally developed as an alternative to oxyacetylene welding, the company claimed to be able to run a vehicle exclusively on water, via the production of "Aquygen", and invoked an unproven state of matter called "magnegases" and a discredited theory about magnecules to explain their results. Company founder Dennis Klein claimed to be in negotiations with a major US auto manufacturer and that the US government wanted to produce Hummers that used his technology.
At present, the company no longer claims it can run a car exclusively on water, and is instead marketing "Aquygen" production as a technique to increase fuel efficiency, thus making it Hydrogen fuel enhancement rather than a water-fuelled car.
Also in 2002, Genesis World Energy announced a market ready device which would extract energy from water by separating the hydrogen and oxygen and then recombining them. In 2003, the company announced that this technology had been adapted to power automobiles. The company collected over $2.5 million from investors, but none of their devices were ever brought to market. In 2006, Patrick Kelly, the owner of Genesis World Energy was sentenced in New Jersey to five years in prison for theft and ordered to pay $400,000 in restitution.
In June 2008, Japanese company Genepax unveiled a car which it claims runs on only water and air, and many news outlets dubbed the vehicle a "water-fuel car". The company says it "cannot [reveal] the core part of this invention,” yet, but it has disclosed that the system uses an onboard energy generator (a "membrane electrode assembly") to extract the hydrogen using a "mechanism which is similar to the method in which hydrogen is produced by a reaction of metal hydride and water". The hydrogen is then used to generate energy to run the car. This has led to speculation that the metal hydride is consumed in the process and is the ultimate source of the car's energy, making the car a hydride-fuelled "hydrogen on demand" vehicle, rather than water-fuelled as claimed. On the company's website the energy source is explained only with the words "Chemical reaction". The science and technology magazine Popular Mechanics has described Genepax's claims as "Rubbish." The vehicle that Genepax demonstrated to the press in 2008 was a REVAi electric car, manufactured in India and sold in the UK as the G-Wiz.
In early 2009, Genepax announced they were closing their website, citing large development costs.
Also in 2008, Sri Lankan news sources reported that Thushara Priyamal Edirisinghe claimed to drive a water-fuelled car about 300 kilometers on three litres of water. Like other alleged water-fuelled cars described above, energy for the car is supposedly produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using electrolysis, and then burning the gases in the engine. Thushara showed the technology to Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka, who "extended the Government’s full support to his efforts to introduce the water-powered car to the Sri Lankan market."
Thushara was arrested a few months later on suspicion of investment fraud.
Daniel Dingel, a Filipino inventor, has been claiming since 1969 to have developed technology allowing water to be used as fuel. In 2000, Dingel entered into a business partnership with Formosa Plastics Group to further develop the technology. In 2008, Formosa Plastics successfully sued Dingel for fraud, with the 82-year-old Dingel being sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.
In December 2011 a Pakistani doctor, Ghulam Sarwar claimed that he had invented a car that only runs on water. At the time the invented car was claimed to use 60% water and 40% Diesel or fuel, but that the inventor was working hard to make it run on only water, probably by end of June 2012. It was further claimed that the car "emits only oxygen rather than the usual carbon".
Agha Waqar Ahmad, a Pakistani, claimed in July 2012 to have invented water-fuelled car by installing a "water kit" for all kind of automobiles. The kit consists of a cylindrical jar, which holds the water, a bubbler, and a pipe leading to the engine. He claims that the kit uses electrolysis to convert water into "HHO", which is then used as fuel. The kit requires use of distilled water to work. Ahmed claims that he has been able to achieve much higher amounts of oxyhydrogen compared to any other inventor because of "undisclosed calculations". He has applied for a patent in Pakistan. Some Pakistani scientists alleged that Agha's invention is nothing but a fraud as it violates the laws of thermodynamics.
In addition to claims of cars that run exclusively on water, there have also been claims that burning hydrogen or oxyhydrogen in addition to petrol or diesel fuel increases mileage. Whether such hydrogen on demand systems actually improve emissions or fuel efficiency is debated.
A number of websites exist promoting the use of oxyhydrogen (which they often refer to as "HHO"), selling plans for do-it-yourself electrolysers or entire kits with the promise of large improvements in fuel efficiency. According to a spokesman for the American Automobile Association, "All of these devices look like they could probably work for you, but let me tell you they don't."
Related to the water-fuelled car hoax are claims that additives, often a pill, convert the water into usable fuel, similar to a carbide lamp, in which a high-energy additive produces the combustible fuel. This "gasoline pill" has been allegedly demonstrated on a full-sized vehicle, as reported in 1980 in Mother Earth News. Once again, water itself cannot contribute any energy to the process, the additive or the pill is the fuel.
"Gashole" (2010), a documentary film about the history of oil prices and the future of alternative mentions multiple stories regarding engines that use water to increase mileage efficiency.
The Water Engine, a David Mamet play made into a television film in 1994, tells the story of Charles Lang inventing an engine that runs using water for fuel. The plot centers on the many obstacles the inventor must overcome to patent his device.