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Does the Water-Powered Car Really Work?

Yes, but the water has to come from unicorn tears.


By Adam Stein

Unsurprisingly, inevitably, rising gas prices have brought increased interest in the water-powered car. Is there really a simple technology that can dramatically boost the efficiency of conventional cars or, better yet, allow you to run your car entirely on tap water?

No. No, there is not.

I don't want to belabor this topic, and as it happens, the available information about various water-powered car schemes is scant enough that they're generally hard to debunk fully. A couple of points do bear mentioning, though:

Water is not a fuel. And not just because we aren't clever enough to turn it into one. Water simply doesn't carry chemical energy in the way that gasoline does. Consider: when you touch a match to water, it fails to explode. You can drink all the water you want without gaining weight. Claiming to run a car on water is a bit like claiming to run a flashlight on dead batteries. Water can certainly play a role in pushing a vehicle (think, for example, of coal-fired steam engines), but water is not, properly speaking, a fuel.*

Some of the so-called "water-powered" cars are simply cheating: they use another fuel that releases energy upon contact with water. Or they use other energy inputs such as batteries to hydrolyze water into combustible hydrogen. It might be accurate to say that such cars do not run on gasoline. It is inaccurate to say that such cars are "powered" by water. Invariably, whatever it is they are really running on is expensive and/or hard to come by.

The water-powered car kits commonly advertised on the internet claim to use water to boost the efficiency of a conventional gasoline engine. This isn't an inherently crackpot notion, and in fact a quick search turns up some non-crazy people who have done research suggesting that electrolyzed water can improve the performance of internal combustion engines. The problem is that the websites selling the car kits generally are completely crackpot, offering up a stew of conspiracy theory, outlandish claims, and typographical errors that fairly screams scam.

Even if you're not hep to the science -- and frankly, I'm not sure it's even possible to untangle the technical claims being made on these websites -- a little common sense does go a long way. Some questions to ponder the next time someone asks for your credit card number:

1. Does it sound too good to be true? Put another way, why isn't everyone in the world doing it already? Why doesn't the military run its Humvees on "HHO gas"? Why hasn't GM goosed its tanking SUV sales with free giveaways of a water conversion kit?

2. Is there an elaborate conspiracy theory involved? Of course there is! The reason that water-powered cars haven't taken over our roadways is that the inventor, Stan Meyer, was killed by winged monkeys in 1998.** Although authorities refused to pursue an investigation, security camera footage revealed a shirtless Dick Cheney fleeing the scene. Here's the thing, though: except in bad movies, you can't derail a technology by killing its inventor, particularly a technology that is sold for $49.95 on the World Wide Web.

3. Do the claims involve pseudoscientific jargon? Like HHO gas, perhaps?

4. Are there any credible companies or research organizations touting the technology? When Google funds a company building water-powered cars, perhaps we can start to get excited about the prospect of filling up at the tap. Until then, there are many more promising technologies closer at hand.


*I'm setting aside any consideration of nuclear fusion, for the simple reason that such technology doesn't presently exist. Maybe in a hundred years or so I'll have to update this post.

**Actually, Stan died in 1998 of an aneurysm, only a few years after being convicted of "gross and egregious fraud" for making false claims about...water-powered cars.

Adam Stein is a co-founder of TerraPass. He writes on issues related to carbon, climate change, policy, and conservation.

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Here is a company that is selling kits to a lot of cities over seas. I have not checked with the towns, but I am not a reporter.

I think you may find something that will spice up the taste of your foot.

Posted by: U. NeedSomeResearchFirst on 15 Jul 08

The above comments by Adam Stein shows a complete ignorance of the people selling the kits and books on the web. I have fitted an Electrolyser on my 300E Benz
and very happy with the improvement of my MPG. I haven't finished tuning the system yet but when I do I will expect to improve my MPG by at least 30%.
Ford are now investigating the introduction of Electrolysers on some of their models and have a copy of the news release to prove it. The glib, sarcastic comments by Adam Stein, are the reason more people are not trying these polution free, cost saving systems. Nobody is suggesting you can fill your tank full of water and replace gasoline. HHO gas however does burn cleaner than gasoline and produces more power. It comes down to this, if your not prepared to research what you are writing about, don't write about it.
Derek Bruce ~ Australia.

Posted by: DEREK BRUCE on 15 Jul 08

>>Even if you're not hep to the science -- and frankly, I'm not sure it's even possible to untangle the technical claims being made on these websites --

Did you even try to build one yourself? Did you do any research on how to optimize the system? Did you know that a jar is the worst possible way to do this?

Did you know that there are better designs which produce 10x as much Hydrogen gas for the same cost?

Did you even consider building a power signal frequency generator to boost production even more?

It sounds to me as you don't even know what the science is, just giving a hand wave about how impossible it is and throwing in a referance or two from a High School Chemistry book.

Learn the truth about the lies and get the real science that you obviously missed out on in High School whilest copying your homework from your friend. Read it all on my blog and you'll see exactly what I'm talking about!


Posted by: SethEden on 16 Jul 08

I think the science the original article was referring to was a little thing known as "conservation of energy".

Basically, water is burnt HHO gas. The BTU, calories or joules you get out of burning HHO is equal to the BTU, calories or joules you put into the electrolysis, minus losses (you always lose some energy somewhere, usually as heat).

@SethEden, this tells you how much BTU's your bench-top bang might have had. Multiplying 10 amps by 22 volts by 30-45 seconds gives 6-9 BTU, which is the energy you put in. Since this was your first system, maybe half of that actually went into the HHO production and the other half was lost as heat, so you would've had maybe 3-5BTU worth of HHO produced. A further unknown amount would have been blown away before you applied your match or otherwise wasted. In any case, that's the energy content of about a fiftieth of a teaspoon of petrol (0.1 ml).

(Note: while pure HHO gas is not very toxic at all, I wouldn't recommend breathing it: firstly, I've no idea of the likely purity given a particular setup, but more importantly it's explosive and you don't want that bang inside your lungs. In addition to your ear and eye protection, you might want to do something to avoid inhaling it on your next system, especially if you're planning to ignite the thing or if there's a risk of sparks from the electrical side.)

Now, conservation of energy does have a couple of kinks (quantum-mechanical, metrological), but overall it's a very solid principle, shown to hold over a wide range of situations over the last 150+ years. Finding otherwise would be an extraordinary claim, requiring extraordinary evidence (as well as an explanation of how come everyone missed it).

Proper research into HHO burning would've been done at the least in the context of rocket propulsion; HHO-burning rocket engines are used on the Space Shuttle, Ariane 5, Delta IV, Saturn I/IB/V and Centaur rockets. Obviously, these rockets store the H2 and O2 parts of HHO separately and mix them only in the actual combustion chamber, but the flame is the same. The scientists and engineers would've calculated the energy very carefully, both to make sure the rocket reaches the proper orbit and to make sure the engine doesn't overheat. Given the slim margins involved in that line of work, any excess energy would've been very noticeable.

Finally, if you want to do it carefully, you probably want to do a stand test: take the engine out of the car, hook it up to a brake and a lot of measuring gear and go from there. Real-life driving conditions involve too many confounding variables... If you insist on a real-life test, make sure it's double-blind, so the test drivers don't know which version of the car they're driving on any one run.


Posted by: sabik on 16 Jul 08

A year ago, I would have agreed with this article. But, after doing a little of my own research, I have made my reservations. It just *might* be possible. And proving it may be like proving pink elephants exist - you will not know until you find one.

Don't believe everything you hear. Believe the things that you can prove by doing.. Do not believe things when you look up some facts on the "crackpots."

Have you ever heard the "bang" produced from an electric cord put into water? It is much louder than shorting out that same cord in air. Why? There is power in the atomic bonds of water. Faraday proved this over a hundred years ago.

You are right, there are no water powered cars on the highways. Why is that? The technology has not been proven - not YET. Not to the public.

Why did it take so long for Chrysler, Ford, GM, Toyota and the others to mass produce the hybrid vehicles??? Are there reasons they keep producing gas guzzling vehicles? We only look for new technologies whenever our wallets feel the crunch of energy costs.

Actually, there have been a couple stories of running an engine on water. You should check them out.

There are groups developing this new technology. Not all of them plan on making money from the technology. Their technology and information are sometimes not for sale - it is free. It is being made public domain.

They are not successful if it cannot be reproduced. They are not successful if it cannot be put into the hands of everyone. They have had some progress. They plan on having much success.

The focus starts with the spark.

Check out these interesting links...

Notice the water dripping off of the spark plug? Would you do that with a combustible fuel?

Again, notice the water dripping on the starter? and why would someone drink fuel?

Posted by: Oscar Gecko on 16 Jul 08

Why is Adam Stein, the author of this article lying? Why Adam, why are you lying?? Is he or his boss paid by Big Oil?

The HONEST truth is that hydrogen on demand electrolyzers DO WORK! And they are gaining in popularity very, very fast. There are many, many honest and hard working companies selling excellent kits online! I know a few people personally with these kits in their cars and trucks, and they work great! You can actually get up to double your mileage and more, depending on your engine, and the type of kit you have.

Why are you lying Adam Stein? WTF are you up to?

Posted by: John Smith on 16 Jul 08

Can any of these people boosting electrolysers point to accredited studies (i.e. EPA or similar) which demonstrate the improvements they're suggesting they can achieve? I'm still yet to see anything apart from flakey "studies". If the savings which are proposed are achievable you would think someone would spend a few thousand dollars to get a proper lab test done.

Posted by: Scatter on 16 Jul 08

@Oscar Gecko, the first video looks mostly like an arc lamp — first invented in the early 19th century, perfected to practical usability around 1880, to be soon supplanted by the light bulb. The amount of energy required for that display is relatively small (if it weren't, the whole thing would melt), and in any case is supplied as electricity. I've no idea what's burning, but it's probably some part of the spark plug and/or bracket (HHO flame is invisible, anyway).

On a "don't do this at home" note, combining water and 120V electricity is not particularly safe.

The other two videos, assuming they are not faked altogether, again take unmeasured amounts of energy from the battery. The engine is barely idling. At best, then, it's a really inefficient electromotor.

As for reasons to drink fuel, alcohol is both a fuel and a drink, with the two uses distinguished only by the tax system. Alcohol for fuel use (lower tax) is deliberately poisoned with methanol to prevent its use as a drink (higher tax). There is nothing preventing the use of the drink as a fuel, since the state has no objection to receiving the higher tax rate :-)


Posted by: sabik on 16 Jul 08

I am amazed how ignorant you are when writing this news. Have you ever tried it yourself? There are thousands and thousands people have tried them, have you read a single of the blogs wrote by these honest people? Most of the naysayers turned from skeptical like you to true believers. Simple put it, HHO is used as a MATCH to light the fire.

Do you think GM would want to sell a $100 kit instead of a $100K Hummer? Have you read recent auto news? Why GM or Ford have suffered huge losses and lay off thousands of people? Are they really smart as you think? Open up your mind and think twice.

Is Water Powered Car A Scam?

Posted by: James Renton on 16 Jul 08

Can any of these people boosting electrolysers point to accredited studies (i.e. EPA or similar) which demonstrate the improvements they're suggesting they can achieve? I'm still yet to see anything apart from flakey "studies" >

I suggest you read this from the above link:

This 2004 academic paper(PDF) titled "Investigation of the Effects of Hydrogen Addition on Performance and Exhaust Emissions of Diesel Engine" was published at the 2004 FISITA World Automotive Congress in Barcelona. According to the paper, experiments were carried out to evaluate the addition of HHO mixture obtained through electrochemically decomposed water to the inlet air of a single cylinder direct injection fuel engine.

Their conclusion is "when a small amount of hydrogen is added to the intake air, the combustion process of the internal combustion engines could be considerably enhanced. It was found out that the addition of hydrogen has a good influence on the combustion..

Posted by: James Renton on 16 Jul 08

I'm aware of the effect of adding hydrogen to combustion but I'm yet to see any tests of automotive systems. If anyone's going to seriously try and persuade people to adopt this technology then there need to be proper tests of the systems that are being recommended.

Also it's not clear from that paper whether the energy to electrolyse the water came from the engine or an external power source.

What I don't get is why there's always talk about HHO. This process adds hydrogen to the combustion chamber. It's a mixture of H2 and O2, nothing more.

Posted by: Scatter on 16 Jul 08

"Be Green"

BG Automotive Group has a car that will travel 80-100 miles per charge for $15,995.

Finally a car that most Americans can afford.

Did you know that 80% of all drivers, drive less than 50 miles per day? This new car will cost an equivalent of $0.20-0.25 cents/gallon (depending on electricity rates in your area).

Posted by: Barry Bernsten on 16 Jul 08

It's good to see these HHO scams being exposed for what they are. A few months back I also wrote an expose' on these scams and included the basic math for anyone who wants to see just how far away from reality these systems really are. will give you the facts, along with debunking some of the other fuel-saving scams that have reappeared recently with rising gasoline costs.

Posted by: Bruce Simpson on 19 Jul 08

I work in truck dispatching and I know that a lot of semis are getting the Hydrogen add on to increase fuel efficiency. I've heard that they do increase gas mileage but by too small of a percent to see any justifiable money savings in normal cars. It's not just some basement loser who believes everything he reads on the internet that is doing these conversions, that we can be sure. I am not really sure what are the reasons why it is not more widely used though. I am really not very clear on the whole process of hydrogen powered vehicle, but I do know that hydrogen fuel cells require platinum which is somewhere in the ball park of $2,000 an ounce, platinum is one of the denser metals on the planet, an ounce of that stuff is nothing. I have heard that palladium which is similar to platinum but considerably cheaper (around $700 an ounce) is possibly able to have the same catalystic (I don't think that's a word, but you know what I'm talking about) effects. I know that BMW has a car that runs on hydrogen or gas (it's just a prototype mainly for PR apparently) in the same engine (two fuel tanks and a switch the switches between the two fuels). Basically what's going to happen I think is that as gas prices stay high like this for a year or so (who likes filling up a diesel pickup truck for $200? a whack) even my little 16 gallon sedan is costing me about $80 to fill up these days and I am driving an hour each way to see my girlfriend a couple of times a week) there are going to be more hybrids on the road, honestly hybrids we have now days probably only increase gas mileage by about 10% on the freeway and 50% around town, that's good, but still it costs more to drive a prius today than it did when I graduated from high school in 2002 when gas cost $1.30/gallon! What's going to happen in another 6 years? Gas efficiency is only going to delay the inevitable.

We all hope that todays hybrid cars are a forerunner to the plug in hybrids that will be on the road in the next year or two but will probably not really reach affordable prices and mainstream consumer confidence for quite a while I would imagine. I think - I am hoping - there will be a format war (similar to HD DVD and Blu-Ray) between the future of cars. There will be plug in hybrid electric cars, and hydrogen cars in California where there are fueling stations. I know in Norway they are setting up the main freeways with hydrogen refueling stations etc, I've heard about so many future cars, has anyone seen the show "future cars" on the discovery channel? Anyway, there is some crazy stuff down the pike and who knows where we will end up.

Personally I think that Hydrogen is going to take an actual act of congress (or two) to get any kind of ball rolling on that, if gas gets up much higher, the economy is affected on practically a one to one basis if you have looked at the correlation between oil prices and the stock market for the last 60 years, they are almost completely inverse of one another. Eventually congress will have to do something about it. Frankly, knowing congress, I don't think it's actually going to happen, therefore I would bet more on electric hybrid technology becoming a bigger player in the game then Hydrogen.

As for conspiracies with big oil, I think we will know soon enough what conspiracies are out there, Ford, GM and Chrysler are on the ropes like you wouldn't believe right now mainly due to one reason...gas prices...they are a sinking ship, Honda and Toyota were already dealing them bloody noses by their reputation for reliability, at this point, I know that last year GM posted a $40 billion dollar loss, which is like $800 million dollars lost a week or something. That was in the good ol days of 2007 when people actually wanted SUVs too because gas wasn't astronomically high, only ridiculously high. Anyway, the jig is up, if GM and Ford have a "fish carburetor" or still have the plans for a car that can create its own hydrogen by simple electrolysis of water from an average 12 V car battery charged by an alternator or something, then hopefully it will make it's appearance, otherwise, I give GM about 4 or 5 years and they will be bought out by Honda or Toyota or something and our economy will fall flat on its face. I can see some Japanese guy walking into GM's CEO office and finding schematics for the fish carburetor and Nikola Tessla's schematics for his sea water powered electric car that he was forced to destroy back in the 20's or something because people thought it was witchcraft, and really scratching their heads on how this company went out of business when they had the power the whole time to crush their competition like a june bug.

Posted by: Chris on 21 Jul 08

The oil and coal companies, Dick Cheney and George Bush are behind a huge conspiracies with regard to hydrogen as fuel. But it is not likely the one you think.

They have through disinformation, and public ignorance duped a large portion of our population into supporting and defending a lie that will fill their pockets with gold.

That lie it that hydrogen is a fuel.

It it not a fuel. At best it's a energy storage medium.

The question they don't want you to ask is where do we get industrial hydrogen? The answer is through steam methane reforming (SMR). CH4 + H2O -> CO + 3 H2 and then CO + H2O -> CO2 + H2
The bottom line is that it's the cheapest, energy and dollar wise, way to get hydrogen. Basically converting methane and steam into CO2 and H2 at high temperature. If electrolysis was a good way to get hydrogen, companies would already be doing it. The fact is that it is not.

The oil and coal companies would love a hydrogen economy. The same companies that pull oil out of the ground also pull out natural gas. Steam requires significant electricity to produce, the coal companies will profit on the conversion process. It's a win-win if your an energy company.

The funny thing is that all these people ranting about the oil companies trying to stop the hydrogen revolution should ask big oil for a check. They've been working for them for years.

I'm not opposed to using hydrogen as a storage medium, you could do worse, but before we consider hydrogen we need to come up with much better ways of generating electricity. The bottom line is that electrolysis of water or a water solution is always going to take more energy than the energy you get from burning hydrogen. Only Harry Potter can change that simple fact. If you believe the opposite read a physics book on thermodynamics, if you still believe in perpetual motion machines big oil gives you their thanks.

BTW for the mental challenged. Burning the HHO gas and burning hydrogen in air releases the same energy for a given amount of hydrogen. Before you scratch your head and say then why do they sell HHO gas? The answer is that burning higher pressure HHO gas allows for higher temperature combustion. This is important for welding etc.

Posted by: Michael Hoernig on 21 Jul 08

Another note about converting to hydrogen.

Methane energy density is 50MJ/kg - 55.7MJ/kg
and its mass is 16.0425 g/mol

H2 energy density is 120MJ/kg - 142MJ/kg
and its mass is H2 = 2.1588 g/mol

steam methane reforming (SMR).
CH4 + H2O -> CO + 3 H2 and then CO + H2O -> CO2 + H2

So overall
CH4 + 2H20 -> CO2 + 4H2

1 mol of CH4 and 2 mol H20 = 4 mol H2

Lets ignore the cost of water and the cost to raise the temp to 700 to 1100 °C.
1 mol methane -> 4 mol H2

To be overly fair to the pro hydrogen people. Lets take to lowest CH4 energy density and the highest value for H2.

Energy of 1 mol of CH4 =

50MJ | 1Kg | 16.0425g | 1000kJ
---------------------------------------- = 802kJ/mol
1Kg | 1000g | 1 mol | 1MJ

Energy of 1 mol of H2 =
142MJ | 1Kg | 2.1588g | 1000kJ
---------------------------------------- = 307kJ/mol
1Kg | 1000g | 1 mol | 1MJ

Yes the oil companies have figured out how to throw out 60% of the energy in Methane and keep all the "harmful" by-products at the same time. Note that this assumes that you get the 1000 °C steam for free!!!! Hmmmm thus to get the same energy output we have to use 2.6x the amount of Methane.

The only advantage of converting Methane to Hydrogen at a processing plant and the using the hydrogen in our cars is that the CO2 could be captured and stored in underground caverns. This is the same idea for the next generation "clean coal" power plants.

Something else to think about is that several very smart people are working on "efficient" methods to extract the hydrogen from other hydrocarbons like oil and coal. Those conversions will almost certainly be less efficient than Methane reformation.

Posted by: Michael Hoernig on 21 Jul 08

Doh. I realize my mistake. Another example of seeing facts that are too juicy to be true and not wanting to double check them. oops.

I forgot to multiply the H2 energy output by 4. 1228kJ of hydrogen when 802kJ of Methane is reformed.

So if you ignore the cost of water and the cost the raise the water to 1000 degrees it's a really good idea.

So the last couple sentences should be ignored. I understand if you choose to flame me. Sorry.

I'll try to be more careful from here on out. I'll attempt to calculate the cost to raise the water to the needed temperature.

Again I'm sorry about the error.

Posted by: Michael Hoernig on 21 Jul 08

So much misinformation on both sides of the debate, how do we get at the truth? Yes, using a mason jar is not only dangerous but will produce more steam than hydrogen gas and can not be trusted. But to say that it can't possibly work is just as ridiculous with literally thousands of people that are already using it with positive results. As with most debates the truth lies somewhere in the middle. From my experience, I have found that hydrogen injection systems do work quite well but they are high maintenance and require above average skills to produce and install. There are many of us in the open source movement sharing our experiences and if you want to be better informed I suggest seeking out one or more of these forums..

Posted by: RMForbes on 23 Jul 08

Can someone please tell me what HHO is?

Reading between the lines it sounds like the product of electrolysis of water.
If this is the case then its just a mixture of hydropgen and oxygen and is therefore just a stoichiometric mixture of O2 and H2.
The only question is how much does it cost to produce.

Surely there can be no rational support for the idea that you can get more energy out of burning the mixture than you put into the electrolysis.

I expect it has to be produced at the point of use as it would be extremely hazardous to store and distribute.

It seems reasoonable that you could get a few per cent improvement in combustion efficiency by adding it to the intake mixture but that would have to be proven by well controlled experiments. Someone has done this and they know the answer but they need to be published for peer review.

Posted by: Graham on 2 Aug 08



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