Can we drive vehicles on water as fuel?
Written in 8th grade, part of Science Fair
The population on Earth is growing quickly. More and more people get possibility to have a car. There are not enough roads when people get more cars and the cities are growing. Our most common fuels are gasoline and diesel. Those fuels are fossil fuels and they will run out. Those fuels contribute to the faster climate changes. Therefore we need alternative fuels, that also aren’t bad for the environment.
One thing that we today have unlimited of is water. Is that possible that we can use water as energy? Can a vehicle run on water?
1990 Stanley Meyer searched patent on his invention, in U.S. He wanted to have a patent on a car that was powered by water. He claimed that he had manufactured a water powered car, which had traveled from Los Angeles to New York at only 82L (22 US gallons) of water. But he died under strange circumstances. Conspiracy theories claim that it was the oil companies that were behind this, because they didn’t want that it would be a cheaper fuel than their (almost free).
I think that we will drive the future vehicle with water as fuel source, with help of fuel cells. And that we in the future will see flying vehicles that are powered by water- and fuel cells.
I have been googling at the search word: evighetsmaskin, vatten, väte, syre, bränslecell, fuelcell, vattencell, water, water fuel cell, kostnad vägar, and combinations of these words. Then I have found facts and different discussion forums and I have seen others been writing about the same topic, and I got ideas. The information that I use is from sources that I think are reliable, e.g. Wikipedia. I have also been using scientific magazines, that I reckon as reliable (see reference list below).
Introduction: Water is abundant. There is water everywhere, in lakes, seas, glacier, air, sky and our taps. But in some places on Earth, there is a lack of water.
The water itself doesn’t contain energy. But the parts in water contain energy. Water (H2O) contains two hydrogen (H) and one oxygen (O). Hydrogen is a very explosive gas. Is water the future fuel?
Already in year 1784 the Frenchman Antoine Lavoisier could make hydrogen gas from evaporated water that he led by a hot iron rods.
The technology allowing to drive vehicle on hydrogen, that is one of the constituents of water, already exist in fuel cells.
Fuel cells: The principle of the fuel cell was already invented in 1838 by Christian Friedrich Schönbein. The technology was used a lot in NASA and the Apollo-journeys to the moon, when they used hydrogen and oxygen as energy, and the waste product was drinking water.
The basic principle of a fuel cell is that electricity is produced by a chemical reaction when hydrogen and air are put together within the cell. The hydrogen gas reaches the anode (1) and splits into hydrogen ions and electrons (2). The ions travel through the electrolyte to the cathode, in cars it is often a membrane made of the material Nafion. The electrons go through an external conductor and can power, for example a lamp, or an electric engine in a car (3). In the cathode, the hydrogen ions connect with oxygen from the air (4) and form water (5) that becomes the only waste product. This technology can be used in cars.
(Whatch a interesting YouTube-clip about fuel cell cars, click here).
The chemical reactions that take place in a fuel cell are the following:
Anodic reaction: 2 H2 + 4 H2O → 4 H3O+ + 4 e-(Oxidation and electron release)
Cathode reaction: O2 + 4 H3O+ + 4 e- → 6 H2O (Reduction and electron pickup)
Overall Reaction: 2 H2 + O2 → 2 H2O (redox)
Advantages: The main advantage is that the fuel cell car only produce water vapor as exhaust. Cars with fuel cells run on hydrogen, and have the same long range as normal gasoline-powered cars. Therefore, many people think that this is the ultimate eco-car.
The fuel cell will continue to produce electricity as long as it has access to oxygen and hydrogen, and because the fuel is directly converted into electricity, a fuel cell can achieve much higher efficiency than a traditional engine based on combustion. While a combustion engine (e.g. a engine runned by gasoline) rarely will come up in 20% efficiency, the corresponding number for a fuel cell can be as high as 70%. If one adds the advantage of the heat that is produced when the fuel cell works, it is possible to achieve an efficiency of not less than 90%. Therefore with fuel cells more energy can be extracted from the same amount of fuel. Fuel cells have no moving parts, that makes it quiet and minimizes maintenance.
Disadvantages: One downside of the fuel cell is that hydrogen is explosive gas. For example one well known accident with hydrogen is when the hydrogen balloon Hindenburg exploded in New York in the 30's. But it should not be a problem now, when the gas is in the pressure vessel. Moreover the cars are still very expensive and cost more than twice as much as a corresponding gasoline-powered car. But that may change when several big manufacturers launch series production. And also the difference in price become smaller when the price for gasoline and diesel become higher.
Can we fill up the car with water?: As I have written so far, there is already functioning technology where one gets the energy from the hydrogen in fuel cells. In Skåne they are testing hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars. The hydrogen is produced on the fuel station or somewhere else.
We can produce hydrogen from water. Water does not split into hydrogen and oxygen naturally, but splits through electrolysis. To split the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, we need electrolyzers, devices that act as inverse of a fuel cell are used. An electrolysis is a reverse redox reaction, there electricity helps to separate water molecules to hydrogen molecules and oxygen molecules. It became hydrogen gas (and oxygen gas) from water and electricity.
The technology is used in the nuclear submarines, that can be under the surface in many months, which produces oxygen to breathing through electrolysis.
Technology when you can fill up the car with water doesn’t probably exist yet. Ready hydrogen gas to fill up the car with, is still needed.
Future I: My idea is that the hydrogen gas, through electrolysis of water using electrolyzers is produced directly in the vehicle. This requires electricity that you get from solar panels that are on the car windows and car body. When there is a lot of sun, the car battery is charging up, otherwise the car battery will charge using electricity from ordinary wall outlet or through induction, at home or at parkingplaces.
In the car, there are water tanks and hydrogen tanks. You fill up the vehicle with water. In order to minimize the water tanks, you can imagine that the car takes up water from the humidity in the air. It should manage on minimal water tanks, because the waste product is water that circulates in the system.
When we have managed to come up with this technology, we have the optimal car that is powered by water. Namely, the water is converted by solar energy and electrolysis, into hydrogen gas and oxygen gas, with help of fuel cells become energy and water, and can run the car.
Future II: We all like the movies "Star Wars" and "Back to the Future." In Star Wars, we see crafts travelling faster than the speed of light between planets and galaxies. They go with flying vehicles on the planets, similar to the way we travel with our cars on our planet. In Back to the Future, Doc rebuilt a DeLorian to a time machine, that he could travel in time with. At first he had plutonium as fuel, later he developed it so it went on waste.
We all would like that we could travel in the same way as in the movies. Is this possible? What is needed?
Firstly, it requires energy, or lot of energy, or rather unlimited amount of energy. Something that we have almost unlimited of today is, as said; water. Can we have a vehicle that is powered by water in combination with solar energy or fusion power, could it be a possibility?
Many think it will be expensive if everyone would own a flying vehicle. Yes, it is very expencive if you, as many people, use their cars only 1h/24h. It would be better if the vehicle is used more hours per day, or almost all 24h. We could use the vehicle, and pay for it, only when you need it. So why should you own a vehicle when you can call a "flyTaxi" with your smartphone? You write where you want, and the nearest "flyTaxi" come to you. Of course the flyTaxi is driverless!
We already have the technology in our cars with GPS navigators and automatic system where our cars are adapting to other cars and to lines and automaticly stops the car when danger is discovered. We already have technology that cars can communicate with eachother. We also already have Google cars, (movie), (which are fotografing roads for Google maps) that are testing to drive driverless. In August 2012, the Google cars has driven more than 500 000 km, driverless and accident-free.
But will it be expensive with a flyTaxi? If our tax money goes to the government running "fly-vehicles" instead of roads and everything around, this would be cheaper. Just one km of motorway in tunnel costs about 1 billion SEK (about 1 million euro). You would get a lot of research for just a tunnel, and think of all motorways and all roads in the city and everything around the roads. One could save much money.
Yet there is no technology that can run cars on water that also drive in the air. And the pessimists would say that it will never work. There is a story about the Chief of the American Patent Office, Charles H. Duell, who at the end of the 1800s, said: "Everything that can be invented has been invented." But the development has been fast, and right now it is even faster. So I hope and believe personally that this vehicle will soon be here.
I have concluded that my hypothesis, “I think that we will drive the future vehicle with water as fuel source, with help of fuel cells”, is correct. In this essay, I have described the technology behind water and fuel cells.
Right now there is no technology that we can drive cars in the air, because the huge amount of energy is needed to fly a vehicle. But with fuel cells and nanotechnology, it might be possible. We can save a lot of the environment and a lot of money by not building roads, tunnels, bridges, etc.
If I would redo the essay I would write more about the technology in water- and fuel cells. But if I had to research on a similar topic in the future I would write more about the future’s flying vehicles.