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Could salt water fuel cars?

        Auto | Alternative Fuels

Image Gallery: Alternative Fuel Vehicles Yes, you're seeing water burn. Salt water fuel could be the next viable alternative to foreign oil. See pictures of alternative fuel vehicles.
Image courtesy WPBF-TV

You may have heard about an invention created by a 63-year-old named John Kanzius that claims to create an alternative fuel out of salt water. Through sheer serendipity, Kanzius, a former broadcast engineer, found out something incredible -- under the right conditions, salt water can burn at high temperatures.

Kanzius' journey toward surprise inspiration began with a leukemia diagnosis in 2003. Faced with the prospect of debilitating chemotherapy, he decided he would try to invent a better alternative for destroying cancerous cells. What he came up with is his radio frequency generator (RFG), a machine that generates radio waves and focuses them into a concentrated area. Kanzius used the RFG to heat small metallic particles inserted into tumors, destroying the tumors without harming normal cells.

But what­ does cancer treatment have to do with burning salt water?

During a demonstration of the RFG, an observer noticed that it was causing water in a nearby test tube to condense. If the RFG could make water condense, it could theoretically separate salt out of seawater. Perhaps, then, it could be used to desalinize water, an issue of global proportions. The old seaman's adage "Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink" applies inland as well: Some nations are drying up and their populations suffering from thirst, yet the world is 70 percent ocean water. An effective means of removing salt from salt water could save countless lives. So it's no surprise that Kanzius trained his RFG on the goal of salt water desalinization.

During his first test, however, he noticed a surprising side effect. When he aimed the RFG at a test tube filled with seawater, it sparked. This is not a normal reaction by water.

Kanzius tried the test again, this time lighting a paper towel and touching it to the water while the water was in the path of the RFG. He got an even bigger surprise -- the test tube ignited and stayed alight while the RFG was turned on.

News of the experiment was generally met with allegations of it being a hoax, but after Penn State University chemists got their hands on the RFG and tried their own experiments, they found it was indeed true. The RFG could ignite and burn salt water. The flame could reach temperatures as high as 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit and burn as long as the RFG was on and aimed at it.

But how could salt water possibly ignite? Why don't careless litterbugs who flick lit cigarette butts into the sea set the whole planet aflame? It all has to do with hydrogen. In its normal state, salt water has a stable composition of sodium chloride (the salt) and hydrogen and oxygen (the water). But the radio waves from Kanzius' RFG disrupt that stability, degrading the bonds that hold the chemicals in salt water together. This releases the volatile hydrogen molecules, and the heat output from the RFG ignites them and burns them indefinitely.

So will our cars soon run on salt water instead of gasoline? Read the next page for some of the hurdles that would have to be overcome for salt water to fuel cars.

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Aquygen

It's possible that someday the salt water that carries ships laden with fuel sources like coal will be a fuel source itself.
It's possible that someday the salt water that carries ships laden with fuel sources like coal will be a fuel source itself.
Corey Davis/Getty Images

Since the oil crisis of the 1970s revealed the danger of our dependence on fossil fuels, chemists, engineers, physicists and charlatans alike have tried to come up with alternatives. In this search, John Kanzius is not the first to come up with water as a potential fuel. In 2006, a company out of Clearwater, Fla., called Hydrogen Technology Applications debuted Aquygen, a gas made up of hydrogen separated from water through an electrical shock. This hydrogen gas, when mixed with regular gasoline, creates a more efficient fuel than gasoline alone by burning what is normally emitted as waste and using it for power. HTA's president, Denny Klein, claims the mixture improves gas mileage by as much as one-and-a-half times and reduces pollution [source: World Net Daily].

Klein created a hybrid vehicle out of a 1994 Ford Escort. This vehicle used electricity from the alternator to create the impulse needed for hydrogen separation. It then sent the gas into the fuel tank for mixing. But while the hydrogen gas produced was fuel-efficient, it was also highly volatile, meaning it could easily explode.

There is another design flaw in Aquygen, one that it shares with the Kanzius RFG. Both struggle with the energy input to energy output ratio -- or efficiency. This huge stumbling block causes many to view inventions like Aquygen and the RFG as useless science. While the RFG produces a hydrogen flame that burns stably, the amount of energy it puts out is less than the amount of energy needed to power the RFG. In this sense, any energy that comes out of the salt-water flame cannot be considered a source of power. It's just a manifestation of the energy being put into it, only in a lesser amount. This makes it unlikely that the RFG could produce a real, viable source of fuel.

Just about any electrical or chemical process puts out some kind of energy, for example, in the form of heat. In power sources, the goal is to create more energy than is used in the process. Once you consider how few sources of energy can produce more energy than their process requires, the difficulty of such a quest, and the maddening frustration that accompanies it, becomes clearer. It's a little like alchemy -- the quest to turn ordinary metals into precious ones.

Like Isaac Newton and his falling apple, or Alexander Flemming and his accidental penicillin spores, John Kanzius stumbled onto his discovery. But unlike Newton and Fleming, Kanzius is yet to be validated by history. Until the energy input versus output ratio can be overcome -- if, indeed, it can -- Kanzius's exciting discovery will remain just that: an exciting discovery. But with a major university behind it, Kanzius's RFG isn't down for the count. The RFG's inventor can also look forward to further research into other applications for his machine. ­

For more information about alternative fuels, check out the links on the next page.

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Sources

  • Templeton, David. "Salt Water as Fuel?" Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. September 9, 2007.http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07252/815920-85.stm
  • Kovacs, Joe. "Can Water Fuel World?" World Net Daily. May 30, 2007.http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/printer-friendly.asp?ARTICLE_ID=55934
  • Strom, Ron. "Cars Run On Water: Miracle or Scam?" World Net Daily. May 20, 2006.http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/­printer-friendly.asp?ARTICLE_ID=50255
  • O'Mara, Michael. "Salt Water Fuel Gets Major University Review." WKYC.com September 12, 2007.http://www.wkyc.com/news/news_article.aspx?storyid=74285
  • Swenson, Herbert. "Why Is the Ocean Salty?" U.S. Geological Survey.http://www.palomar.edu/oceanography/salty_ocean.htm
  • "Fla. Man Invents Machine To Turn Water Into Fire." WPBF.com May 24, 2007.http://www.wpbf.com/news/13383827/detail.html