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Could salt water fuel cars?

        Auto | Alternative Fuels

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.