14 May 2008

Better Gas Mileage With Hydrogen? – Forget it!

Posted by Dan Satterfield

There is a lot of talk about these products that claim to extend your gas mileage by using electricity to separate the water in a tank in the trunk into Hydrogen and Oxygen. The ads are all over the net.

If you are considering spending money to hear about it or to buy the equipment, you might want to read the rest of this blog entry first.

First the good news.

A car will run on hydrogen gas (with modifications). You can also get hydrogen from water by running a current through it. It is called electrolysis. Some more facts.

Hydrogen burns very cleanly, with the by product mainly being water.

Now, the bad news.

There are no wells of Hydrogen. You have to make it, and making it requires electricity. Guess where that electricity comes from. Coal fired power plants in most cases. So until we can make a lot of hydrogen with nuclear, wind, and or solar power, it is not the answer to pollution, and climate change problems. I am amazed at how many politicians in both parties cannot seem to get their heads around this simple fact!

The news gets worse. Using electricity to get hydrogen from a tank of water in your car is not practical. Why? Because it takes a whole lot of electricity to separate water into Hydrogen and oxygen. Where is that electricity going to come from? Your battery, and generator. Where is your battery going to get the power from? Your gas tank!

There are two laws of Physics called the first, and second laws of Thermodynamics. Every science student learns them in their first year of college. In layman’s terms the first law says “You cannot get something from nothing”, and the second law says. You cannot win, you cannot even break even. You will always LOSE!

How this applies to these hydrogen gas mileage extenders is this.

It takes more energy to break apart the water to make hydrogen than you will get by using the hydrogen to extend your gas mileage. A low voltage current cannot produce enough hydrogen to make any difference so you will likely not see a measurable DROP in gas mileage. If you could produce enough hydrogen to help your car along. You would see a big INCREASE in the amount of fuel you use!

Let me put it this way, it takes 8 miles worth of gas to make 5 miles worth of hydrogen!

I wrote to Dr. Rob Park a Physicist who formerly headed the Department of Physics at the University of Maryland. I asked him to help me convince people that these hydrogen from water deals are just scams.

Doctor Park is an associate of the late Dr. Willie Fowler. Willie Fowler had a little statue on his mantle that had the words NOBEL PRIZE: PHYSICS on it. Trust me when I say that Dr. Park is an expert.

Here is what he wrote back:


The scam is nothing new. In the 1970s an inventor named Sam Leach claimed to have developed a car that ran on water, and demonstrated it by driving it across the country, filling the tank with water each morning. He explained that he was using electrolysis to break the water into hydrogen and oxygen and using the hydrogen as fuel. When it was pointed out that it takes more energy to separate the oxygen and hydrogen than you get back by burning the hydrogen, he claimed to have a secret catalyst to break down the water. Since the combustion product is water, that would violate the Conservation of Energy.

Investors who were unfamiliar with the Conservation of Energy, including the president of Budget Rent-a-car, invested millions. Leach simply retired with the money. I assume he had a false tank for the water. He spent his remaining years being driven in Rolls-Royce that used gasoline.

Those who have fallen for the scam included President George W. Bush who promised in his 2003 State-of-the-Union Address to free America from reliance on middle-Eastern oil with the hydrogen car. It’s easy to make a car that runs on hydrogen, but it will save no energy.

The only way to stop the scam is with better science education.


Robert L. Park
Professor of Physics
University of Maryland
College Park Maryland 20742

So there you have it. These things are a scam. They will not work. There is a great episode of Myth Busters that busts this myth. It is episode 53 by the way. I got a kick out of watching it. The two MIT graduates who do car talk on Public Radio have also busted this scam. It is interesting to me just how much people want to believe in this. Perhaps it would make a great thesis for some graduate school Psychology PhD candidate!

Doctor Park may have a very good point. Our Science education is in sore need of improvement. If I have saved one person from spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on one of these scams, then the hour it took me to write this was well worth it!

Just to be clear- It will not work.

No how.

No Way.


As the commercial for the bank says on TV. SAVE YOUR MONEY!