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Water-Powered Cars by 2009? Maybe.

Illustration for article titled Water-Powered Cars by 2009? Maybe.

Cars running on water? Here's another group of scientists who say yes, it's possible. Researchers from the University of Minnesota and Israel's Weizman Institute of Science have figured out a way to use the element Boron to coax water into producing hydrogen gas. That, of course, is quite flammable and can be used to power an internal combustion engine or a fuel cell. And the only emission? Boron Oxide, which can be converted back into Boron and used again.

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We've heard things like this before, to a hail of incredulous comments and cries of "bullshit!". We've also heard of a guy in Australia who actually showed his water-powered scooter running on Australian TV but wouldn't reveal how it was done. And here it is again, and now they're saying we'll see a prototype by 2009. This seems too good to be true. Will the oil companies buy this out and kill it? Is this another fable, a la David Mamet's The Water Engine?

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Water Engine for Real? Scientists Say H20-to-Hydrogen System Could Be Ready by Decade's End [Jalopnik]

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DISCUSSION

Enter another cry of BULLSHIT.

What this car is, as near as I can tell from the scant info in the

original article, is a Hydrogen-powered car. The only thing novel about

it is that it uses Boron to draw the hyrdogen out of water, instead of

hydrolysis or some other method. While that advance is not trivial (in

that, if nothing else, it might all but remove the need to store

dangerously volatile chemicals like gasoline or hydrogen gas), it does

not solve, at ALL, the pollution and environmental problems associated

with cars.

The main advantages of hydrogen-powered fuel cells have always been

that it lessens our specific dependence on fossil fuels—also true of

this car—which are going to become frighteningly hard to find in the

(geologically) near future. But what hydrogen-powered (and

electricity-powered) cars have never been is "clean," despite what some

people believe. The problem is that, neither hydrogen gas nor

electricity is a naturally occuring resource—they both must be

produced from other resources. And that production is not free. While

one can always pull non-polluting energy from the sun, dams, nuclear

power, or alien death beams, the sad truth is that the VAST majority of

usuable energy today comes from coal (which is only somewhat more

renewable than fossil fuels, and arguably even more polluting). As

such, all of the energy we need to use to produce hydrogen gas (via

electrolysis) or pure boron (via ??), or to breakdown boron oxide for

reuse (via ??), ultimately comes from an increase in coal-burning. So

instead of polluting the air with CO and CO2 while depleting our

planet's stock of fossil fuels, we end up polluting the air with all

those fun things that get past the scrubbers in coal plants while

depleting our planet's stock of coal.

Obviously, a water-based hydrogen-powered car is a good thing. It's

undoubtedly much, much safer than storing 12 gallons of explosion

juice, and it is likely going to be cheaper for the consumer to drive,

depending of course on how the hydrogen-gas is produced. Moreover,

"greenhouse"-gas pollution would be greatly reduced, if not eliminated

entirely from the process. And it goes without saying that running out

of coal, in the short-term, is all but impossible.

But cleaner power-plants need to happen before such technological

advances actually start to decrease pollution levels. Personally, I'm a

big fan of nuclear power, and fission in particular, but solar might be

nearing a breakthrough or two, too. (For those waiting for fusion-based

power—I'm rooting for you, but if the public can be scared off of

fission plants because the possibility of disaster, just imagine the

backlash the first time a fusion plant goes haywire!)