Perpetual Motion via Fuel Cell

Jun 13 2008 Published by under Bad Physics

Via several blogs, including the normally wonderful Making Light comes a link to an obnoxious Reuters' story that once again demonstrates just how scientifically and mathematically illiterate reporters are.

We have yet another company basically claiming to have invented a perpetual motion machine. From Reuters:

Tired of petrol prices rising daily at the pump? A Japanese company has invented an electric-powered, and environmentally friendly, car that it says runs solely on water.

Genepax unveiled the car in the western city of Osaka on Thursday, saying that a liter (2.1 pints) of any kind of water -- rain, river or sea -- was all you needed to get the engine going for about an hour at a speed of 80 km (50 miles).

"The car will continue to run as long as you have a bottle of water to top up from time to time," Genepax CEO Kiyoshi Hirasawa told local broadcaster TV Tokyo.

"It does not require you to build up an infrastructure to recharge your batteries, which is usually the case for most electric cars," he added.

Once the water is poured into the tank at the back of the car, the a generator breaks it down and uses it to create electrical power, TV Tokyo said.

Whether the car makes it into showrooms remains to be seen. Genepax said it had just applied for a patent and is hoping to collaborate with Japanese auto manufacturers in the future.

Most big automakers, meanwhile, are working on fuel-cell cars that run on hydrogen and emit -- not consume -- water.

There's just one problem. This is completely impossible.

What this essentially claims is that Genepax has invented a technology that can split water into hydrogen and oxygen consuming less energy than will be produced by re-uniting them.

What they're claiming is that you can do:

  1. Energy1 + 2H2O ⇒ 2H2 + O2
  2. Followed by: 2H2 + O2 ⇒ 2H2O + Energy2
  3. where Energy2 > Energy1

Only, there's this thing called "thermodynamics". You can't do that. If you could, you could just generate all the worlds energy by splitting water and then recombining it. That would be great - free energy for all! But it doesn't work. You can't get more out than you put in.

The reason that oil works so well as an energy source is that it's got large quantities of energy packed into its chemical form. It took a lot of energy to produce the oil - all of the sunlight that fed the plants that eventually turned into oil; all of the geological pressures over millions of years; that's all packed up in the chemical structure of the molecules that make up the oil. When we burn oil, what we're doing is rapidly releasing energy that was packed into those molecules over millions of years. We're not getting free energy: we're just rapidly releasing energy collected over a huge span of time in a brief burst.

But the Genepax cell doesn't try to do anything like that. It uses some novel process to split water into its components - which cannot be done without adding enough energy to break the molecular bonds that hold water together. Then it re-unites those bonds, releasing energy. But the only energy that's available is the same energy that was used to break the molecules: there's no other energy source.

This can't work without some other energy source.

So: either Genepax is lying, deluded, or there's some missing component in this story.

I lean towards the "lying" explanation myself. This is entirely to reminiscent of some of the "brown's gas" nonsense that's been circulating the internet for years.

But there is the possibility that the Genepax folks are just clueless. It's possible in theory to create some kind of device that splits water using chemical energy from the materials in the device. So, for example, their "membrane electrode assembly" could be degrading, with that decay providing the energy to drive the process of splitting the water.

The reason that I find that doubtful is because the amount of energy that they claim to be producing - enough energy to move a car 80 kilometers in one hour - is a lot of energy. They'd have to be pretty damned clueless to not notice the amount of degradation of their device necessary to provide that quantity of energy.

In fact, in another article about this, they specifically claim that this system is superior to the conventional methanol fuel cell, because it doesn't suffer from catalyst degradation of the electrodes.

Why do people fall for this? There's no rocket science here: you can't get more energy out than you put in. That's a very simple concept. But some very smart people fall for this stuff. I've got a huge amount of respect for Teresa Nielsen Hayden. She's a very smart lady. And yet she didn't immediately see that this couldn't be true. Why? Those of us on the science side of things are clearly failing to educate people about very simple scientific ideas. How can we do better?

85 responses so far

  • Ignatz Ratzkeratzke says:

    You're thinking either of Patrick of of Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

  • Sarah A says:

    "The car will continue to run as long as you have a bottle of water to top up from time to time."
    This is clearly not a perpetual motion claim. They don't discuss the waste product, but it's very clear that you need to keep adding water.
    Maybe you were confused by the statement that most auto makers were focusing on fuel cells that output water as a waste product.
    I doubt water (alone) can be used as an energy source like this, but there's no perpetual motion claim here. This is probably impossible, but not because of basic thermodynamics.
    Maybe you should do a post on the "Bad Math" of not reading the story problem carefully?

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    Sarah A:
    They clearly say that the use a fuel cell to generate electricity once the water is separated. Fuel cells burn hydrogen+oxygen to produce water.
    Also - if your intake is just water, which you then split into hydrogen and oxygen, and you take no other input, what else could you do? Cold fusion?
    You need to add water, because the fuel cells don't bother to reclaim the produced water; it's easier to just dump the water as vapor than to condense and collect it. It's not because the output is anything other than water. If they're really using a hydrogen fuel cell - which is what they claim - then they're producing water.

  • dogscratcher says:

    "I lean towards the "lying" explanation myself."
    Could be just the Reuters idiots poor translation too (as you mentioned earlier).

  • Hank Roberts says:

    I eagerly await the decision of the patent examiner.
    Meanwhile I'm preparing to patent my dual-fuel-cell design, in which a standard fuel cell produces electricity and waste water, and the waste water is routed into this new kind of fuel cell where it is consumed to produce electricity. Some of the electricity is fed back to the first fuel cell to recharge it, obviously.
    And since we keep producing more electricity every day, the excess is diverted to the AC power system to eventually replace all other sources of electricity.
    Best part is we only need to build _one_ of these things.

  • Alex Besogonov says:

    Sarah:
    Almost the only thing you can practically do with water to extract energy is to react it with an alkali or alkaline earth metal (Na, K, Mg, Ca, ...).
    Oh, you can also _burn_ water in fluorine, with _oxygene_ as one end-product. The only downside - you need fluorine 🙂

  • Alexey Romanov says:

    Actually, they seem to be claiming that you can do
    1'. 2H2O ⇒ 2H2 + O2 + Energy.
    There is no mention of your step 2.

  • Kevin H says:

    This is almost as aggravating as the much more mainstream notion that fuel-cells can somehow solve global warming.
    Both notions can be debunked with a two sentences: Hydrogen is not an energy source. It is an energy intermediate.

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    Kevin:
    Yes, exactly. I wish we could get that across to people.
    Fuel cells are great - they produce electricity from fuel with great efficiency and low emissions. But they need fuel, and that fuel needs to come from somewhere. And "fuel" is a fancy word for "source of chemical energy". Fuel cells *run on* energy; they don't produce energy, they only extract it. The energy needs to come from someplace.

  • Eric Lund says:

    Alexey #7: The problem with your argument is that the reaction you describe consumes energy instead of releasing it. That's the whole idea underlying the pie-in-the-sky hydrogen economy proposals we've been hearing: you release energy by burning hydrogen, and water is the waste product. The difficulty is that you have to expend energy to get the hydrogen in the first place. The proposed methods I know of are electrolysis of water (which requires at least as much energy as you take out--it might work if you have photovoltaic or some other renewable external energy source and make the hydrogen a temporary storage step) or producing hydrogen from hydrocarbons (which is less efficient than simply burning the hydrocarbons directly).
    I can't rule out the botched translation option that Dogscratcher #4 mentions (the original source seems to be a Japanese TV network), but "lying" is far more likely. They can't possibly be this deluded if they are so far along as to display what they claim is a working prototype.

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    Alexey:
    Nope - they specifically say that it's a fuel cell, and the novel part is the thing that separates the hydrogen and oxygen - but it's the fuel cell that's supposedly producing the energy. Hydrogen fuel cells take in hydrogen and oxygen, and produce water and electricity.

  • Shaneal Manek says:

    Dr. Chu-Carroll:
    I believe that you are mistaken when you say:
    'and "fuel" is a fancy word for "source of chemical energy".'
    You're forgetting nuclear energy 😀
    Personally, I think the optimal (long term) solution to all our energy problems lies in using Breeder Reactors for energy production, and building Carbon-based fuels out of the CO2 in the air as a portable power source.
    To take you through this step by step:
    1. Use a breeder reactor that take an initial charge of a fissionable material (e.g., plutonium) and after words only requires non-fissionable materials (e.g., depleted uranium or thorium) as fuel. Most estimates (happy to provide figures on request) suggest we should have more than 5,000 years of fuel already - even taking into account our ever increasing energy needs.
    2. Use the energy from the breeder reactor to make carbon-neutral, clean fuel from the CO2 in the air (see http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/19/science/19carb.html for details) for devices that currently use fossil fuel.
    The reasons for using this sort of carbon based pseudo-fossil fuel are:
    a) less upgrading of existing infrastructure
    b) Far higher energy density than hydrogen (~40 MJ/Kg to hydrogen ~13 MJ/Kg), so we get longer range and lighter vehicles (cars, planes, etc).
    c) easier to manage than Hydrogen
    Tada! World's energy and green-house gas problems solved 😉
    Too bad the US government goes ballistic whenever there is talk of exporting 'breeder' technology.

  • manuelg says:

    Shaneal#12
    > "fuel" is a fancy word for "source of chemical energy"
    "Fuel" is a "fancy word"?
    It is difficult enough today to get LNG infrastructure zoned near enough to population centers. I expect your "Tada!" breeder reactor moment to come 90 minutes after the sun goes supernova.

  • Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent in the "black budget" of the Space Shuttle Division of Rockwell when I worked there, on an "engine that doesn't need to be refueled" -- a version of the water to hydrogen and oxygen gas to water scam that dates to the Civil War. Both Ed McCullough and I were called to testify at one of the lawsuits related to that perpetual motion machine.
    There was a scam within the scam. I'm told that Rockwell, which began almost a century ago making truck axles, cut a deal with The Big 3 auto makers of Detroit: Rockwell wouldn't make cars, and the Big 3 wouldn't make airplanes.
    A former floor manager of Hubert Humphrey at the Democratic National Convention (he told us, but who knows) had a scheme to sneak Rockwell back into the car business.
    He had his pet engineers design a vehicle for operation on the Moon, since we had big R&D budgets from NASA, already being skimmed feloniously. The vehicle would burn hydrogen with oxygen in a modified truck engine, from on-board cryogenic liquid supplies. They had a working model of this. It would be a prototype of a hydrogen-economy car for terrestrial use.
    Somewhere along the lines, one of the lunatics decided that, since the exhaust was water vapor, they could take some of the energy out and use it to electrolyze the exhaust water back into hydrogen and oxygen.
    This was actually pitched as an "engine that doesn't need to be refueled" for submarines and, at one point, by the ex-political guy, who swore that as a top salesman at Rockwell he once had the office next to the Rockwell President, to none less than the Idaho National Energy Laboratory.
    They rolled on the floor laughing, then agreed that they would not report him to Rockwell executive management or the U.S. government if, in return, he wouldn't report that they were foolish enough to fly him there.
    He went back to other pet projects. Such as the microwave-powered robot that they were testing in the parking lot, with 100,000 times the FCC limit on microwave intensity for populated areas. And explicit authorization of plagiarism of the Caltech and MIT employees in the division for papers that were actually published in aerospace conferences. And building prototype hypermedia collaboration workstations and selling them for cash to friends of the politico.
    This was still small-time theft compared to the clothing being made on the special sewing machines that were supposed to be exclusive to making space suits, or the money skimmed from each rewiring of the space shuttle.
    I became slightly too aware of such things, as executive management liked to send me in as a special auditor of R&D projects. They usually made me rewrite my conclusions. Long story.

  • Shaneal Manek says:

    @manuelg:
    '"fuel" is a fancy word for "source of chemical energy"' is a direct quotation from Dr. Chu-Carroll (see post #9).
    Also, there is no good reason that nuclear reactors to be considered unsafe. No modern reactor has ever had a real meltdown. Even Three Mile Island (which had a partial meltdown in 1979) is only estimated to have killed one person.
    If you count all the people ever killed by nuclear power plants, using worst-case estimates of fallout damage and the like, we're still at well under 50,000. Coal, on the other hand, causes more than 50,000 deaths each and every year (depending on whose numbers you believe, it's between 30,000 to 100,000). Even hydro-electric power has caused far more deaths than nuclear power.
    I remember reading a study a few years back that showed nuclear power kills an order of magnitude less people per watt generated than any other scalable energy source available (I'd be happy to dig it up, if you're interested).

  • John Morales says:

    Interesting to see that, though there is quibbling and digression, no-one disputes the central point that this is a claim for free energy.
    I wouldn't think this would make investing in this company a good choice.

  • Bob Carroll says:

    There is no doubt this is a scam. If they ever present their prototype, you can be sure they won't let anyone near it; it will have a hidden source of energy.
    This is almost a *standard* scam. Robert Park, in his book, Voodoo Science, describes a similar scam, which took in a president (or CEO, I dont recall) of a major car-rental agency for a million dollars.
    As for Alexey Romanov, writing "energy" on the right hand side of a chemical equation doesn't magically make energy be produced by that reaction. Looking at any introductory chemistry text would show that energy is used to break up the water molecule, so the reverse reaction can only generate the same amount of energy.. When you factor in inefficiencies present in all mechanical devices, there is a net loss of usable energy.
    Bob

  • Chris' Wills says:

    #10 Posted by: Eric Lund
    The proposed methods I know of are electrolysis of water (which requires at least as much energy as you take out--it might work if you have photovoltaic or some other renewable external energy source and make the hydrogen a temporary storage step) or producing hydrogen from hydrocarbons (which is less efficient than simply burning the hydrocarbons directly).

    You missed the best method of producing hydrogen which uses sunlight Algae produce hydrogen

  • Chris' Wills says:

    #14 Posted by:Jonathan Vos Post
    ....-- a version of the water to hydrogen and oxygen gas to water scam that dates to the Civil War. Both Ed McCullough and I were called to testify at one of the lawsuits related to that perpetual motion machine.......

    I'm guessing you are refering to the USA's civil war, so how old are you? :o)

  • Re: 19
    The water engine scam dates to the Civil War. The Rockwell version was by about 1990. I'm old in internet years, but not as old as you infer;)

  • Tomislav says:

    There is also this:
    http://www.isa.org/InTechTemplate.cfm?Section=Industry_News&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=63705
    Not sure if there are any similarities between that and what Genepax claims they are doing, or even whether the above-linked stuff works. It certainly sounds more plausible than energy out of nothing. But there is definitely degradation of something (aluminium in this case) that needs to be recovered by putting in energy (outside of the car's system).

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM says:

    But there is definitely degradation of something (aluminium in this case) that needs to be recovered by putting in energy (outside of the car's system).

    That was my immediate thinking too, as the press releases mentions a Membrane Electrode Assembly (MEA): "The secret behind MEA is a special material that is capable of breaking down water into hydrogen and oxygen through a chemical reaction."
    I assume metal hydrides would work as well. It is probably an easier (and more economical) system to build than those that liberate hydrogen by heating, so kudos for that.
    Why this most certainly is bordering between spin and scam:
    -
    The web page claims that it is water (alone) that "produces electricity and heat". (Could be putting a spin on things.)
    - MEA are already in use as a technical term referring to the stack of membranes, catalyst and electrodes in fuel cells. (Could be putting a spin on things.)
    - It would be cumbersome to come up with a metal replacement scheme for gas stations. Metal hydride cars are supposed to be tanked at the station, which is still risky before the hydrogen is bounded, or replace recycled hydrides which is also a stumbling block. (No more spin than the serious hydride car systems proposed.)
    As for the reporters, I think they could have done a better job than in the release I linked to:
    "Not surprisingly, Genenpax has kept the exact details of their technology under wraps, but they did say that their new process, while based on existing technology, is expected to produce hydrogen from water for longer time than any method currently available. Furthermore, WES does not require a hydrogen reformer, a high-pressure hydrogen tank, or any special catalysts to get the job done."
    This could certainly be a fair description if the part about "from water" wasn't playing straight out of field.
    This wouldn't be the first time a company spins a technology way out of bounds. But it wouldn't be the first investment scam either.

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    Tomislav:
    The article that you linked to looks legit. They're completely honest about what they're doing: they're producing an alloy
    which uses a chemical reaction involving aluminum, gallium, and water to break the water, producing as a result hydrogen and aluminum oxide. They claim to be able to recycle the aluminum oxide less expensively than it takes to refine fresh aluminum.
    The key is that they don't claim that it's a free-energy process. They're open about the fact that there's an energy input, in the form of the gallium/aluminum alloy.
    It's interesting not in the sense of energy generation, but in the sense of carbon emissions. If you have an energy generating system that allows you to produce clean electricity, you're still left with a problem when it comes to transportation: batteries are a horrible way of running a vehicle. They're expensive, heavy, and don't store nearly enough usable energy for their weight to really operate a vehicle.
    So for transportation, you need to look for alternative ways of storing energy that can be extracted by the car. Things like this aluminum reaction are interesting possibilities: pump in energy in the process of producing the alloy particles; use it with water to react to produce a clean fuel to operate the car. But what's important is to understand that what you're really doing is storing energy in chemical form for later extraction. This isn't producing energy.

  • David says:

    Mark,
    Producing aluminium and gallium requires massive amounts of energy, since they have to be refined from their ores in a blast furnace. Since carbon is often used as the reducing agent, this results in huge CO2 emissions, just not in the city but in a concentrated area around the factory (not to mention the fact that carbon itself is produced by cracking natural gas into hydrogen and carbon).
    This thing is a total scam.

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    David:
    The claim there is that while initially refining the aluminum and gallium is very energy intensive, that there is a way of taking the used aluminum/gallium granules and recycling them that isn't bad.
    I'm not convinced that it's likely, but I'm not certain that it's impossible.

  • Mark, would it make things clearer if I said that it never occurred to me that a bunch of reporters, some of them from nominally technical publications, could fall for a plain old water engine scam? That's like falling for a story about a guy being held prisoner in Spain, or believing that Miriam Abacha really does need your help to get the money her husband stashed away.
    It's yet another instance of my falling for the logical fallacy that's been my bete noire for decades: "They can't possibly be doing what it looks like they're doing -- that would be stupid!"

  • John Morales says:

    How can we do better?

    Mark, I'd say you and ScienceBlogs in general are doing a fine job as this thread illustrates.

  • greg says:

    here is an interesting graphic from the company's website:
    http://www.genepax.co.jp/mechanism/system.html
    sorry, it's only in japanese but it is pretty clear. it says that a chemical reaction separates the water into diatomic hydrogen and oxygen which combines with another oxygen ion and is released, then a catalyst changes the H2 into two protons and two electrons, then the protons pass through an electrolyte membrane, then the protons recombine with the electrons (after they have generated a current) and protons pass into another catalyst and recombine with an oxygen atom and is released as water.
    there is also a short video of the car driving around town.
    http://www.genepax.co.jp/development/wes_011.asx

  • There's a short video of the demo car driving along a frontage road. As usual with cars, what powers it is not discernible from a brief visual inspection.

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    Teresa:
    I think that there's something wrong when we don't teach people to immediately say "That's impossible" when something like this scam comes up.
    I don't mean to be insulting to you at all. It's my opinion that this is a major failing of how we teach science.
    If someone told you that they had a scheme to get rich quick, and the idea of it was that you took five dollar bills, traded them for one-dollar bills, and then used the one-dollar bills to buy five dollar bills, you'd instantly know that it was nonsense, and that anyone claiming to make money that way would by a liar. Even if it was published in a top-quality economics journal, you wouldn't take it seriously for any longer that it took to read that one-sentence description.
    That is, basically, what this article is claiming. Except that it's even a bit worse. In energy, it's like doing the five-dollar scam, except that you have to pay the bank to give you five one-dollar bills for a five. So you need to give them fifty cents every time that they give you five one-dollar bills for a five dollar bill.
    If we were teaching science right, you'd have the same reaction to the water-engine as you'd have to the bill-changing. The fact that even someone as well-educated as an editor wasn't taught basic science well enough for that demonstrates a very serious problem with our education system.

  • Thinker Hardyg says:

    While it is verys well possible that this is a scam, because history tells us they occur, it is also possible that - MAYBE including some industrial spying, or just the conviction that it MUST be possible - they really finally figured out (in a less efficient way) what some inventors already found out years ago. Now they want to get a patent, and they might, because they are a company. A single person like an inventor is usually told that it can't be patented because it's impossible and (at least in some regions) patent law (funnily) explicitly says that something that (in their opinion) violates the laws of physics can't be patented.
    Mark, in a way you are right, but in a way, you are also not quite well informed. 😉 Of course Genepax won't tell their 'secret' details, but that's what is missing. This (I mean the principle, not what Genepax built there) is not a perpetual motion machine, because it uses an energy source that's not believed to exist. Because, you know, how can science acknowledge the existence of (let alone invent) something they don't believe in?
    A narrow-minded and history-ignorant former theoretical-physics-professor and president of a university even told me that we already have discovered all possible physical processes that can occur in the universe.
    If a person from the far past sees a wind power plant, he will say you can't get energy out of that because you need energy to move the rotor. As long as he doesn't understand the power source that is the wind, such a wind power plant appears to be a scam.
    The reasonable thing now would be to examine such technology in detail, but society has not the right attitude for that. Industry would want to steal and/or destroy such a technology as long as there is one drop of oil left in the world and the common people are no support either because they are also narrow-minded. Just like in medieval times, laughing about people who think the earth is ball-shaped.
    So, even if Genepax is honest, it makes me angry that once again a technology is first suppressed, then enslaved by business interests.
    By the way... This special form of electrolysis is not the only way to run a so-called perpetual motion machine.

  • AJS says:

    David wrote:

    Producing aluminium and gallium requires massive amounts of energy, since they have to be refined from their ores in a blast furnace.

    Not aluminium. Aluminium bonds to oxygen more tightly than carbon does. It instead has to be refined by the Hérault process: basically, electrolysis of molten bauxite (aluminium oxide) using carbon electrodes (and ort course the anodes oxidise rapidly). This normally would require a stupidly high temperature, but the addition of another mineral called cryolite lowers the melting point just enough for it to be feasible.
    What my school chemistry teacher told me, over 20 years ago, was more than a little alarming: Cryolite is only found in one place in the world, in Greenland. Of course, it's possible that another source of cryolite, or an artificial substitute, has been found since then.
    The worst thing about scams like this (it's not just free energy; there are variants involving data compression, unbreakable cryptography and methods to defeat cryptography and/or recover overwritten data from storage media) is that someone in a high place, and thus able to spend large amounts of other people's money without their consent, invariably gets taken in by them -- and so, by proxy, do the people whose money they were spending.

  • mickkelly says:

    Thinker Hardyg said:

    By the way... This special form of electrolysis is not the only way to run a so-called perpetual motion machine.

    Well, well. Question: what other forms are there,
    to run a so-called perpetual motion machine?

    The thing is: perpetual motion machine as understood by scientists has a definition. If you get the energy by changing something (or benefit from a change that is naturally occuring) it ain't no perpetual motion. That's why solar energy, while delivered at no charge by the sun, is not perpetual motion - the sun's composition is changed.

    ... by the way, though the piece in question might not strictly be perpetual because you have to refill the water from time to time, this could only work, if the water changes somehow. That is not clear to from the article, it seems water in and water out. What is the change the energy comes from?

  • wesley bruce says:

    Asj wrote.
    Quote: What my school chemistry teacher told me, over 20 years ago, was more than a little alarming: Cryolite is only found in one place in the world, in Greenland. Of course, it's possible that another source of cryolite, or an artificial substitute, has been found since then.
    Actually most cryolite is man made now. Your high school teacher needs an up date mate.

  • wesley bruce says:

    If their not fraud then they are probably corroding the metals in the cell. The options include aluminium, magnesium, chromium and zinc. It's an on demand hydrogen system. A mix would work best since some are exothermal and others are endothermal. My guess is aluminium, magnesium and sodium as the catalyst. On the Peswiki site they say the cell will last 40000 hours that's 4 years. I suspect it will be much less given the power out put described. I can do better with Al foil and drain cleaner.
    However it should be remembered that the Japanese have several universities working on solar regeneration of magnesium oxide to metal. These guys may be betting on fast and easy solar powered recycling of the metal. Even I'm looking at solar aluminium.

  • Thinker Hardyg says:

    @mickkelly
    Yes, like I said... 'so-called'. I agree that a perpetual motion machine is by definition impossible - like 1 plus 1 is always 2, no matter what trick you try.
    The fascinating thing is that even if some of those claims are scams, the mere presentation of them would require something scientists can't figure out. When you start a simple engine and it runs forever and a scientist can't figure out where the 'cheap trick' is, that's something to think about. But the average scientist can only apply the 'tools' that he/she has learned at the university and this automatically prevents revolutionary technology, i.e. "things unthought of". Furthermore the trend towards specialization causes a scientist to dig deeper and deeper into the matter, but it's always the same old matter, and typically those who do the funding tell him what they want to get. THAT is why ironically it's so often the laymen who do the greatest science. 😉 They're free thinkers.
    I don't want to get too much into detail (yet) about what you quoted, just wanted to say that there are people who've actually seen such engines work and were dumbfounded. Though the basic mechanism of the engines may differ, they may use the same source of energy. An energy that can be imagined as being like wind, but not bound to a planet with atmosphere, but a current that flows through space and is thus omnipresent and quite abundant. 🙂 In Daniel Dingel's watercar for example the electrolysis might be a bit like a catalyst for tapping into this energy. He says the principle is so simple, if he'd explain it you would wonder
    why you didn't find that out. But it's often like this. One needs to use great effort to discover the simplicity of things.

  • Devy says:

    @Thinker Hardyg
    >>like 1 plus 1 is always 2, no matter what trick you try.

  • Thinker Hardyg says:

    >> 1 plus 1 can be 3, but only for large values of 1 🙂
    Quantum mathematics? ;D
    When 0 is very big, it's almost as big as a bit of 1. 😀

  • Tomislav says:

    Mark: You say 'I think that there's something wrong when we don't teach people to immediately say "That's impossible" when something like this scam comes up.'
    I think that attitude may be dangerous as well. A healthy dose of scepticism is good. Too much and one loses the openness of the mind necessary for taking on new ideas and invention.
    Also, everybody assumes this is a scam. Maybe so. Definitely yes if they are indeed talking about perpetual motion scheme. However, it seems at least possible that the real picture is being distorted by sensationalist reporting. This wouldn't be the first time. It sounds a lot more interesting (to a layman) and attracts bigger reader audiences if one says 'Japanese company invents water-powered car' than if one says 'Japanese company invents a new alloy to extract hydrogen from water' (or similar).
    It could also be that there is something genuinely new here, but that the thing is still a scam to attract investors: if the inventors know that the idea is not commercially viable for instance - too fast degradation of the materials in the cell and no cheap way of recovering them.
    We are guessing.

  • Mu says:

    Well, even if it used aluminum as a "hidden fuel" to generate it's hydrogen, that's still a very inefficient way of driving a car even if you can find a way to use all the energy generated.
    1 kg Al + 1 kg H2O -> 1.89 kg Al2O3 + 110 g H2 + 32.4 MJ
    110 g H2 + 890 g O2 -> 1 kg H20 + 13.3 MJ
    Only the later is available for energy generation in a classic fuel cell, the 32.4 MJ from the aluminum-water reaction need to be recovered via some electrochemical cell. Compare that to 44 MJ/kg that you get from regular gasoline. So instead of pumping 14 gal gasoline you're tossing 50 kg chunks of aluminum into your tank.
    The only positive aspect is that you're not subject to the Carnot cycle limit using electrolytic cells, but probably you lost that energy already in some power station upstream.

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM says:

    FWIW it was pretty much agreeing with Tomislav. An investor scam is the most parsimonious explanation.

    So instead of pumping 14 gal gasoline you're tossing 50 kg chunks of aluminum into your tank.

    Yes, most schemes I've heard of have been using metal hydrides instead, where the metal is recharged locally.

  • Kailden says:

    Shaneal (#15)

    No modern reactor has ever had a real meltdown.

    Correct, but Chernobyl, unmodern as it was, is now the nuclear energy source archetype...

  • Mark says:

    I don't see why it is impossible.
    You start off with a new technological breakthrough, a fuel cell membrane that does not use catalysts, that has very low electrode degradation (which they claim) but like other fuel cell stacks does have a limited life, but possibly the best lifespan in comparison to the current competition.
    You use a small battery to initiate the process which then becomes self-sustaining and then recharges this small battery. This step is discounted as irrelevant which unfortunately causes some claims of perpetual-motion machines.
    The fuel cell splits hydrogen and oxygen. You combine the hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity and heat (and a small amount of water, NOT the total amount of water that was used in the input phase which would of course be impossible).

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    #43:
    The problem is that you've got the basic system screwed up.
    If you start with water, and you split it into hydrogen and oxygen, that consumes energy.
    If you use a fuel cell (or any other device) to burn or otherwise react the hydrogen and oxygen, you wind up with water plus some energy - but the amount of energy you get is *less* that the amount of energy that it took to split the water.
    The only way that you get back less water than you started with is if you *don't* recombine all of the hydrogen and oxygen. But if you don't do that, you get even *less* energy back. The only way to do what you're talking about is to do hydrogen fusion, destroying some of the hydrogen to produce energy. And I rather doubt that if someone produced a successful hydrogen fusion rig, that they'd be stressing that the novelty is their hydrolysis system.
    A metaphor that someone else used is good as an illustration.
    A water molecule - H2O - is sort of like an unwound spring. It's a set of atoms in a low energy state. Separate hydrogen and oxygen molecules are like wound springs. They're a higher energy state than H2O, and the only way to get them to that higher energy state is by winding the springs. To get from 2*H2O to 2*H2 + O2, you need to wind up the springs. Winding up the springs *consumes* energy. The more springs you wind, the more energy it takes.
    When you burn hydrogen and oxygen to get H2O, the springs unwind, giving back (part of) the energy that it took to wind them.
    What these guys are claiming is that you can tie a bunch of springs together, so that unwinding one set of springs will both wind up another set of identical springs, *and* also produce some spare energy. They're saying that there's some magic way of unwinding the springs so that you get more energy back from unwinding them than you put in winding them up.
    And what you're saying is that it might work if you don't unwind *all* of the springs that you wound up. But that's even worse: if some of the springs don't unwind (that is, some of the hydrogen and oxygen aren't recombined into water), then the energy that you took to wind them up is lost.
    It doesn't work. The energy has to come from somewhere. You can't have an circle like that that just keeps going.

  • John says:

    I think the conclusion that you can't get out more than you put in have been established here. If it isn't a hoax (which I think it is), it would still be disingenuous to say that the system runs "on water alone."
    We know from science that a significant amount of energy must be provided here, possibly from some supposed catalyst within the system that produces electrons from water. Something has to break the water apart, and if it's a catalyst, the catalyst will degrade and require replacement. Someone somewhere had to work to make the pure catalyst.
    Enough of the science already. I hadn't meant to write that much. What I'd suggest would be to include observations of human nature along with the scientific argument as to whether this is a hoax.
    Suppose a group of scientists or engineers did develop a new way to break up water. What we really want is a method that costs less overall in terms of energy and byproducts. It doesn't do much good, for example, to require a catalyst that will require as much energy and produce as much pollution (albeit at the factory) as the end system it is supposed to replace - the internal combustion engine.
    But suppose someone did succeed and it was as good as the rosy descriptions given in the Reuters story. Why would you build a car? Wouldn't you share it with the world, this new efficient means of energy production? Or, wouldn't you go to your government for the betterment of your own country? I mean, aren't there better applications for a new energy source than building a car?
    There's a difference between discovery and application, physics and engineering. Any new discovery takes years of research just to understand the broader implications. Only with understanding can applications begin to emerge.
    I'm probably not making myself clear here. If this technology works as suggested, why not work with scientists to figure out how to scale it to run a city? Why go to all the effort and development to go from concept to application just to run a car?
    Think of how many light bulbs Edison tried before he found the right design. Legend has it he slept 4 hours each 24. The application of any new idea takes tremendous effort. I'm to believe that these people kept their discovery secret long enough to go from concept to engineering, through all the trials and errors, with many likely failures to build something to run... a car? Lucky for them that their efforts have come to fruition just as the car driving world feels the pinch of high gas prices!
    No, I think it's a hoax or they're exaggerating its power and down playing its cost. They probably know they don't have enough to convince a government organization to fund their research, so they're going for the low hanging fruit of a few gullible investors and maybe a car driver or two.

  • Brian Jaress says:

    Mark, you need to check out greg's link. Their claim is not what you think. They claim to generate electricity in between splitting and recombining. The recombining pays for the splitting, and the in-between is the claimed net gain.
    The in-between part looks like it's supposed to work sort of like a battery. Here's greg's link again:
    http://www.genepax.co.jp/mechanism/system.html

  • Stephen Wells says:

    It's still a perpetual-motion machine as stated. The only way this is even vaguely workable is if there's some other source of chemical energy is there, being used to split the water, which is then used in a fuel cell. The energy is not coming from the water, it's coming from the chemical potential of some other thing. In principal, given a good source of, say, pure sodium metal, you could have a big lump of it in your system, generate hydrogen by dropping water on the sodium, use the hydrogen in a fuel cell. Do not try this at home!
    Slightly smarter versions of this idea are in research, I know some people in the field. But this sort of thing doesn't in any meaningful sense "run on water."

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    Brian:
    Not being able to read Japanese, I don't know exactly what they're claiming. But
    you can't do what that animation claims to be doing.
    First: you can't pay for the cost of splitting the water by burning the hydrogen - it's that same old story of thermodynamics: not only can you not win, but you can't even break even. The process of extracting energy by burning hydrogen into water cannot be perfectly reclaimed. Just the water -> hydrogen + oxygen -> water is inevitably an energy losing process.
    When they say that they can use the electrons "along the way" between the 2h2o -> 2h2 + o2 and the 2h2 + o2 -> 2h2o, they're saying that they can extract more than 100% of the binding energy of water by splitting it.
    Again, think of the spring analogy. In a perfect world, there's just enough energy produced unwinding a wound spring to wind up an identical spring. Splitting water is winding the spring: it take that amount of energy. Burning hydrogen and oxygen is unwinding the spring: in consumes that amount of energy. If you extract any energy from the spring between the point where it's wound, and the point where it's unwound, then you don't have enough left to wind another spring.
    They're claiming that with *nothing* but splitting and recombining water, that they're getting energy out. Where is that energy coming from?
    Odds are, the whole thing is a fraud, and if you actually got to look at one of their cars, there's a big-old battery hidden in it somewhere. In fact, I'd guess that their hydrolysis device is really a great big battery. That's the easiest way to scam it: their membrane hydrolysis rig is probably a big box, and they won't let you see inside of it, because it's their proprietary invention. But if you opened it up, you'd find a bunch of batteries.
    If it's *not* a fraud (which I very much doubt), then there's some serious energy producing reaction going on inside their machine, which is consuming some sort of fuel.

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM says:

    We know from science that a significant amount of energy must be provided here, possibly from some supposed catalyst within the system that produces electrons from water.

    Yes, "supposed" catalyst, since a pure catalyst doesn't provide energy; it isn't a chemical reagent (fuel), it is a chemical agent. Preferably it mediates the reaction without degrading too much.

  • Brian Jaress says:

    @MarkCC:
    I never said I believed them, only that their claim was different. Your description skipped the step that they claim provides the energy.
    I don't believe they can run a car this way, but you're wrong about splitting and recombining being the only things that happen.
    The other thing that happens is that (part of) the water moves from one side to the other. They're explicitly trying to extract energy from that movement.
    I looks to me like an elaborate chemical water wheel. I really doubt you can power a car that way using a reasonable amount of water, but it could provide enough to get them thinking they're almost there.

  • greg says:

    i have had a chance to look more closely at their website to see if i can discern if they are scamming or just deluded. unfortunately, except for the vague cartoons there really isn't any information as to exactly what revolutionary technology allows their system to seemingly defy the known laws of physics. their proprietary technology is in something called MEA or membrane electrode assembly which isn't explained except for that it is some kind of electrode junction.
    as for how it gets hydrogen from water, basically it says that a chemical reaction separates the water into hydrogen and oxygen and the hydrogen is immediately used to generate electricity eliminating the need for a high pressure storage tank. the website hints that the process for producing hydrogen is a refinement of an already known process. it is also written they have been working on this process since 1980.
    among the questions answered in their FAQ, they are not looking for investors or planning to incorporate. they will not share information or performance data. they are in the process of getting this data. they will accept interview requests of the mass media only. they will eventually sell their product from dealers who they have already vetted.
    there are some videos of the WES being demonstrated. they look VERY suspicious. i don't think that there is anything else about their sight that screams fraud, though (other that the claim that they can generate electricity and heat from water only).
    in general, i would like to give them the benefit of the doubt, but if i had invented something, patent pending, that could do what they say, i would be doing much more to show the technology behind the system in order to back up my claims.
    i don't know if this is a scam, but it sure does remind me of cold fusion.

  • Stephen Wells says:

    There is no benefit of the doubt to be given here. Anyone who pops up saying they've got a closed-cycle perpetual motion machine is a fraud or deluded, no matter how pretty their cartoons are.

  • greg says:

    by "give them the benefit of the doubt" i meant that between deluded and deceitful i was hoping that they were deluded. however, it appears more likely that this is fraud.

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM says:

    The other thing that happens is that (part of) the water moves from one side to the other. They're explicitly trying to extract energy from that movement.

    Where is that made explicit? I can't find it.
    Worse, that is even more ludicrous, mechanical energy must then be provided (and later utilized) in addition to the chemical energy in the reaction from water to its constituents.
    Unless you are referring to the fuel cell cycle, which is precisely a part of that chemical energy when regained by the reaction back to water, utilized as electric current.
    Btw, related study question: why isn't the ionic current utilized as well? Hint: Perpetual motion again.

    their proprietary technology is in something called MEA or membrane electrode assembly which isn't explained except for that it is some kind of electrode junction.

    The problem is that the MEA should be the electrode assembly that is contained in the fuel cell, by logic and terminology: "A membrane electrode assembly (MEA) is an assembled stack of proton exchange membranes (PEMs), catalyst and electrode used in a fuel cell."
    Unless they use it analogously or it is badly described/translated/press released.

  • Brian Jaress says:

    Torbjörn Larsson:
    "Where is that made explicit? I can't find it."
    In the little animation they have, it's the movement from left to right that sets off the little light, which I guess represents their claimed net energy.
    It's not clear why it's supposed to move. If it's powered by the recombination happening on the other side, then of course they're not going to gain anything. But they're not really saying.
    That's plenty of reason to disbelieve their claims.
    It is not a reason to keep shouting "perpetual motion machine." It's not a closed system, it's not designed to run forever, and it ends in a different state than it begins. It's not a perpetual motion machine.
    They may be attempting the impossible. They may be making an error similar to errors made by people designing perpetual motion machines. You may think you see a way to modify this thing into a perpetual motion machine.
    None of that makes it a perpetual motion machine.
    The difference is that you have to show their different task is impossible, show their error, or show that it can be modified into a perpetual motion machine (not as simple as it sounds) before you can declare it proved impossible. You can't just rely on knowing that perpetual motion is impossible because that is not what is being attempted.
    The impossibility of perpetual motion is shortcut. It's a way to show that something must fail because its goal is known to be impossible. You can't use that shortcut here because there is a different goal. No matter how much this smells to you like a perpetual motion machine, you can't substitute lectures on springs and weights for an analysis of the actual device.
    They don't give enough information for that, so don't believe them. But don't abuse the shortcut, either.

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    Brian:
    The thing is, it *is* a perpetual motion machine. It's not abusing any concept or any shortcut to point that out. It ends in *exactly* the same state it started in.
    It starts with water. It uses electricity to break the water. It then burns the water using a fuel cell, producing water. According to its inventors, the only input is water, and the only output is water.
    The only thing about it that isn't classic perpetual motion is that they don't bother to reclaim the water produced by the fuel cell - so it outputs water into the environment, and you need to add water to replace that.
    They're trying to mask the fact that they're just doing a perpetual motion scam by pretending that it uses water as a fuel. But since it inputs and outputs water in the exact same quantity (it *has to*; if it didn't, it would be at a guaranteed energy deficit), that's just a smoke screen. The only ways that they could be adding energy by adding water are:
    (1) Thermal. If they were somehow extracting thermal energy from the water, then adding water would help. But you can't just extract thermal energy from unheated water - there just isn't enough of it.
    (2) Mechanical. If they used a water tank that was, for example, higher, they could extract some amount of mechanical energy to do something. But again - there's
    just not that much energy to be extracted. How far could you make a car go by letting water fall from an elevated tank on the car's roof?
    (3) Fusion. If they could use some of the extracted hydrogen to do nuclear fusion, they could certainly be running a
    successful system. But why would they have the fuel cell? And why would they talk about producing water? And most importantly, if they had actually successfully produced a sustainable cold-fusion system that could fit in a car, why on earth would they not be trumpeting that to the stars? And why would they only be talking about using it for a car?
    But they're not doing any of that. They're just using a classic perpetual motion scam, with a little bit of funny wording to try to disguise it.

  • "classic perpetual motion scam" -- I agree 100%.
    I argued for an hour with Dr. George Hockney yesterday evening, who maintained that it could be self-delusion; and denied that the press (newspaper or blog) has an absolute obligation to recognize such classic scams and at least make a ritual disclaimer (if they're too lazy to fact-check or interview an actual scientist instead of merely writing from the scammers' press releases).
    No disrespect to Making Light, which is almost always deliciously skeptical.

  • Bob Carroll says:

    Another factor- if they start with liquid water, and discard water vapor, they are throwing away about 2400 joules per gram of water, due to water's heat of vaporization. That's about 2.4 Mj per liter, wasted.

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM says:

    if they start with liquid water, and discard water vapor, they are throwing away about 2400 joules per gram of water,

    They are also throwing away their precious "fuel". What a waste!
    @ Brian:

    In the little animation they have, it's the movement from left to right that sets off the little light,

    I fail to see how anything in the animation represents gain or loss of mechanical energy in "movement". Instead it looks like a chemical dissociation of water followed by an ordinary fuel cell action (especially when the extracted current lights a lamp). If so, it is all electrochemical energy.
    Or do you think work in a chemical reaction or an electric (ionic) current need to account for mechanical work? Not usually, no; the work of a current can easily be accounted for in terms of current and voltage; similarly a chemical reaction is described by Gibbs free energy.
    [The exception if if you are actually extracting mechanical work. Generally you would then need to couple the Poynting vector, which is the EM entity that describes the EM field energy and momentum, to your mechanical action.
    Um, not that you need to actually be so fancy to describe something simple, say work extracted by an electric motor.]

    It's not a perpetual motion machine.

    As Mark has already noted, a perpetual motion machine by definition is a system that breaks the first or second law of thermodynamics. It has nothing to do with mechanical work. (Albeit it is often assumed that you can extract such from the system.)
    And the animation, which probably is trying to show a release of energy where a real system would need energy input (to dissociate water) is the best evidence yet that it is a scam.

  • Brian Jaress says:

    I don't think it will work and you guys don't think it will work, so I wasn't even going to bother with this, but I'm getting irritated at people ignoring or misrepresenting what I've said.
    @MarkCC:
    "How far could you make a car go by letting water fall from an elevated tank on the car's roof?"
    I already answered that. You'd get a lot less energy than it takes to run a car, but it wouldn't be a perpetual motion machine. That's my friggin' point.
    @Torbjörn Larsson, OM:
    "Instead it looks like a chemical dissociation of water followed by an ordinary fuel cell action (especially when the extracted current lights a lamp). If so, it is all electrochemical energy."
    Right under the paragraph you quoted, I said:
    "It's not clear why it's supposed to move. If it's powered by the recombination happening on the other side, then of course they're not going to gain anything."
    Why is it we agree about that, but you're right and I'm wrong?
    What I'm saying here is pretty simple: Perpetual motion machines break the rules, but not everything that breaks the rules is a perpetual motion machine. That's an important distinction because it affects how certain you can be.
    If someone tells you they've built something out of skyhooks that runs forever and produces free energy, you know it doesn't work. You don't even have to know what a skyhook is, you know it doesn't work and you have all the information you need to be sure.
    perpetual motion machine -> breaks the rules -> doesn't work
    But what if they tell you it runs for an hour on a pound of sand and will power a radio tower? Then you'll want to know what a skyhook is and how it's being used. Once you find out, you might conclude that it doesn't work:
    you analyze -> breaks the rules -> doesn't work
    But now it all rests on your analysis of how the thing works. You're vulnerable to some overlooked effect. If you think you can be sure you've covered everything, check out all the weird things overlooked by people who thought their perpetual motion machine worked. You can still be probably right, but you don't have the certainty you'd have with a perpetual motion machine.
    If you do:
    you analyze -> breaks the rules -> let's call it a perpetual motion machine even though it's not -> breaks the rules -> doesn't work
    then you're doing a bait-and-switch between a law of physics and your own analysis. Here, the analysis is sketchy because the information is sketchy. That's another reason to disbelieve them, but also another reason not to dress your analysis up as the laws of physics.

  • Stephen Wells says:

    The claim that water goes in, water comes out again, and net energy is extracted, and it "runs on water", makes it a perpetual motion machine scam in a long tradition of the same Violates thermodynamics, game over. Once you've claimed an energy-extracting skyhook, it doesn't matter if you only claim it powers a radio tower for an hour. Hook the output to the input and you can do that for ever, hence perpetual motion machine.

  • Brian Jaress says:

    How do you know you can hook the output to the input? That's why I brought up the example of a waterwheel.
    I've said over and over that I don't think this thing works, so I don't know why people keep beating me over the head with the word "scam." Besides, most perpetual motion machines are not part of a scam, and most scam products are not perpetual motion machines.

  • James Stein says:

    I just thought I'd contribute the actual enthalpies of formation for the reaction these guys are pitching:
    Diatomic hydrogen gas has an enthalpy of formation of 0 kilojouls per mol. As does diatomic oxygen gas. Liquid water's enthalpy of formation is -285.83 kJ/mol.
    So, the splitting reaction is:
    2H20 ---> 2H2 + O2
    For an enthalpy of formation of 2(0) + 0 - 2(-285.83) = 571.66 kJ/mol. That's the energy needed to split water into its constituents.
    To burn the hydrogen and oxygen and produce energy (and water) is the reverse reaction:
    2H2 + O2 ---> 2H2O
    This has an enthalpy of formation of 2(-285.83) - 2(0) - 0 =
    -571.66 kJ/mol. That's the energy we gain from the combustion reaction above.
    In a perfectly efficient system, our net profit is 0. If each reaction is only 80% efficient (which is pretty efficient), our input cost would be 685.9 and our captured output would be 457.3 - a net loss of 228.6 kJ/mol, or approximately 33% of the total input.

  • Bob Carroll says:

    Great post, Mark. The comments are fascinating. Of course, any process that requires a violation of one of the 4 Laws of Thermodynamics can be described as a perpetual motion machine. In the current discussion, violating the First Law could be a "perpetual motion machine of the first kind." Those of the second kind are described in undergraduate physics and chemistry texts. The third and zeroth kinds are usually left as an exercise for the reader -pretty easy.
    Looks like the thermo cops should be descending on these perps for their legal comeuppance! 😀

  • Stephen Wells says:

    Brian: if they claim that you put water in, you get water out, then obviously you can put the water that comes out back in, connecting input to output. Per what they way, that turns their device into a PPM.
    The only way their thing could possibly work is if the water is a catalyst for some other chemical thing happening inside the system, in which case the claim that the system runs on water is a lie; it runs on the chemical energy of whatever's going on under the hood.

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM says:

    @ Brian:

    Why is it we agree about that, but you're right and I'm wrong?

    I think we have a simple misunderstanding here. I'm trying to point out (now for the third time) that you seem to be discussing in terms of mechanical energy, which is entirely unsupported by the animation and other clues they give.
    It is an entirely electrochemical process they seem to propose.
    That is the difference we have as far as I can see. Oh, and this:

    What I'm saying here is pretty simple: Perpetual motion machines break the rules, but not everything that breaks the rules is a perpetual motion machine.

    Agreed; but as I noted, this is easily found to be a proposal for a PMM.

  • Brian Jaress says:

    @Torbjörn Larsson, OM:
    "[Y]ou seem to be discussing in terms of mechanical energy."
    No, I'm not. I pointed out that there's a mechanical difference which shows that the system doesn't end in exactly the same state. I never suggested analyzing it in a purely mechanical way.
    "[T]his is easily found to be a proposal for a PMM."
    It's probably clear by now that we have different ideas about what should be called a perpetual motion machine. I'm narrower, I only use it for systems with a particular type of impossible design goal. Basically, things that have a violation of the laws of thermodynamics listed as a feature. As in, "Runs forever" or "Creates energy out of nothing."
    If you find yourself saying "They could do it with fusion, but that would be ridiculous" (as Mark did) then I wouldn't call it a perpetual motion machine.
    I'd still call it ridiculous, of course. They're obviously not using fusion.

  • Alan Schwabacher says:

    It looks to me like what happens when editors and illustrators who know nothing of the technical aspects try to present something for the general public. The minor detail is lost that the splitting of water to H2 and O2 takes place at the power plant with a large energy cost. I can see the scientist being overruled, told that they need to include only the important part, that the H2O is reformed.

  • Tomislav says:

    Brian: I think you are right to point out that this thing may not be a perpetual motion machine. If it's not, then the system can not be declared impossible that simply and the analysis definitely needs to be more detailed.
    Alan (#68) also pointed something similar to me in #39: this may be a misrepresentation of a system that actually works. The 'works' part here should be taken very cautiously: it may still be inefficient, it may be glossing over 'minor' detail (e.g. requirements for recovery of electrode materials outside of the system), etc. Still probably a scam. I suppose I just want to point out that sometimes these things cannot be proven not to work simply by waving in the air and chanting 'perpetual motion'.
    The example Alan gives (hydrogen production taking place externally to the cell) is of course unlikely. But something may still be taking place that has been (intentionally or otherwise) glossed over.
    The 'fuel' here may not be water at all. Nor hydrogen for that matter. I suppose it depends on one's definition of fuel. Assume one uses gallium/aluminium mixture (see post #21 for link) to extract hydrogen from water, and the hydrogen is then used in a PEM-type fuel cell to generate electricity, while recovering water to be reused. Water is then obviously not the fuel, though it may well be represented as such for purposes of publicity (note that this is still a scam). In this case, aluminium exits the system as aluminium oxide. Aluminium then needs to be recovered externally. No closed system, no tricks, no perpetual motion. Just a 'slight' misrepresentation, possibly not even intentional (though I very much doubt this).
    Now, back to Genepax invention. I seem to remember some mention of a membrane (membrane electrode assembly - MEA) that is used to produce electricity from hydrogen (and oxygen). PEM under a different name? Or something similar, possibly genuinely more efficient? Insufficient data, but not impossible.
    Also, I seem to recall something about a 'material that breaks down water to hydrogen and oxygen'. Sounds similar to gallium/aluminium alloy? Again, insufficient data. But maybe.
    Now we come to something that is hard to believe. They claim on their web site (in google translation from Japanese, so take this with reservations): 'deterioration of electrode is very small, long-continued to generate electricity'. Can this be done? A sort of a catalyst that breaks down water while itself degrading very little? Unlike aluminium, which actually participates in the chemical reaction by binding with oxygen? Well, I don't think so. But isn't this analysis now quite a bit further away from perpetual motion?

  • Guest says:

    Why do you think this is about energy ?
    Why do you think genepax is scamming their investors?
    The profit is in the tax deductions. The normal procedure is take the money from the tax payers. An investor would report a fraud to the police, but the tax office dont.
    For instance some countries have BES(Business Expansion scheme).
    BES scheme gives the investors 50% tax deduction.
    The procedure is :
    The investor pays 1 million and gets 0.5 million tax reduction.
    After a couple of year the "energy company" pays back 75 % of the investment to the investors.
    The investor gets 1.25 million(0.5+0.75) and the "energy company" keeps 0.25 million. The tax office has lost 0.5 million.

  • Keifus says:

    Just peeping in here: (most of) y'all are right of course about thermodynamics still being inviolate for all practical purposes. The car that runs on water is an obvious hoax.
    On the other hand, I wouldn't write off fuels just because they need energy to be created. There's a lot of value in converting that energy into a form that is easy to carry around. Had a colleague that worked with metal-powered fuel cells (metal ions carried across the membrane and oxidized, not quite the Ga/Al thing, but call it similar), which is nicer for, say, running a car than hydrogen is, for fairly obvious reasons.

  • Coin says:

    Both notions can be debunked with a two sentences: Hydrogen is not an energy source. It is an energy intermediate.
    Remember: "Any software problem can be solved by adding another layer of indirection." - Steven Bellovin 🙂
    It's definitely important to remember hydrogen is only an energy intermediate, but I also think it's important to remember that a really good energy intermediate, if we were to find one, would be a really big deal. It seems to me that the problems of energy production and energy storage+transport are problems that both need to be solved-- and even with our current energy production technologies, if we had the energy intermediate problem solved today I think that it would fundamentally change what kinds of energy production could actually get used in commercial practice...
    --- --- ---
    So Wikipedia's article on these Genepax guys cite a couple of commentators who have concluded that the car actually runs on "metal hydrides" (in a way similar to how several commenters above have suggested). Here's the clearest analysis they cite, by one of the guys from The Oil Drum. He pulls a quote from a Nikkei Electronics article and notes:

    That clued me in as to how they were pulling this off. Metal hydrides will react with water to produce hydrogen.... So, if you had NaH in your car, and you dripped water on it, you would produce hydrogen from the water. What's the catch? Metal hydrides that react with water don't occur naturally, because they would have already reacted. This is the same reason hydrogen doesn't occur naturally on earth. So, it takes energy inputs to make the metal hydrides. And there is the hidden energy source in the water car... (Note that they may not be using metal hydrides; there are other compounds that react with water to liberate hydrogen. Again, none occur naturally on earth, and all require significant energy inputs to produce).

    Of course, if they had a really efficient system for consuming hydrides to produce energy, maybe it would be worth looking into hydrides as an energy intermediate. But if that technology were good enough to stand on its own, then why try to hide it with all this rigamarole about "running on water"...? Worrisome.

  • Stephen says:

    There is a NASA unmanned high altitude aircraft that, while flying, spits water and stores it, then at night, uses fuel cells to generate electricity to power flight. However, the energy comes from solar cells. They just get more power in the day than is required for flight, so they're using water to store the excess for night. The fuel cells produce liquid water, which is stored until day, so that it can be broken up again.

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM says:

    FWIW, catching up on old threads.
    @ Brian:

    I pointed out that there's a mechanical difference which shows that the system doesn't end in exactly the same state. I never suggested analyzing it in a purely mechanical way.

    It seemed that way. Anyhow, there isn't a smidgen of mechanical work involved, and none of the electrochemical reactions change a mechanical state in the generator.

    As in, "Runs forever" or "Creates energy out of nothing."

    Yes, by a definition in physics a PMM breaks any of the four laws (0-3) of thermodynamics. (So you can extract mechanical energy out of them.) This is such a machine, as explained earlier.
    @ Tomislav:

    ´
    But isn't this analysis now quite a bit further away from perpetual motion?

    Read the definition of a PMM. The smallest deviation from TD can in principle be taken advantage of. In your case, not the expected deterioration of electrodes.

  • Tomislav says:

    Torbjörn:
    > Yes, by a definition in physics a PMM breaks any of the four laws
    > (0-3) of thermodynamics. (So you can extract mechanical energy out
    > of them.) This is such a machine, as explained earlier.
    From how confident you sound, one could assume you have actually not only seen the machine in question, but that you have also conducted a thorough examination of its construction, operation and principles. Have you in fact done this? If not, then may I suggest that you, as everyone else on this thread, are guessing about this being a perpetual motion machine from the same facts - a couple of sensationalist articles and a detail-lacking web site written in Japanese?
    Torbjörn:
    > @ Tomislav:
    > ´ But isn't this analysis now quite a bit further away from
    > perpetual motion?
    > Read the definition of a PMM. The smallest deviation from TD can
    > in principle be taken advantage of. In your case, not the expected
    > deterioration of electrodes.
    What I meant was away from discussing perpetual motion. I don't in fact know whether this is a perpetual motion machine or not - I only have very limited information available. However, I think most of the discussion on this thread revolved around perpetual motion and wanted to point an alternative view.
    Indeed, I agree with you that if material used to extract hydrogen from water is not deteriorating as it should, this would make it a perpetual motion machine. However, not knowing what material they might be using, I can't speculate on how fast it should deteriorate. Hence I am in no position to validate any of their claims. As you can see, I try not to rush to any conclusions about the nature of their device as there is really not enough information.
    To me, it is a lot more interesting to discuss how this could work, or could be made to work, rather than to be quick to dismiss it as perpetual motion. In fact, once you have done the latter, there is little to discuss further. No fun.

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM says:

    @ Tomislav:

    but that you have also conducted a thorough examination of its construction, operation and principles.

    It is based on an analysis of their claims. If they change them, the analysis will change, likewise if they are don't understand how their engine works.

    To me, it is a lot more interesting to discuss how this could work, or could be made to work,

    If look a bit further up the thread you will see that we thought it was fun too. But it doesn't change the above conclusion.

  • SteveM says:

    (Note that they may not be using metal hydrides; there are other compounds that react with water to liberate hydrogen. Again, none occur naturally on earth, and all require significant energy inputs to produce).

    I am reminded of the old miner's "carbide" lanterns that drip water on this white substance (calcium carbide?) to produce acetylene gas which is burned for light. (As I am not a chemist nor a miner, I welcome correction as to the fuel and the gas emitted).

  • Brian Jaress says:

    @Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    "Yes, by a definition in physics a PMM breaks any of the four laws (0-3) of thermodynamics. (So you can extract mechanical energy out of them.) This is such a machine, as explained earlier."
    Since no actual machine can break those laws, we call actual machines "perpetual motion machines" to mean attempted perpetual motion machines. In other words, doing something illegal is their whole point. It refers to the goals, not the methods.
    (Of course you can sometimes infer the goals from the methods. I tried to point out that their method showed they were not trying to create a closed system.)
    Here, the goal is to use water instead of gas to run a car. That's not a PMM goal. It's a very far-fetched goal, and I'll bet good money they haven't achieved it. But it's not a PMM goal.
    You seem to put the PMM label on anything that a) doesn't work and b) could work if it broke the laws. That's a bad idea. Nearly everything that doesn't work could work with a magic infusion of energy.

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM says:

    Since no actual machine can break those laws,

    I'm sorry if it wasn't clear, but yes, that is the whole point.

    You seem to put the PMM label on anything that a) doesn't work and b) could work if it broke the laws. That's a bad idea.

    That's the general definition, and specifically PMM's of the first, second and third kind.
    It is in general a good idea to learn them (and TD of course!) since they reoccor frequently. Case in point as per above.

    Nearly everything that doesn't work could work with a magic infusion of energy.

    Nearly anytime my car doesn't work it could work with a real infusion of gas. In other words, your definition of "doesn't work" needs some polishing.
    But besides the sophistry, or rather attempts to straighten the subject out, as I noted there are old and practical reasons why physicists recognize these physical errors among others.

  • Brian Jaress says:

    @Torbjörn Larsson, OM:
    Are you playing some kind of prank on me?
    I used the same meaning of "doesn't work" in the statement you rejected as in the one you endorsed and called the "general definition." Your example of an ordinary car out of gas is a red herring.
    Also, the Wikipedia article you linked makes it clear that what you called the general definition when you linked it is no such thing. It is, according to the article, a direct consequence of the definition but would be too broad if used as the definition itself. Which is exactly what I said.

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM says:

    Life intervened, but finally returning to old threads FWIW:

    Your example of an ordinary car out of gas is a red herring.

    No, I exemplified the difference between "doesn't work according to physics" (PMM), "doesn't work because it is broken" and "work because I imagine so (magic)".

    Also, the Wikipedia article you linked makes it clear that what you called the general definition when you linked it is no such thing.

    The general definition of a PMM is one that works on the assumption of breaking one (or more) or the TD laws; that's why there are three of them. This definition isn't explicitly stated in the article but can be derived from it.
    The last part doesn't make much or any sense, as the three examples of TDD immediately follow, and as it is you who uses too broad definitions as exemplified by your discussion of magic.

  • There's also an epistemological issue.
    Someone may not KNOW why and how a device works" Someone may not KNOW why a device "doesn't work."
    So how can the knowledge be obtained?
    There are devices that have been around for over a century that work, but experts don't agree why they work. See the thread on the N-Catgory Cafe on theory and experiment of the radiometer (that bladed item in a glass bulb that spins when light is shined on it).
    In a sense, Biology is about organisms, about which we don't know how they work. And Biology is about species, vastly older than a century, and populations, and the issue of Evolution by Natural Selection versus Creationism (and its lying brother Intelligent Design) differ crucially on how Biology works. This blog handles that pseudodebate reoutinely.
    Torbjörn Larsson is right: this is not just about a fraudulent perpetual motion car. It is not just about how stupid many reporters are in not recognizing the impossibility.
    This issue is about HOW WE KNOW WHY THINGS WORK OR DON'T WORK. And that is the absolute gap between Science, Math, Engineering, Technology on the one hand, and magical thinking by deluded maniacs cowering in darkness and shrieking at the Moon.

  • michael pierce says:

    The key to a perpetual motion machine is to first find two forces on earth that oppose each other. For my machines, I like to use water. Because we already know how to make stuff fall, and we know how to make things float to a surface. Its not impossible to make a simple machine to show these two forces at work in turn one after the other in a cycle controled by triggers and float valves.

  • We have already quite a long row of inventors, who drove their cars with nothing but water. The best examples are Stanley Meyer, Yull Brown, Carl Cella, Daniel Dingel, etc. And these examples are good proofed and examined. So we can say it is possible. The question now is: Why is it possible? Due to professors like Dr. Claus W. Turtur (http://www.ostfalia.de/cms/de/pws/turtur/FundE/) from FH Wolfenbüttel in Germany it is now scientifically proofen, that space is not empty, but full of energy. Turtur has made a very simple experiment to proof this and added the specific scientific theory to explain the effects he watched. What we have to do now is scientific research to explore space energy and develop machines that uses this kind of energy.

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