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:
- Energy1 + 2H2O ⇒ 2H2 + O2
- Followed by: 2H2 + O2 ⇒ 2H2O + Energy2
- 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?