Friday, June 20, 2008

Japanese firm invents water-powered vehicles

ORDINARY water may soon displace petroleum as the preferred fuel in vehicles worldwide if claims by a Japanese firm, Genepax, are anything to go by.

Genepax has announced that it has invented a fuel cell system that uses water to obtain hydrogen. And the water can be from any source - river, rain or tap.

It has made public two devices, a 120 W fuel cell stack and a 300 W fuel cell system that powered what it identified as "REVA-based minicar."

According to Genepax, the little car could run at 80 kilometres per hour using only one litre of water, no matter where it came from - sea, river, rain, among others.

If this is true, says Reuters News, it would solve many problems associated with other alternative options for powering vehicles at once.

"The first one is hydrogen storage. To be kept in liquid state, this gas has to be cooled down to -252.87?C, or 20.27 K, which requires a storage tank that can maintain such low temperatures or, if they get higher, to withstand high levels of pressure.

"In any case, these tanks are expensive and heavy, two characteristics that do not help electric vehicles in anything.

The second one is price.

"The alternative to hydrogen storage is to obtain the gas from common fuels, such as methanol or even gasoline, but the machines that extract it, called reformers, are also expensive, and depending on the source of hydrogen, produce polluting emissions, although less than a combustion engine.

"If hydrogen can be extracted from water, the only byproduct will be oxygen. Ozone damage could also be possible, but catalysts may prevent it. And water is an abundant substance, especially sea water, that can also be used in Water Energy System(WES), as Genepax has named it.

However, Genepax hides one secret, Reuters says: "The secret WES hides is its membrane electrode assembly, which contains a material capable of breaking water down into its basic components (H2O) through chemical reactions."

According to the report, critics claim that this is impossible because it contradicts the First Law of Thermodynamics, which states that "the increase in the internal energy of a system is equal to the amount of energy added by heating the system, minus the amount lost as a result of the work done by the system on its surroundings."

"In other words, the energy that would be necessary to break the water molecules would be higher than what WES would generate for the car's electric engine, hence the energy would come from somewhere else. A battery, for example.

"Unfortunately, there is a good chance Genepax has committed some sort of mistake. If not, it will have created something mankind has been seeking for a long time: the perpetual motion engine.

"Since all the car needs to run is water, and since the product of hydrogen reactions in the fuel cells is also water, the WES system could refuel itself with what it generates and could run forever with the same quantity of water. We hope Genepax has had a major breakthrough, but that does not seem to be the case," said the report.

Honda Motor Corporation recently announced the production of new zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell car.

The FCX Clarity, which runs on hydrogen and electricity, emits only water and none of the noxious fumes is believed to induce global warming.

It is also two times more energy-efficient than a gas-electric hybrid and three times that of a standard gasoline-powered car, the company says.

According to the Associated Press, Japan's third biggest automaker expects to lease out a "few dozen" units this year and about 200 units within three years.

The FCX Clarity is an improvement on its previous-generation fuel cell vehicle, the FCX, introduced in 2005.

A breakthrough in the design of the fuel cell stack, which is the unit that powers the car's motor, allowed engineers to lighten the body, expand the interior and increase efficiency, said Honda.

The fuel cell draws on energy synthesised through a chemical reaction between hydrogen gas and oxygen in the air, and a lithium-ion battery pack provides supplemental power. The FCX Clarity has a range of about 270 miles per tank with hydrogen consumption equivalent to 74 miles per gallon, according to the carmaker.

The 3,600-pound vehicle can reach speeds up to 100 miles per hour.

Executive Vice President of America Honda Motor Company, John Mendel, said at a ceremony that it was "an especially significant day for American Honda as we plant firm footsteps toward the mainstreaming of fuel cell cars."

The biggest obstacles standing in the way of wider adoption of fuel cell vehicles are cost and the dearth of hydrogen fuel stations. For the Clarity's release in California, Honda said it received 50,000 applications through its website but could only consider those living near stations in Torrance, Santa Monica and Irvine.

The world's major auto-makers have been making heavy investments in fuel cells and other alternative fuel vehicles amid climbing oil prices and concerns about climate change.

Although Honda Motor Company was the first Japanese automaker to launch a gas-electric hybrid vehicle in the U.S. in 1999, it has been outpaced by the dominance of Toyota's popular Prius.

"Toyota announced in May that it has sold more than one million Prius hybrids, while both the Honda Insight and the hybrid Accord have been discontinued due to poor sales.

"Honda also plans to launch a gas-electric hybrid-only model, as well as hybrid versions of the Civic, the sporty CR-Z and Fit subcompact.

"Toyota has announced that it would launch a plug-in hybrid with next-generation lithium-ion batteries by 2010 and a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle later in Japan this year.

"U.S. carmaker General Motors Corporation plans to introduce a Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric vehicle in 2010. It also introduced a test-fleet of hydrogen fuel cell Equinox Sports Utility Vehicles (SUV).

"Honda has no plans for a plug-in electric vehicle. President Takeo Fukui said he does not believe current battery technology is good enough to develop a feasible car.

"The company has not revealed how much each car costs to make, and it is unclear when, or if, the car will be available for mass-market sales. Takeo has set a target for 2018, but meeting that goal will depend on whether Honda can significantly lower development and assembly costs as well as market reaction to fuel cells," said Associated Press.