Why you can’t run your car on water

Written by: Captain Skellett // January 28th, 2010 // How Things Work

For those of you who can’t sail to work like a pirate, or live too far away to walk or cycle, then chances are you use a car or motorbike to get around. You also probably feel guilty sometimes for the DAMAGE you’re doing to the environment, emitting toxic gasses and contributing to global warming and not offsetting your carbon emissions not to mention you’re not getting any exercise and who has the time to walk anyway and blah blah blah.

Sometimes driving comes with a side of guilt, and you may wish there could be a better way… Think, if only you could run your car on ethanol! It would save picking up a bottle of rum for a party. I’m not convinced on biofuels, they may be green, but I’ve heard that they use a huge amount of grains which could otherwise be eaten by the starving, which then leads to an ethically grey “my car is more important than your stomach” argument (although there are people starving now, it’s more an issue of how to get the existing food TO the hungry people, rather than us growing more food, so quanitity isn’t really the problem here anyway.) Bah, it gets too confusing for a pirate used to sails. Yet here is another option. Run your car on water.

The bonus? Green emissions. Your exhaust would be hydrogen and oxygen, what could be better?

The downside? It doesn’t freaking work.

Now for you who haven’t heard people talking about it and scoff at the mere suggestion of water as fuel, SHUT UP! People do think it’s possible, I know someone who tinkers away trying to remove every trace element of toxin from distilled water so it will work. But by looking at some basic chem, you can see pretty quickly that it won’t.

You see, water has already been burned. When you burn wood (or petrol for that matter) you take hydrocarbons, long chains of carbons and hydrogens, react them with oxygen to emit energy along with carbon dioxide and water.

Water is stable, which means it’s already low on energy. In order to get energy out of it, you’d need to break it into hydrogen and oxygen and then burn the hydrogen to make water again. Our engines are never 100% efficient (usually not even close), so it takes more energy to break the water apart then you would ultimately get out of burning the hydrogen.

Well, you may say, so you CAN run a car on water – you just need the engine to do two things – make hydrogen and burn hydrogen.

Sure, but how are you going to power the process to make the hydrogen? Please, PLEASE, correct me if I’m wrong, but sounds like stupid talk to me.

Captain Skellett

I be Captain Skellett. Me blog started in April 2009 when I was working full time and didn’t get a chance to talk science. Now I have changed jobs and talk science all the time, but that doesn’t stop me blogging. More About Captain Skellett   Google


3 Responses to “Why you can’t run your car on water”

  1. James says:

    Hi Skellet,
    Your right, water is ash. No matter how hard you try you cant make ashes burn. But I disagree with your biofuel argument, although I only changed my mind this morning. Check this out http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2010/01/28/engineered-e-coli-bacteria-produces-road-ready-diesel/?utm_content=Google+Reader&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+DiscoverBlogs+%28Discover+Blogs%29
    they are using E.coli to break down cellulose from discarded plant matter to make diesel. Also I think algae are being used to make fuels and can run on effluent. I think theres a lot more scope for biofuels.

    Captain Skellett Reply:

    Fascinating! Thanks for the link James

  2. Tan says:

    hydrogen cars : ) only emit water and some heat, no pollution to the air. are there any environmental cons to hydroCars?

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