Recently, a lot of hullabaloo has been created over the supposed invention of a miracle alternative fuel; the colloquially dubbed “water kit.” In a country ravaged by inflation, multiple energy crises, food crises, law and order crises and terrorism, the water kit represents hope. Hope of a better future realised by the reduction of fuel costs, providing cheap transportation, and consequently some relief from the curse of high fuel prices. Maybe this is why the people are so ready to believe in this miracle solution. So much so that they have forsaken any claim to reason and adherence to the scientific process in hoping against hope that this is true. Whatever the reason, the fact of the matter is that much hype surrounds the capabilities and benefits of this “invention.” The discussion presented in this article expounds upon the one presented by Mr Shahid here. The objective is to make the process a bit more clearer for the layman to understand. I shall assume that the reader has read Mr Shahid’s article for an overview of how car’s normally work with petrol and CNG. This article is not meant for the absolute layperson, so if you are looking for only a high level description of the issue, this article is not for you. However, if you are a curious person like me who wants a bit more detail than is generally available, then please keep reading. For a simple comparative calculation of the energy provided by electrolysis versus fossil fuels, refer to this link.
For your convenience, Agha Waqar’s process is depicted diagrammatically below. His supposed contribution is the component shown in red; the Electrolyser. As explained by Mr Shahid, the electrolysis process breaks down water, which is composed of hydrogen and oxygen, into its constituents. But for this process to occur, some energy must be supplied to the electrolyser in the form of electric current. Mr Waqar’s solution is to provide this current from the car’s battery, shown in yellow. To get right to the point, this means that the battery will need recharging every time the car is driven. Therefore, the question of how much that costs must be addressed. To understand why this is so, keep reading. In the rest of the article, I shall attempt to present an analysis of this approach and to explain its repercussions. The diagram is annotated to explain the process further.
In the first step, the battery provides some energy to the electrolyser. Suppose that the amount of energy provided by the battery is Q1. Not all of this energy actually reaches the electrolyser. Some of it is lost in the form of heat to the environment. If the amount of energy lost as heat to the environment is H1, the net energy Qb reaching the electrolyser from the battery is Q1 - H1. In Step 2, the electrolyser uses the energy from the battery to break down the water to produce hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is then fed into the engine for combustion in Step 3. Once in the engine, the hydrogen is burnt to produce energy, which is then used to operate the car.
Amongst the various components operated by this energy, one is the alternator. It is a component that in normal cars produces energy which is used to charge the car battery. Now, if Q2 is the amount of energy supplied by the engine to the alternator and H2 is the amount of energy lost during transfer as heat, then the net energy Qe reaching the alternator from the engine is Q2 - H2. The alternator then supplies this energy back to the battery to charge it in Step 4. The amount of energy Qa reaching the battery from the alternator is Q3 - H3, where Q3 is the energy output by the alternator and H3 is the energy lost as heat during the transfer.
Now, in all of this discussion, one might ask, what is all this hype about the First Law of Thermodynamics? Basically, this law states that energy can never be created, nor destroyed. Therefore, it must follow that the net energy in any energy transfer system such as the one above must be conserved. It cannot be more or less than the energy originally present in the system. However, as discussed previously, as the energy circulates through the system, some of it is always lost as heat to the environment. This means that the energy produced in each successive step must be less than the energy input to that step, or in other words Qb > Qe > Qa.
At this point, one might wonder whether the combustion of hydrogen in the engine in Step 3 produces more energy or not? The answer is that no, it doesn’t. Basically, the energy contained in the hydrogen is that which it gained from the electrolysis process in Step 2. This is always equal to the energy Qb from the battery in Step 1 minus whatever is lost during electrolysis. Therefore, the hydrogen will always have less energy than Qb. When the hydrogen is burnt in Step 3, the energy it releases is used to operate the car. Since energy must be conserved, the energy released by the hydrogen must be the same as its original energy, which it got from the electrolysis reaction. During the combustion process, some energy is again lost as heat. Therefore, the net energy produced by the engine in Step 3 will be less than Qb in Step 2.
The whole discussion implies that there is an energy deficit at the battery. It always produces more energy than it receives from the alternator. This means that with use, the battery will gradually be discharged. To keep the vehicle operational, the battery must be occasionally charged through an external power source. This is pretty much the same as any existing system. The highest efficiency achieved thus far by any system has been somewhere between 40 and 50 percent. This means that only 40 to 50 percent of the total energy input to the system is actually used for doing work. The rest is lost to the environment as heat. The challenge in such systems is to increase their efficiency.
It is clear that to say that the car runs only on water is inaccurate because it also requires energy from the car’s battery at all times. Since the battery provides more energy than it receives and thus requires external charging, the cost of charging the battery must also be factored into the overall cost of operating the vehicle. Thus far, this has proved to be prohibitively expensive. The combined cost of the charging the battery as well as the water has been higher than using oil. This is why so far water-based cars have not been put into production. This means that Mr Waqar’s claim that the car runs 40km using only 1 litre of water is also inaccurate.
In order to prove that his system actually does provide a cost-efficient alternative to traditional fossil fuels, he must answer several questions:
- How much is the total cost of operating the vehicle including the cost of charging the battery externally?
- How often does the battery need to be charged before it is completely drained?
- What are the operating parameters of his system? Are there any conditions under which his system may break down?
- How does repeated charging and discharging of the battery affect its life?
- Does using this method have any adverse effects on the engine? If so, what?
- Has Mr Waqar figured out some way to increase the efficiency of his system beyond 50%? If so, he has not mentioned anything of the sort in his interviews.
Without answering these questions, the system still remains far from being production-worthy. Thus far, in every interview I’ve seen, Mr Waqar has demonstrated a lack of understanding of the principles of thermodynamics. To the contrary, he claims to have proven the First Law of Thermodynamics wrong. To my utter puzzlement, even supposedly renowned scientists have exhibited an alarming lack of scientific rigour. In my humble opinion, the scientific process demands that at the very least these questions be answered.