The Car that Makes its own Fuel

As President Bush urges Americans to cut back on the use of oil in wake of the recent surge in prices, more and more people are looking for more viable alternatives to the use of petroleum as the main fuel for the automotive industry. IsraCast recently covered the idea developed at the Weizmann Institute to use pure Zinc to produce Hydrogen using solar power. Now, a different solution has been developed by an Israeli company called Engineuity. Amnon Yogev, one of the two founders of Engineuity, and a retired Professor of the Weizmann Institute, suggested a method for producing a continuous flow of Hydrogen and steam under full pressure inside a car. This method could also be used for producing hydrogen for fuel cells and other applications requiring hydrogen and/or steam.

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7 thoughts on “The Car that Makes its own Fuel”

  1. “When it becomes commercial in a few years time” seems wildly optimistic considering there isn’t even a prototype: “Given the proper investment the company should be able to develop the prototype in about three years.” Nor have the scientists at Engineuity produced a peer-reviewed paper that validates their concept in principle. The “zero emissions” claim is abused: production of the fuel may result in emissions even if the vehicle itself emits nothing but hot nitrogen. I also have some issues with the science of the vehicle itself.

    One of the reactants is air, not pure oxygen, so nitrogen is entering the system, and must somehow escape. It can’t be removed on the fuel side after moving through the “metal steam combustor” because hydrogen would be lost at the same time. It must be removed as exhaust immediately after the combustion chamber, which means it must be somehow separated from the water vapor. The only conceivable method is to cool the exhaust to the point where the water vapor condenses. To condense all of the water vapor, the exhaust must be cooled to a very low temperature, an energy intensive process. Or some water loss can be accepted, in which case an extra tank of water must be carried (trucker bombs useful at last?).

    The article was also not quite honest about the fuel weight/mass. Unlike a conventional vehicle, which loses weight as the fuel is consumed, the magnesium vehicle will gain weight as magnesium becomes magnesium oxide. If the metal coil starts at 100 kg as stated, already three times the mass of a conventional fuel tank (fuel plus tank?), it ends up as 166 kg of magnesium oxide. And this doesn’t even take into consideration the extra water fuel which I have just shown to be necessary.

    Furthermore the article didn’t take into consideration the extra hassle and time used in vacuuming out the waste or of adding two fuels (water and magnesium) instead of one. Or the extra infrastructure needed for an exhaust tank in addition to the fuel tank(s). Or the time and large battery needed for a cold start (to heat the system up before enough hydrogen is produced). Or the dangers of hot, pressurized hydrogen gas.

    Given all these considerations it seems highly unlikely that “[t]he move to Hydrogen based cars using Engineuity’s technology will require only relatively minor changes” or that “the new Hydrogen cars would not be more expensive.” If I had money to invest (which I don’t), I wouldn’t waste it on Engineuity’s crazy idea.

  2. The points you mentioned are very interesting and I will have to ask Prof. Yogev for his response. I can say in advance that he was unwilling to expose many details of his research to the public (and although we know more then we wrote – even us don’t know the whole thing).

    The reason is that the system is patent pending so until it will be approved I am not sure we will get more insight into the way this thing really works…

    Hopes this helps a little.

  3. Maybe you didn’t read the same article as I, but from what I read it sounds like this guy has put a lot of effort into studying all the problems you mentioned above- some of which are entirely fictitious- and just didn’t want it outlined to every scientist out there.

    “…suggested a method for producing a continuous flow of Hydrogen and steam under full pressure inside a car.” Original Article

    -This is Amnon Yogev’s invention/idea whatever it is he is not giving you the details to understand it. Coming from the Weisman Institute which just recently announced an idea of their own very similar to this, Yogev isn’t just throwing darts in the dark. Don’t get me wrong this is my spin on the situation and he could have mentioned this idea without theorizing any of the things you or I may mention.

    You skip the obvious solution to your most compelling argument, in that Yogev could have simply designed an air filter (more complex obviously than most cars) that would alleviate your nitrogen. Alleviating that also eliminates extra water as well as vacumming of any fictitious waste product.

    “used in vacuuming out the waste or of adding two fuels (water and magnesium) instead of one.”
    -Yogev addresses this issue by clearly stating that the Metal will be designed to coil for convenient recycling- which I take to mean he understands the diffuculty of using two fuels. Wrap one up into a coil and recycle the other on board.

    As for the heat up time for Hydrogen I can only assume he has a solution. I doubt there is anyone left who doesn’t recognize this dilemma when talking about Hydrogen cars. Although, Hydrogen engines have three times the energy per pound of gasoline and his system delivers it pressurized (alleviating the volume problem that hurts horsepower), assuming he can overcome the difficulties (which you mention as safety issues at the end of your comment- particularly though Hydrogen’s explosive nature), his engine (maybe using Mazda’s Wankel) will be more efficient and designed for a larger battery. A battery that with todays technology could be made almost entirely renewable inside the car (alternator) or even recyclable. Though, as long as the rest of the engine is designed to be Hydrogen capable, why not have a pressure tank that could be filled following startup? The engine might have to run at a temporarily higher pressure as pressurized Hydrogen enters the system at the stage immediately after the “Metal/Steam Combustor.”

    I think there are too many solutions to the arguments you’ve made for Yogev not to have deduced many of them or have alternatives, the technology for working functioning Hydrogen cars has been around for quite a while, it’s the infrastructure that is holding them back.

  4. Hello All,
    We are currently recording an interview with Prof. Yogev. we hope it will go up later today or sometime tommorow.

    The interview should include a response to some of the querstions resized here, on Slashdot and in many of the e-mails we recived.


  5. Air is 78% nitrogen gas and 21% oxygen. The nitrogen is much less reactive than the oxygen and boils at a lower temperature (at 1 atm, -195.79 C versus -182.9 C for O2). Removing nitrogen is not worth the energy it would take.

    “that also eliminates extra water as well as vacumming of any fictitious waste product.” and “the Metal will be designed to coil for convenient recycling- which I take to mean he understands the diffuculty of using two fuels. Wrap one up into a coil and recycle the other on board.”

    The waste product is not fictitious, it’s mentioned in the article, and it’s actually necessary to save the waste product, not only because cars should not be spewing out magnesium oxide, but also because it needs to be recycled to produce more magnesium fuel. The metal comes in a coil, but its oxide will be a fluffy ash or dust.

    You are right about the heat-up time. There should be ways to compensate.

    I was not trying to deny the possiblity of such an engine, I was trying to point out that the estimates of its efficiency seemed a little too rosy. Engines that burn hydrogen in conventional cylinders are a waste of time, considering the whole point of hydrogen (besides “zero emissions”) is the greater energy efficiency attained using the hydrogen in a fuel cell to propel an all-electric vehicle.

  6. I recognize the difficulties in filtering Nitrogen, esp. since as you said it is a vast majority of our atmosphere. Though, I did go out of my way to say that this was only one possible solution. For all we know the excess nitrogen (and oxygen- since having O2 in excess would be the most efficient combustion), would not hinder the function of the metal/steam combustor. The Oxygen in the air that is necessary to replenish the system naturally rising to the surface of the tank… In any event, if SciScoop does manage to get an interview with Yogev, asking how he overcomes the capturing of any Hydrogen that might get lost in the cylinder- and the Nitrogen problem would probably be a good idea.

    As for the waste product, after rereading the article I do have to say that there probably are difficulties in removing the MgO. The article even says it has to be vacummed out so the only thing I can think of to explain my previous rash statement is- a distraction- yeah, that’s it.

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