If your car didn’t run entirely on fuel, imagine the environmental and personal impact of fewer emissions, lower gas cost and improved gas mileage. Dan Lutz, fleet manager of the Department of Public Works in Beloit, Wis., says this idea may be conceivable by using water as a supplement to fuel.
Lutz is referring to the age-old science of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules through electrolysis and using hydrogen as fuel. Lutz and Marc Anderson, a University of Wisconsin engineering professor, are experimenting with hydrogen-based fuels in some of Beloit’s vehicles, including a police cruiser, several municipal pickup trucks and a garbage truck.
“Everything now is experimental, but we are getting some very good results,” Lutz says. “Enough that we’re interested in continuing and moving forward to further this technology.”
The technology Lutz refers to is the process of breaking down water (H2O) into hydrogen and oxygen molecules. Splitting water requires energy, which comes from electricity furnished by a battery and alternator combination.
When the direct current battery is connected to two electrodes and a potential is applied, oxygen is generated at the anode and hydrogen at the cathode.
“These gases, in our case, are fed directly into the intake manifold of the vehicle,” Anderson explains. “The hydrogen is a great source of fuel, and the oxygen is the oxidant—as is oxygen from the air, which you use in your car to burn the fuel.”
The battery is then recharged by the alternator.
In the experiments, Lutz and Anderson use the hydrogen and oxygen produced from the electrolysis process in addition to the normal combustion of an internal combustion engine.
“The result is a better combustion generally improving, somewhat, the fuel economy but drastically reducing emissions,” Anderson says.
Lutz says these hydrogen boosters could eventually become mainstream with more research and experimentation.
“There are a lot of companies out there that are doing this. … The technology is out there. But for Grandma to go out and take the garden hose to fill up her car and go to the store is a long way off. It’s conceivable, but we’re not there yet.”
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2011 issue of Urban Farm.