New approaches to generating hydrogen from water

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Background of technology, including the basic science foundation

Water molecules are represented by that well known formula H2O: each molecule has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Splitting water molecules produces hydrogen and oxygen. This could, in theory, be done by high temperatures, but that is not ideal. A much more common approach is to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen by the use of electrolysis. This involves placing electrodes into a water based solution. The solution contains an ionic salt to aid the flow of electricity. At one electrode hydrogen gas is produced, and oxygen at the other.

As with some other technology families on this wiki, there is a certain amount of skepticism whether hydrogen from water could ever become a true energy source[1]. Wikipedia[2] hosts a useful page on water as a potential energy source, stating :

"According to the currently accepted laws of physics, there is no way to extract chemical energy from water alone. Water itself is highly stable—it was one of the classical elements and contains very strong chemical bonds. Its enthalpy of formation is negative (-68.3 kcal/mol or -285.8 kJ/mol), meaning that energy is required to break those stable bonds, to separate water into its elements, and there are no other compounds of hydrogen and oxygen with more negative enthalpies of formation, meaning that no energy can be released in this manner either."

Efficiency of modern hydrogen generators is measured by energy consumed per standard volume of hydrogen (MJ/m3), assuming standard temperature and pressure of the H2. The lower the energy used by a generator, the higher would be its efficiency; a 100%-efficient electrolyser would consume 39.4 kilowatt-hours per kilogram (142 MJ/kg) of hydrogen.[3]

There seem to be three broad categories of technologies around generating hydrogen from water :

  1. Accepted science, aiming for better efficiency. These methods aim to reduce the amount of (electric) energy needed to split water, but not beyond an efficiency of 100%. There are several theoretical possibilities in the future. For example, it is possible that a catalyst might be discovered that aids the splitting of water molecules with greater ease. Or genetically engineered lifeforms (e.g. yeast or bacteria) might be able to split water. Another possibility would be to tap into other natural sources of energy to produce the hydrogen (e.g. sunlight). Such methods might be more efficient than attempting to generate electricity directly from sunlight through PV systems.
  2. Not (yet) accepted science, claiming water might become a primary energy source, i.e. technologies claim the amount of energy needed to split H2O can be less than the amount of energy obtained when recombining H2 and O. This is sometimes referred to as "over unity" technologies. The basic science foundation for these claims is unclear. Stanley Meyer is one of the most well known figures in this space with a claim of using a "water fuel cell".  The 1995 Documentary "It Runs on Water" is a well known source of inspiration for free energy enthusiasts.
  3. HHO booster technologies, claiming beneficial properties of HHO, also referred to as Brown's Gas or Hydroxy, especially when added to internal combustion engines running on fossil fuels. These efforts generally do not claim for their devices to produce energy autonomously, but will typically claim their device will reduce fuel consumption of the gasoline engine. .

For the Abundant Clean Energy X-Prize, ideas from the first two categories seem most relevant. HHO booster technologies less so, as they only complement fossil fuel engines.

Perhaps the work of Gerald Pollack[4] at the University of Washington may hold an important theoretical basis for future discoveries. It has garnered a lot of attention in the free energy space after Pollack published his book titled The Fourth Phase of Water[5]. See Professor Pollack discuss this concept at his TedX (Ted Talk) at GuelphU.

Writing in an experimental paper, published in the International Journal of Nanotechnology[6], researchers were surprised to find a number of physical properties of water change their behavior between 50℃ and 60℃. This sign of a potential change to a second liquid state could spark a heated discussion in the scientific community. And, if confirmed, it could have implications for a range of fields, including nanotechnology and biology.

States of matter, also called “phases”, are a key concept in the study of systems made from atoms and molecules. Roughly speaking, a system formed from many molecules can be arranged in a certain number of configurations depending on its total energy. At higher temperatures (and therefore higher energies), the molecules have more possible configurations and so are more disorganized and can move about relatively freely (the gas phase). At lower temperatures, the molecules have a more limited number of configurations and so form a more ordered phase (a liquid). If the temperature goes down further, they arrange themselves in a very specific configuration, producing a solid.

This picture is common for relatively simple molecules such as carbon dioxide or methane, which have three clear, different states (liquid, solid and gas). But for more complex molecules, there is a larger number of possible configurations and this gives rise to more phases. A beautiful illustration of this is the rich behavior of liquid crystals, which are formed by complex organic molecules and can flow like liquids, but still have a solid-like crystalline structure.[7]

Victor Schauberger

Viktor Schauberger (30 June 1885 – 25 September 1958) was born in Holzschlag, Austria, to a long line of Austrian foresters that could be traced back to early Germanic tribes, with views on and concepts of nature entirely different than the ones known to us currently. Creek and river flow fascinated him during his youth. He went on to develop a basic theory that contains a twofold movement principle for such phenomena.

His first concepts were brought on by studying trout in its natural environment. He was quoted as saying:

"How was it possible for this fish to stand so motionlessly, only steering itself with slight movements of its tail-fins, in this wildly torrential flow, which made my staff shake so much that I could hardly hang onto it? What forces enabled the trout to overcome its own body-weight so effortlessly and quickly, and, at the same time, overcome the specific weight of the heavy water flowing against it?"

These questions inspired further investigation to study the force that allowed such effortless natural motion. Schaubergers conclusion led to his theory of natural vortices.

Schauberger's second major theory was in the structure of water. He believed that water is at its densest when cold (at +4C water anomaly point) (and at the time of a full moon), and that there are many layers in the structure of flowing water. He claimed that nature creates vortices to create equilibriums. He further claimed that our current form of energy production/consumption scatters matter into disequilibrium. His studies were not approved by science at the time, even when his ideas were put into practice.

In 1922 for Adolf I, Prince of Schaumburg-Lippe, Schauberger designed and had built several log flumes which reduced the timber transport costs to one tenth the previous cost and allowed transport of denser than water woods such as beech and fir. In 1924, Viktor Schauberger became a Public Council consultant for the log flumes for the Austrian state. He started construction of three large plants in Austria. In 1926, he undertook research at a timber flotation installation in Neuberg an der Mürz in Styria. In 1929 Schauberger submitted his first applications for patents in the fields of water engineering and turbine construction. He conducted research on how to artificially generate centripetal movement in various types of machines. He proposed a means of utilising hydroelectric power by a jet turbine. The log flumes used for timber flotation allegedly disregarded the Archimedes' principle, i.e., Schauberger was allegedly able to transport heavier-than-water objects by creating a centripetal movement (making the timber spin around its own axis, by special guiding-vanes which caused the water to spiral). Professor Philipp Forchheimer was sent to study the log flumes. Professor Forchheimer in 1930-1931 later published with Schauberger a series of articles in "Die Wasserwirtschaft", the Austrian Journal of Hydrology.[8][9]

Nick Cook's The Hunt for Zero-Point - Inside the Classified World of Antigravity Technology devotes a lengthy narrative to the life and work of Viktor Schauberger. The Living Water, and Living Energies[10] are another couple books devoted to Schauberger.[11]

Schauberger is now a sort of internet legend, a key historical figure in this new energy space, self described The Water Wizard, Schauberger's own book, co-authored with Callum Coats who is another source of historical information on Viktor. Callum Coats gives a lengthy (1:25) discussion, the presenter introducing Coats as the "worlds foremost authority on the research of Viktor Schaumberger", having spent decades studying him and translating his work from German to English. This talk can be watched here.

Current state of the technology

Accepted science

Almost all the hydrogen used now in industrial processes, such as making gasoline, comes from reforming natural gas. If automakers start selling large numbers of hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles, as they’ve said they plan to do eventually, the hydrogen for those is also likely to come from natural gas unless processes like the one at Caltech (see below) are commercialized.[12]

Finding an affordable way to produce clean hydrogen from water has been a challenge. Conventional solar electrodes made of silicon quickly corrode when exposed to oxygen, a key byproduct of water splitting. Several research teams have reduced corrosion by coating the silicon with iridium and other precious metals[13].

Not (yet) accepted science

Alternative energy researcher Mark Dansie gives his view on the state of this class of technologies on his website :

"Over many years I followed, researched, experimented with, and tested many devices world wide that claimed they could produce hydrogen or a combination of hydrogen and oxygen (often referred to as HHO) from water that defied known physics. The purpose of doing this was to achieve an efficiency that would allow the gases produced to power either a fuel cell or gas powered generator, and have enough left over to do some meaningful work. In other words a water as the primary fuel source.

To date no one has ever succeeded in doing this and all previous claims have proven fraudulent. Many myths and legends exist especially on the internet, but nothing has ever been presented that could withstand independent testing or scrutiny. This does not mean however it can not be done. In order to do so, known laws of science will have to be broken." [14]

Magnecule Theory

Ruggero Santilli[15] claims to have developed novel fuels, named "MagneGas" and "MagneHydrogen," produced by plasma arc gasification of liquid waste. Santilli claims that these fuels are composed of magnecules.  These hypothetical particles are a type of theoretical chemical species proposed by Santilli, distinguished from better-known species by containing a novel type of bond called a "magnecular bond", which he claims consists of atoms held together by magnetic fields which arise from "toroidal polarization" of their electron orbitals.  Neither these claims nor the existence of magnecules have been accepted by the scientific community.[16] Santilli's patent application New chemical species of a magnecule goes into more detail on the Magnecule[17]. Santilli's paper describing Magnecular Structure was titled The New Fuels with Magnecular Structure[18].

Magnecule - A hypothetical chemical entity, supposed to have a novel type of bond consisting of atoms held together by magnetic fields arising from toroidal polarization of their electron orbitals.[19]
HHO Gas

Magnecules have also been invoked as an explanation for a purported "HHO gas", which Santilli claims is "a new form of water" produced by electrolysis. The name comes from its chemical structure (H × H)–O, claimed by Santilli, where “×” represents a "magnecular bond" and “−” a conventional molecular bond. Santilli claims that his devices produce HHO gas, with a number of unique properties, instead of the usual oxyhydrogen gas, which is simply a mixture of diatomic hydrogen and oxygen gases.[20]

Required inputs for energy generation

It is essential to look at the required inputs for generating hydrogen from water.

  • Using electricity any source of electrical power would be suitable to produce hydrogen. However, in order for hydrogen powered technologies to live up to their clean status, those sources of electricity should be derived from clean sources too (e.g. solar, tidal, etc.). In addition, unless the electric splitting method requires less energy than the bonding energy between hydrogen and oxygen (for example through the use of some as yet unknown catalyst), we cannot consider such methods an Abundant Clean Energy source. The hydrogen is just a way of storing the electrical energy we put in in the first place.
  • Using other inputs it is conceivable that we find ways of extracting hydrogen from water using natural energy flows such as sunlight. In this case, the process could be considered as a new Abundant Clean Energy source.

The inputs for any energy generation process can be represented as shown in the System Representation. [21] The efficiency of the system is represented by the output energy divided by the input energy. Note that all energy inputs should be accounted for. So in addition to the two points above, the energy required to split the hydrogen from water could come from anywhere, even the ambient environment (e.g. heat). Catalysts[22] are frequently used in chemistry to lower the energy threshold (e.g. temperature) required for a reaction to take place and speed the reaction rate. So for example, a catalytic process or an innovative filter in the oceans could, in theory, be used to obtain hydrogen without breaking any laws of physics - it might just be a very smart way of indirectly collecting energy (heat) from the oceans. In such cases there is no classical fuel input, and so the efficiency of the process might be less important, as there is a lot of ocean out there! It is likely though that a huge surface area would be required, but materials science is creating new materials that have large surface areas in a relatively small volumes. The challenge in an ocean environment is to keep the surface clean.

Organizations/researchers working with this technology

Accepted science

There are many groups working on more efficient, cheaper ways of producing hydrogen as part of a push for a hydrogen economy supported by large industrial groups.

"Firms push hydrogen as top green energy source: Convened on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, the first Hydrogen Council brought together 13 firms, among them top carmakers BMW, Daimler, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota as well as leading industrial gas companies Air Liquide and Linde."

Examples of organizations active in this space are:

Stanford

Stanford engineer Yi Cui and colleagues have developed new ways to improve hydrogen production and rechargeable zinc batteries. Yi Cui and his colleagues have focused on photovoltaic water splitting. This emerging technology consists of a solar-powered electrode immersed in water. When sunlight hits the electrode, it generates an electric current that splits the water into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen. Finding an affordable way to produce clean hydrogen from water has been a challenge. Conventional solar electrodes made of silicon quickly corrode when exposed to oxygen, a key byproduct of water splitting. Several research teams have reduced corrosion by coating the silicon with iridium and other precious metals[13].

Caltech

"Caltech researchers demonstrate a clean technique for using heat and catalysts to split water into hydrogen and oxygen". Caltech chemical-engineering professor Mark Davis has developed the new approach which avoids the key problems with previous heat-driven methods of water splitting. It works at relatively low temperatures and doesn’t produce any toxic or corrosive intermediate products. The basic approach in high-temperature water splitting is to heat up an oxidized metal to drive off oxygen, then add water. In Davis’s case, the starting material is manganese oxide, and the reactions are facilitated y shuttling sodium ions in and out of it. “Without the sodium, the temperatures would go up well over 1,000 °C,” Davis says. With it, the reactions work at temperatures of 850 °C or lower[12].

McPhy

McPhy, the designer, manufacturer and integrator of hydrogen equipment for the energy, transport and industrial sectors, has taken advantage from the fast emerging market of zero emission mobility and renewable energy storage to initiate a phase of strong and sustainable growth. As a market reference for new hydrogen applications, the Group registered significant growth in sales and orders in the period, benefiting from investments made in recent years in developing and scaling up its offering.[23]

Not (yet) accepted science

There seem to be relatively few currently active companies claiming "over unity" energy from splitting water. However, many claims have been made in the past. Wikipedia holds an informative list of these, including Stanley Meyer, Dennis Klein, Genesis World Energy, Daniel Dingel and others, some of whom have ended up in jail.[24] One of the more recent examples of these claimants is Pakistani inventor Agha Waqar.

In July 2012, Agha Waqar Ahmed's Water-kit was publicly announced as an apparatus that allows water to be used as a source of fuel in cars. His claim received considerable media attention, e.g. an article in The Times of India[25], prompting a dedicated wikipedia page[26] on the subject. The website hoaxorfact[27] made an analysis of the claim, concluding "As of now, Agha Waqar Ahmad has applied for a patent in Pakistan, and a technical examination of his water kit invention, planned at the highest levels of government, has been delayed indefinitely." It is unclear whether Wagar still pursues his invention today.

The companies that claim to be active in this field today are :

Daniel Dingel

Daniel Dingel was a controversial Filipino engineer who claimed to have invented a “hydrogen reactor” - a device which he claims to have used to power a water-fuelled car.[28] A deep dive into this type of technology can be found here.

[It's a perhaps a bit of a stretch to place Mr. Dingel, who died in 2010 according to Wikipedia, under the heading of "companies claiming to be active in this field today".]

JOI Scientific

"Before us, hydrogen extraction methods were highly inefficient. The energy required to extract hydrogen from water or to refine hydrogen from natural gas made it uncompetitive to other forms of energy (and not so clean). It also made it difficult to store and transport. This limited hydrogen applications to a small niche of gas-powered systems and storage cells. JOI Scientific is changing the game. Hydrogen 2.0 is based on a proprietary system designed to extract hydrogen from water at rates that make it cost-competitive. A second hurdle we solved was to make hydrogen extracted by our system available on-site and on-demand safely. This technical readiness milestone took us years to achieve and gives JOI Scientific the necessary competitive edge to capitalize on our inventions."[29]

"JOI Scientific harnesses powerful forces observed in nature, combined in an innovative way, to liberate hydrogen from its oxygen bond in water far more efficiently and sustainably than ever before. Our approach promises to unlock a nearly inexhaustible source of energy for our society."[29]

Whilst the company is somewhat vague on their website, from their patent it clearly transpires that JOI is claiming overunity production of Hydrogen: "In the exemplary systems, for one watt of input energy, two watts of energy in the form of hydrogen gas is achieved (a level of 200 percent)... Efficiencies greater than 3 have been achieved."[30]

H2 Energy Renaissance

H2 Energy Renaissance[31] is a company claiming a revolutionary new way of producing Hydrogen. "Over the past eight years, a team of the world’s top PhD scientists (with backgrounds including NASA and top research centers) have been working to develop a clean, safe and affordable new fuel source. The result is an intricate combination of 16 physical and chemical processes that are combined and tuned to work in unison to produce clean, affordable hydrogen. Our patented technology uses a water solution, basic metals and a tiny amount of electricity, and it’s ready to license now." Its key staff are essentially the same as those from the company SolarHydrogenTrends, who announced a major breakthrough in 2013[32], but whose website seems to have vanished.

There's an undeniable resemblance between SHT's 2013 press release[33] and H2ER's 2016 press release[34]...

The patent in question is in the name of CTO Konstantin Balakiryan and former CEO Hakop Aganyan[35].

Chava Science

"At Chava our primary mission is deliver technologies that create abundance for everyone. We are a commercial company. Our primary aim is to create radically new technologies for generating energy and energy applications..."

Whilst Chava seems to be a company interested in a range of new energy technologies, they have a dedicated section on what they call an atomic hydrogen energy generator. It is not entirely clear to what extent they are themselves developing this technology, or rather encouraging others to do so.

"An Atomic Hydrogen torch, available on the market today, works by thermally dissociating hydrogen in an electron bombardment heated tungsten capillary. Modifying this torch to serve an Atomic Hydrogen Energy Generator should not represent a big problem. The Atomic Hydrogen Process is 100% CLEAN and SAFE. When you add the fact that the hydrogen is not consumed in the burning process, and can thus be recycled, it should become very clear to any scientist, humanist, environmentalist, business executive and indeed to every human being that is concerned about the state of our wonderful planet, that no more time should be wasted."[36]

The company seems to have its detractors, as illustrated by this highly critical article[37]. This is not uncommon in a field that claims to transgress the currently accepted laws of physics.

HHO Boosters

As mentioned, these companies generally promote enhanced fuel mileage and/or other benefits from adding their device to your car. As an example, Dazo Hydrogen HHO's webpage reads :

"Your car or truck is being damaged right now by unburned fuel! Our technology will help not only eliminate carbon deposits caused by unburned gasoline - but will ACTIVELY clean out your engine every time you drive... HHO Generators turn WATER into HYDROGEN GAS and are PROVEN to increase gas mileage by 35% up to 185%, without engine modification."

A selection of companies in this space :

Moray B King, at the GlobalBEM Conference in 2012 gave a lengthy talk on this topic, covering the theoretical explanations of the phenomena and the researchers involved.[41]

Reasons why the science and technology has not moved forward

The source of the required electricity including its cost and efficiency, as well as emissions resulting from electricity generation must be considered when evaluating the benefits and economic viability of hydrogen production via electrolysis. In many regions of the country, today's power grid is not ideal for providing the electricity required for electrolysis because of the greenhouse gases released and the amount of fuel required due to the low efficiency of the electricity generation process[42].

1. The energy needed to break the hydrogen oxygen bond.

The electrolysis of one mole of water produces a mole of hydrogen gas and a half-mole of oxygen gas in their normal diatomic forms.  This requires an electrical input of 237 kJ[43]. In water's hydrogen bonds, the hydrogen atom is covalently attached to the oxygen of a water molecule with a bonding energy of 492.2145 kJ mol-1 /www1.lsbu.ac.uk/water/ref4.html#r350 350)[44]  Breaking the H-O bonds and generating hydrogen by electrolysis is only (optimally) about 60% efficient.[45]

2. The good catalysts are expensive.

We actually can make pretty decent catalysts with long-term stability in acidic environments for the oxygen and hydrogen half reactions. All you do is stick a pair of metals in water, apply a small voltage, and you can generate hydrogen and oxygen. You can even buy your own water splitter for home experiments that can be powered by a cheap solar panel (we use it for demos at the Cambridge Science Festival). This is essentially what plants do: they have one part that converts sunlight into electrical energy, then transports it to another part that uses that energy to split water.

But these commercial catalysts are precious metals like platinum and ruthenium/iridium oxides, all of which are ridiculously expensive and low abundance making them hard to scale. Alloying platinum with other elements to reduce costs is a major target for the DOE to realize fuel cells and water splitters[46].

3. Cheaper catalysts lead to other problems.

The good ones often have poor long-term stability. Cheaper catalysts also require moving from acidic solutions to basic (aka alkaline) solutions. Acidic environments are nice because protons are the charge-carriers in solution, which can easily transport through polymer membranes because they're small. Alkaline solutions use OH- as charge carriers, which are much larger and therefore harder to transport through membranes. The membrane is essential for separating the oxygen and hydrogen products and becomes the greatest source of losses in alkaline systems[47].

4. We need a lot of hydrogen.

If you want to bring it to industrial scales to replace hydrogen generation in ammonia production facilities or oil refineries, you need to generate tonnes of hydrogen. Literally tonnes. As in 300 tonnes per day in any modern ammonia production plant. These plants use steam reforming, which is dirt cheap (< $1/kg H2), coproduces 10 to 100 MW of electricity, and operates at around 65% efficiency. Modern chemical plants are also capable of carbon sequestration with around 95% efficiencies, so they leave a much smaller carbon footprint.

Compare this to water splitters, which today cost at best $5/kg H2 and at worst $25/kg H2, require roughly 1 GWh/day of energy to operate, and have similar device efficiencies.

5. Solar water splitters are capital-intensive.

For every H2 atom you create, you need to consume 2 electrons. So if you create 300 tonnes of H2 per day (a metric tonne is 1000 kg), this is roughly using 3400 mol electrons per second, or 10^8 A. This is a huge current -- most electrolyzers operate in the 100 mA/cm^2 so it would require an enormous amount of operating area to achieve those currents. These could have some sort of stacked configuration but more importantly it leads to large capital cost[48].

Costs of facilities, production, now and projected future costs with improvements

While there is some agreement on the efficiency of hydrogen production, capital costs are less certain. However, at current electricity prices feedstock costs make up about 80% of the total cost of hydrogen. Feedstock costs prove to be more important than capital cost in the cost of electrolysis. In the economic statistical analysis, published values were used from Kirk-Othmer 1995, Foster-Wheeler, Williams, Stiegel, and Rutkowski[49].

Source CCAP ($-yr / GJ15) COM ($ / GJ) Eff (%) P (ton C / GJ)
Kirk- Othmer $13.79 $0.84 81%
Foster-Wheeler $26.54 * *
Andreassen $27.32 * *
Williams $9.51 $1.45 83%
Statistics
Mean $19.30 $1.20 82% 0
Standard Dev $9.00 $0.40 1 %
Table 1– Cost Estimates for Electrolytic Hydrogen Production

Intellectual Property surrounding technology

Patents not claiming overunity

  • (Santilli, 2001) US 20010038087 A1[50] A novel chemical species, called magnecules, which is composed of clusters of molecules, and/or dimers, and/or atoms formed by internal bonds due to the magnetic polarization of the orbits of at least some of the peripheral atomic electrons present in the cluster, the intrinsic magnetic field of nuclei present in the cluster, and the intrinsic magnetic fields of valence electrons present in the cluster that are not correlated in singlet couplings to other electrons to form valence bonds is disclosed.
  • (Kirchoff, 2011) US 20120058405 A1[51] Cavitation assisted sonochemical hydrogen production system Apparatus for producing hydrogen gas comprise a container adapted to contain an aqueous electrolyte solution containing hydrogen, at least one first electrode, wherein the at least one first electrode is adapted to be in contact with a solution, at least one second electrode, wherein the at least one second electrode is adapted to be in contact with a solution. "the energy required to perform the electrolysis of solution to produce hydrogen is greater than the energy that is produced when that hydrogen is recombined with oxygen. Thus, it is apparent to one skilled in the art that the teachings described herein are not directed to a perpetual energy device."
  • (Osman, 2010) WO 2010131086 A2[52] Hydrogen/oxygen fuel generator A compact and portable system adapted for use in decomposing water and separating an oxygen rich gaseous stream and a hydrogen rich gaseous stream that produces an output of hydrogen fuel along with the proportional amount of oxygen capable of operating at varying levels of user output, on-demand. This system can interface easily with existing technologies to power standard motor vehicles including gas, diesel, ethanol or hydrogen systems, recreational vehicles, home energy systems and home appliances, commercial/industrial power generators, smelters, fuel cells and much more.
  • (Lockhart, 2010) US 20120097550 A1[53] Methods for enhancing water electrolysis Apparatus and methods dissociate water into hydrogen and oxygen gases on a more efficient basis. By modifying the environmental conditions of the water through increased covalent and hydrogen bond movement, increasing the rate of self ionization, and with enhanced induced magnetic susceptibility, water electrolysis is achieved with reduced energy input. In the preferred embodiments, electrolysis is performed by the individual and balanced cumulative application of acoustic cavitation, a high-energy magnetic field to support enhanced magnetic susceptibility, and specific wavelength infrared energy to increase bond vibrational modes of water molecules. It has been discovered that the combination of acoustic cavitation, vibrational enhancement, and increased magnetic susceptibility significantly enhances proton-hopping and electric field fluctuations leading to an enhanced return on energy invested water electrolysis.
  • (CEA, 2008) WO 2009016226 A2[54] High-temperature and high-pressure electrolyser of allothermal operation Electrolyser for high-temperature electrolysis capable of operating in allothermal mode comprising a chamber, at least one electrolysis plate comprising a combined anode and cathode and means for heating a working fluid intended to undergo a high-temperature electrolysis, characterized in that the chamber is capable of maintaining an electrolytic bath under high or very high pressure of several tens of bar, and in that said heating means are positioned in the chamber and use a heat-transfer fluid. Invention seeks to "simplify the device and make the most efficient energy input".
  • (Marin, 2003) US 6719817 B1[55] Cavitation hydrogen generator A cavitating hydrogen generator is provided to mechanically separate hydrogen molecules from water to be used as a fuel source. Turbines fans rotating at a high RPM agitate water that is introduced into a vacuum and captures and separates the resulting hydrogen and oxygen molecules and stores the hydrogen molecules and purges the oxygen molecules. Any remaining water molecules existing as vapor or otherwise are transported through a recycling conduit where they are cooled prior to reintroduction to the cavitation chamber. "object of the present invention is to provide an environmentally clean, alternative energy source."
  • (Bar-Gadda, 2003) US 7384619 B2[56] Method for generating hydrogen from water or steam in a plasma "Water molecules, preferably in the form of steam or water vapor, are introduced into a plasma. The plasma causes the water molecules to dissociate into their constituent molecular elements of hydrogen and oxygen. To prevent recombining of the constituent molecular elements, the hydrogen and oxygen are separated from each other. Various devices may be employed to effect this separation. Once separated, the molecular components are prevented from recombining with each other or with other elements by using standard separation techniques normally employed for separating dissimilar gaseous species.
  • (Chaklader, 2001) WO 2002014213 A2[57] Hydrogen generation from water split reaction "A method of producing Hydrogen by reacting a metal selected from the group consisting of Aluminum (Al), Magnesium (Mg), Silicon (Si) and Zinc (Zn) with water in the presence of an effective amount of a catalyst at a pH of between 4 and 10 to produce Hydrogen. The catalyst or other additive is selected to prevent or slow down deposition of the reaction products on the (impair reactions with the) metal that tend to passivate the metal and thereby facilitates the production of said Hydrogen."
  • (Andersen, 2000) US 6506360 B1[58] Method for producing hydrogen "The method for producing hydrogen according to the present invention consists of reacting aluminum with water in the presence of sodium hydroxide as a catalyst. The apparatus for carrying out the method uses the pressure and temperature of the reaction to control the degree of immersion of a fuel cartridge in water and consequently to control the vigor and duration of the reaction" Also (Andersen, 2002) US 6638493 B2[59] and US 6800258 B2[60] Method for producing hydrogen.
  • (Xogen Power Inc, 2000) US 6419815 B1[61] Method for producing orthohydrogen and/or parahydrogen An apparatus for producing orthohydrogen and/or parahydrogen. The apparatus includes a container holding water and at least one pair of closely-spaced electrodes arranged within the container and submerged in the water. A first power supply provides a particular first pulsed signal to the electrodes. A coil may also be arranged within the container and submerged in the water if the production of parahydrogen is also required. A second power supply provides a second pulsed signal to the coil through a switch to apply energy to the water. When the second power supply is disconnected from the coil by the switch and only the electrodes receive a pulsed signal, then orthohydrogen can be produced. When the second power supply is connected to the coil and both the electrodes and coil receive pulsed signals, then the first and second pulsed signals can be controlled to produce parahydrogen. The container is self-pressurized and the water within the container requires no chemical catalyst to efficiently produce the orthohydrogen and/or parahydrogen. Heat is not generated, and bubbles do not form on the electrodes. "It is an object of the present invention to provide a cell having electrodes and containing water which produces a large amount of hydrogen and oxygen in a relatively small amount of time, and with a modest amount of input power, and without generating heat." (Note : Xogen now uses this technology for wastewater treatment, and no longer seems to be in the power business).[62]

Patents where "overunity" claim is uncertain

  • (Burjanadze, 2013) WO 2014064470 A1[63] Device for hydrogen generation by cavitation electrolysis The present invention relates to cavitation-electrolysis hydrogen generator. The cavitation- electrolysis hydrogen generator of the present invention comprises a filled with water cylidrical cavitator, locateded in it cathode and anode, conected by tube to cavitators bottom circulation water pump, conected to cathode and anode pulsed energy source, voltage modulator, hydrogen and oxigen tanks conected to pump and cavitators upper part, were enriched by hydrogen and oxigen water undergoes degassing and by conected to tank tube hydrogen uotput is obtained. According to the cavitation-electrolysis hydrogen generator of the present invention, there are advantages in that the efficiency of hydrogen generation can be improved by energy effective combination of cavitation and electrolysis and hydrogen production costs also is remarkably reduced due to device cheap materials construction. "Cavitation bubble collapse produces intense local heating (5000K), high pressures (-1000 atm.), and enormous heating and cooling rates (>100k/sec), providing a unique interaction of energy and matter. These extreme conditions affect hydrogen bonding in water and facilitate destruction of water clusters, reducing energy consumption for the electrolysis."
  • (PetrolFree Inc, 2012) US 8720389 B2[64] Method and apparatus for controlling an electric motor and an internal combustion engine Method and apparatus for controlling an electric motor employing an electrolysis subassembly connected in an electrical circuit which includes the electric motor. While controlling the throughput of electrical current through the electrolysis subassembly, a fuel gas useful for fueling an internal combustion engine is simultaneously generated. The invention includes a novel electrolyte utilizing novel electrode structure and mode of operation. "In accordance with a further aspect of the present invention, the overall energy output from the electric motor and internal combustion engine has been found to be sufficient to provide a degree of operational mechanical energy required to drive a variety of equipment and also to provide sufficient excess energy for charging of the battery pack employed to power the electrolysis unit under useful operational conditions."
  • (Craft Holdings, 2010) US 20120187700 A1[65] Electrolysis cell and electrical power unit incorporating same  Electrolysis cell comprises a DC voltage source with positive and negative terminals to alternating electrodes and respectively. The source produces a voltage that cycles between a minimum voltage Vmin and a maximum voltage Vmax where Vmin≧0 volts, and Vmax=Vmin+Δ, where Δ>0 volts. Thus, the voltage provided by the DC source is in the form of a periodic wave having a period T, and frequency f. As the voltage source cycles its voltage from Vman to Vmax, there is an intermediate peak VP1 between Vmin and Vmax. When the voltage reaches VP1, it decreases for a period of time TP1, before again ramping up to voltage Vmax. The voltage then decreases relatively rapidly to Vmin, completing one cycle of period T. Patent doesn't explicitly claim over unity, but it's hard to see the point of the patent if more energy isn't generated than what is put in in the first place. The company has trademarked the name "Voltmaster hydro charge"[66].
  • (New Energy Ag, 2010) US 20120222954 A1[67] Electrolytic reaction system for generating gaseous hydrogen and oxygen" The invention relates to an electrolytic reaction system for generating gaseous hydrogen and oxygen, comprising a reaction chamber for accommodating an electrolyte and an electrode arrangement comprising a plurality of anodic and cathodic electrodes. The electrode arrangement comprises a plurality of plate-shaped electrodes fanned out in a star-shaped arrangement, and a virtual fanning axis of the star-shaped electrode arrangement lies at least approximately on a virtual, central cylinder or vertical axis or is congruent with a virtual, central cylinder or vertical axis of the reaction chamber. At least one electromagnetic coil is disposed above and/or underneath the star-shaped electrode arrangement in the axial direction of the virtual cylinder or vertical axis, the electromagnetic field of which acts on the electrolyte and on the electrode arrangement when exposed to electrical energy. Based on another embodiment, the electrode arrangement comprises at least two, preferably more than at least three, tubular electrodes disposed coaxially or approximately coaxially one inside the other. This results in an improved, in particular especially efficient, electrolytic reaction system. "A surprising advantage obtained as a result of the features defined in claim 1 or 2 resides in the fact that such an electrolytic reaction system offers an improved, in particular positive, energy balance so that by inputting a relatively small quantity of primary energy, in particular electrical energy, a relatively high quantity of energy can be obtained in the form of the chemical energy carrier hydrogen or in the form of a gaseous hydrogen-oxygen mixture."
  • (Stehl, 2008) US 7793621 B2[68] Alternative fuel engine "An apparatus and method for converting fluid molecules from a liquid state into a vapor state wherein the fluid has unnatural bond angles. The apparatus comprises a resistor-capacitor (RC) circuit, a chamber to contain the RC circuit and the fluid and a power source to provide power to the RC circuit. The RC circuit comprises an anode, a cathode and a plurality of substantially parallel electrically conductive plates. Current through the RC circuit generates a frequency that modifies the bond angles of molecules in a vapor state. Ignition of these molecules with unnatural bond angles reverts the molecules back to normal bond angles with a release of energy that can be utilized in many different applications without the release of toxic or noxious gases, greenhouse gases or any interaction with the atmosphere or the consumption of any atmospheric oxygen. For example, the molecules with unnatural bond angles may be used in engines to power a motorized vehicle." (It is not completely clear whether author is claiming net energy from the process)
  • (Kucherov, 1995) US 5632870 A[69] Energy generation apparatus Electrolytic cell apparatus and methods for generating a useful energy product from a plurality of energy sources. In a preferred embodiment, hydrogen gas is produced at a cathode by transmission of electrons through a low voltage potential barrier to electron flow achieved by careful control of electrolyte constituent concentrations and surface materials on the cathode. A portion of the energy captured in the hydrogen gas is provided by heat transmitting activity of ions dissociated from water at an anode which catalytically dissociates the water and thereby transfers thermal energy from the anode to the ions and other constituents of the cell electrolyte. Thermal energy is replaced in the anode by absorption of heat from the surrounding environment. "Energy release which is greater than electrical energy required to operate the cell, may be partly available from the cell in the form of increased temperature of liquid near the cathode in combination with the released hydrogen gas."

Patents claiming "overunity"

  • (JOI, 2015) WO 2016100362 A1[30] Energy extraction system and methods A system for extracting hydrogen from seawater includes a hollow chamber defined by a cylindrical wall, a cylindrical member within the chamber, a mechanism for recirculating conductive fluid through the chamber, a power supply connected via reactive circuits to the chamber wall to form an anode and to the cylindrical member to form a cathode and providing an input pulse DC voltage during a duty cycle on portion and an off cycle chamber return load circuit connected to the reactive circuits, and an off cycle chamber return load circuit connected to the positive and negative reactive circuits wherein the reactive circuits and the off cycle chamber return load circuit: process voltages returning from the chamber during an off portion of the duty cycle, the returning voltages resulting from an electro -chemical reaction in the chamber without surface reaction on the cylindrical member, and return the processed voltage to the chamber, wherein the chamber releases hydrogen gas. "In the exemplary systems, for one watt of input energy, two watts of energy in the form of hydrogen gas is achieved (a level of 200 percent)... Efficiencies greater than 3 have been achieved."
  • Also (JOI, 2015) : US 9340885 B1[70] US 9340886 B1[71] and US 9347142 B1[72] Negative / Positive / Feedback circuit for a hydrogen generation system.
  • (Balakiryan, 2013) WO 2015005921 A1[35] Multifactorial hydrogen reactor The present invention provides multifactorial hydrogen reactor with elevated hydrogen production due to complex set of sixteen (16) physical and chemical processes, acting simultaneously on the hydrogen bonds in aqueous solutions of electrolytes. This is achieved due to the process, which takes place in forty two (42) distributed volumes of hydrogen reactor under the effect of the electro-hydraulic shock, which forms local micro-cavities with pressures in the hundreds of thousands of atmospheres and a temperature of several thousand degrees (plasma). Frontline water wave pressure passing through electrolyzer's electrodes creates in micro-environment infrasonic, sonic, and ultrasonic vibrations that, along with the heat, ultrasound and hydrodynamic cavitation, turbulence, high-pressure, chemical catalysts, light energy, electrostatic and electromagnetic fields, dramatically increases decomposition process of water molecules. Simultaneously, electro-hydraulic shock destroys the oxide film, allowing the oxidation reaction of reactive metals to continue continually; reactive metals, from which plates of electrolyzer are made, are part of the hydrogen reactor. Also filed as (Solar Hydrogen Holdings, 2015) US 9353447 B2[73].
  • (Stanley Meyer, 1989) US 5149407 A[74] Process and apparatus for the production of fuel gas and the enhanced release of thermal energy from such gas Water molecules are broken down into hydrogen and oxygen gas atoms in a capacitive cell by a polarization and resonance process dependent upon the dielectric properties of water and water molecules. The gas atoms are thereafter ionized or otherwise energized and thermally combusted to release a degree of energy greater than that of combustion of the gas in ambient air. Claim 4 : "A method of obtaining thermal energy from water."
  • (Stanley Meyer, 1988) US 4936961 A[75] Method for the production of a fuel gas A method for obtaining the release of a fuel gas mixture including hydrogen and oxygen from water in which the water is processed as a dielectric medium in an electrical resonant circuit. (Patent included here because it has been often cited by other patents).

Ability to be scaled

With abundant sources of clean electricity, the electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen can be scaled up readily.Hydrogen production via electrolysis may offer opportunities for synergy with variable power generation, which is characteristic of some renewable energy technologies. For example, though the cost of wind power has continued to drop, the inherent variability of wind is an impediment to the effective use of wind power. Hydrogen fuel and electric power generation could be integrated at a wind farm, allowing flexibility to shift production to best match resource availability with system operational needs and market factors. Also, in times of excess electricity production from wind farms, instead of curtailing the electricity as is commonly done, it is possible to use this excess electricity to produce hydrogen through electrolysis[42].

The energy generation process can be represented as shown in the System Representation. For this technology to be scaled up consideration needs to be given to the logistics of scaling up the size of the conversion plant, and to the environmental impact at sea. There is a lot of hydrogen in those oceans, and so it might be very scalable via floating solar / wind / wave platforms that convert electrical energy into hydrogen. We would also have to consider the method of delivery to the shore (and beyond).

Environmental impact

If hydrogen were to replace fossil fuel entirely, the researchers estimate that 60 to 120 trillion grams of hydrogen would be released each year into the atmosphere, assuming a 10-to-20-percent loss rate due to leakage. This is four to eight times as much hydrogen as is currently released into the atmosphere by human activity, and would result in doubling or tripling of inputs to the atmosphere from all sources, natural or human[76].

Because molecular hydrogen freely moves up and mixes with stratospheric air, the result would be the creation of additional water at high altitudes and, consequently, an increased dampening of the stratosphere. This in turn would result in cooling of the lower stratosphere and disturbance of ozone chemistry, which depends on a chain of chemical reactions involving hydrochloric acid and chlorine nitrate on water ice[76].

The estimates of potential damage to stratospheric ozone levels are based on an atmospheric modeling program that tests the various scenarios that might result, depending on how much hydrogen ends up in the stratosphere from all sources, both natural and anthropogenic[76].

At ground level, hydrogen represents one of the cleanest sources of energy. When it is burned in oxygen it just produces water. (If burned in air though the high temperatures can cause nitrogen oxides to form which have adverse health effects.)

If hydrogen is combined with oxygen in a fuel cell then it just produces water. (The lifetime environmental impact associated with the materials of the fuel cell itself - such as the catalyst - should also be considered.)

Energy technologies can be broadly categorised using the Sustainability Scale.[77] This takes into account all aspects of the technologies life-cycle, including its dependencies.

Transitioning global transport forms one of the hardest obstacles to overcome in an effort to decarbonise future energy systems. [78] So the availability of hydrogen as a vehicle fuel might help to solve this. [79]

Risks associated with a prize in this space

It's important to realise that the conventional electrolysis solution might not be an energy source in itself. However, it is useful for converting intermittent forms of energy generation (like solar, wind and wave) into a fuel that can be used to provide power later, either for generating electricity on demand, or for powering clean vehicles.

However, as pointed out above, it is theoretically possible to use it as an energy generator too (see Required inputs).

Risks are associated with all radical innovations, and that can be due to several factors. A good technology might not succeed in the marketplace due to poor marketing and promotion. The perceived safety and environmental impact of a technology is also important to successful adoption. [80] [81] [82] Poor implementation of a technology can also prevent successful adoption of a good technology. These are risks that come into effect after the awarding of an energy technology prize, but perhaps the associated challenge can provide post award support to ensure that these risks are reduced. In addition, of course, there can be risks associated with the technical efficacy of the technology itself, and the logistics surrounding its development, operation and decommissioning.

Given the wide range of possible proposals in this category, a range of risks are possible depending on the specific approach. However, the challenges are comparable to those that were once faced by the oil and gas industry; and they might have some useful lessons and techniques to share.

Safety risk

Hydrogen poses a number of hazards to human safety, from potential detonations and fires when mixed with air to being an asphyxiant in its pure, oxygen-free form. Hydrogen dissolves in many metals, and, in addition to leaking out, may have adverse effects on them, such as hydrogen embrittlement, leading to cracks and explosions. Hydrogen gas leaking into external air may spontaneously ignite. Moreover, hydrogen fire, while being extremely hot, is almost invisible, and thus can lead to accidental burns.[83]

Positive energy tests to evaluate this technology

This is especially crucial for technologies that are as yet untested, or have not yet generated large amounts of verifiable performance data. What conditions would need to be met for this technology to be considered unequivocally “verified” or “validated”?

Basic physics and chemistry is sufficient to measure the amount of hydrogen liberated, and any [conventional] input energy used.

The inputs and outputs for any energy generation process can be represented as shown in the System Representation. The efficiency of the system is represented by the output energy divided by the input energy. Note that all energy inputs should be accounted for, including any internal energy storage within the prototype itself. This internal energy could be in any form, not just electrical energy, and as noted above just the ambient temperature of the environment might be all that is needed to power a new catalyst or an innovative "filtering" system. In this case, the efficiency of the technology determines how large the system needs to be to provide a given rate of hydrogen production; in other cases of direct energy input (e.g. electrolysis) the efficiency indicates how much of the input energy will be lost.

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