DailyDirt: Water Doesn't Quite Contain Zero Calories...

from the urls-we-dig-up dept

Water would be a great fuel -- if only there were thermodynamically-possible ways to extract energy from it. Water is a pretty stable compound, and it's difficult to retrieve the energy required to break its bonds. Electrolysis can break water into hydrogen and oxygen, but burning the hydrogen doesn't produce a net gain of energy. But there may be some creative ways around this problem, and some folks have actually made progress in using water (or saltwater) in an energy-generating system. If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.
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Filed Under: electricity, electrolytic carburetor, energy, fuel, graphene, gtl, hydrogen, water


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  • icon
    Beta (profile), 10 Sep 2014 @ 9:09pm

    Baloney detector pegged

    There's this thing called Conservation of Energy. It's a rule built into the universe. Any discussion of a new trick that violates this rule must start with a few words about how physicists around the world are tearing up their theories back to Galileo and starting over, before digressing into the refueling schedules of ships at sea. Otherwise it's almost certainly crackpottery.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 10 Sep 2014 @ 9:48pm

      Re: Baloney detector pegged

      Using a catalyst to separate the oxygen and hydrogen in water isn't that hard to understand and doesn't violate any laws of science. Here's a layman's explanation of how that works:

      Some rich guy (hydrogen) is walking down the beach with a hottie on each arm (oxygen). He spots a perfect ten (the catalyst) and dumps his eights (water is split). But the ten won't give him the time of day, so he tries to go back to his eights who promptly beat the ever-loving-s**t out of him (combustion of oxygen and hydrogen).

      See? Easy to understand.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 10 Sep 2014 @ 11:42pm

        Re: doesn't violate any laws of science.

        Yes it does. Catalysts can only speed up reactions, they cannot make reactions possible that otherwise cannot occur.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2014 @ 6:57am

      Re: Baloney detector pegged

      "It's a rule built into the universe."

      Interesting. We occupy a minuscule portion* of said universe and yet you profess to have knowledge of it entirety. Extrapolation is an awesome concept but fraught with omissions and resulting errors. To be more precise - "In this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!"

      *utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 11 Sep 2014 @ 12:51pm

        Re: Re: Baloney detector pegged

        True, but so far everything we've observed has indicated that the laws of physics are the same everywhere (and we can see and test this over an area well beyond our own planet -- well beyond our solar system even, and to some degree beyond our galaxy.)

        As you point out, this could end up being an incorrect hypothesis but until we see some -- any -- sign of it being in error, it's not unreasonable to just go with it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 12 Sep 2014 @ 12:54am

        Re: and yet you profess to have knowledge of it entirety.

        It’s a basic principle in science, called the Copernican Principle, or “law of cosmic humility”. It assumes that there is nothing special about our particular corner of the Universe, therefore the same laws must hold elsewhere as here.

        The alternative is to assume that we are somehow special. There are some groups of people who like to believe such a thing, but they are not scientists.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, 11 Sep 2014 @ 3:47am

    Naval Reseach Labs System-- A Source of Fuel, but not of Energy

    You've got it slightly backwards. The system developed by the Naval Research Labs uses energy from an aircraft carrier's nuclear reactor to make jet fuel from water and dissolved carbon dioxide. Nuclear reactors are heavy enough, with the necessary shielding, that they are not much use for aviation powerplants. There was one abortive attempt, back in the 1950's, to install a nuclear reactor in a B-36 bomber, but it never went anywhere. The current development is in effect a means to power aircraft by nuclear power.

    I should add that there are practical difficulties in using hydrogen as a fuel for aircraft, so they cannot just extract hydrogen from water. They have to do the additional step of obtaining carbon from somewhere and synthesizing hydrocarbons.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Case, 11 Sep 2014 @ 4:02am

    Try reading the article next time

    A gas-to-liquids (GTL) synthesis process like this could help ships run longer without re-fueling


    No, it can help nuclear-powered ships to convert electrical energy into energy sources usable by aircraft. Not exactly an efficient process, but nuclear carriers have a lot of electric energy to spare and it promises more independence from supply routes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Andrew D. Todd, 11 Sep 2014 @ 4:46am

      Re: Try reading the article next time

      Well... Efficiency... My old thermodynamics professor used to say that "Efficiency is energy-that-is-sought over energy-that-costs." This means that there are circumstances under which efficiency can be meaningless.

      In the case of a nuclear power plant, it's the reactor which is expensive, not the fuel. Fluid resistance power varies as the cube of the speed, so it only takes an eight as much power to drive a ship at seventeen knots as it does to drive the ship at thirty-five knots. Therefore, if you only run the fuel synthesis plant when the ship is going slow, and shut it off when the ship is going fast, you could probably get by without a bigger nuclear reactor. The aircraft carrier would leave port with a couple of million gallons of fuel, the way it does at present, and all the synthesis plant would need to do is to gradually replenish part or all of that as it was used up.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Case, 11 Sep 2014 @ 9:48am

        Re: Re: Try reading the article next time

        I meant efficiency strictly as "energy you put in vs. energy that could be derived from the output". In that regard, fuel synthesis is extremely wasteful, but who cares? If there is one thing CVNs have in abundance, it's electrical power.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    mcherm (profile), 11 Sep 2014 @ 6:43am

    I am disappointed

    Normally, TechDirt articles are fairly strong in science. This article bucks that trend. The key line is "some folks have actually made progress in using water (or saltwater) in an energy-generating system". This is supported by three articles:

    (1) An article about using nuclear power to split water, capturing carbon from the air and producing jet fuel. This is in no way an energy-generating system.

    (2) A link to a patent on an impossible (and non-functional) machine. Cute perhaps, but not science. Hundreds of patents have been granted for perpetual motion machines (before the patent office instituted a policy against it) and yet another one from 1935 isn't news and it certainly isn't science.

    (3) Generating electricity from Graphine. This one is at least SLIGHTLY related, but the power, in this case, comes from pushing the water across the graphine. We already have a method for producing electric power from MOVING water, it's called a turbine and it is used (mostly in dams) to generate significant amounts of electric power throughout the world. This is an advance in materials science, not in energy generation.

    Frankly, I am disappointed that the editors at TechDirt allowed this "article" through in this state. I normally expect better of them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Michael Ho (profile), 11 Sep 2014 @ 4:18pm

      Re: I am disappointed

      mcherm,

      Sorry to disappoint you. I'm not going to argue with you about whether these links were about "energy-generating systems" or not. I suppose everyone can choose their words more carefully to be more accurate, and I did not in this post.

      Thanks for taking the time to write a thoughtful comment.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Cdaragorn (profile), 11 Sep 2014 @ 9:31am

    "but burning the hydrogen doesn't produce a net gain of energy"

    I'm more than a little disappointed when I see people think that this is the goal we need to achieve in order for a system to be viable for use. Our current systems don't produce a net gain of energy, but that is not the point.

    The point is that we need a source of energy that is relatively easy to extract and easy to transport in the vehicles it's intended to be used for. It would be awesome if we could also get a net gain in the process, but that is not the problem that's trying to be solved.

    The fact that we have to extract the hydrogen out of water to get hydrogen fuel is no different than having to convert oil into gasoline. There is no net gain, but there is a result that we need.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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