Hydrogen generators get a test drive in the search for fuel economy and lower emissions.
With claims of a cleaner, faster burn, hydrogen generators get a test drive
Gas prices have topped the $4 dollar mark across the nation, leaving some car-dependent people a little twitchy about a daily fuel fix. Oil now dances a reckless jig between $120 and $150 dollars a barrel, and many think the environment is now in a state of global melting. An alternative to the cold turkey approach of hopping on a bike may be to gradually wean ourselves off of our gasoline addiction. Since the 1970s, when Yull Brown discovered “Brown’s Gas,” technology has provided ways to make cars burn fuel more efficiently in the form of hydrogen generators, which can put fewer toxins into the air. But necessity hadn’t forced the issue of their refinement until recently.
Several types of hydrogen generator systems are available, though few businesses install them. Donny’s 4 Wheel Drive World in Reno is developing a “hydrogen boost system” that claims to reduce fuel consumption by 20 percent, decrease harmful emissions and offer the vehicle more power.
Without being too technical, the process is achieved by separating hydrogen from water through electrolysis, removing hydrogen gas from the water by using a negative charge and injecting hydrogen into the air intake system of an engine. The electrolysis process, which requires energy, is the focus of some debate among alternative energy enthusiasts.
“When dealing with electrolysis, if it’s not coming from renewable sources, it’s either coming from coal combustion, gas or oil, so the reality is it’s not reducing greenhouse emissions in any form,” says Alan Gertler, a research professor in the Division of Atmospheric Sciences at Desert Research Institute. “But if you’re getting your energy from solar, wind or another renewable, then that would be positive.”
Safety is also a concern, since hydrogen is explosive, so the system is installed outside of the engine chassis and equipped with a quick disconnect fuse and a failsafe to turn the system off in case of accident. A further complication is that it’s not maintenance-free. The adapter needs to be filled with distilled water every time the vehicle is fueled.
“The process is not hard, but some people don’t want to monitor those things,” says Bill McAndrews, manager of Donny’s. Installation takes one day, costing $900 for gas vehicles and $1,000 for diesel. Donny’s is technically still in the testing phase. “Most of the bugs have been worked out, but we still run across occasional problems,” says McAndrews. “We install it ourselves, since we know how to trouble-shoot it.”
Gertler, who, with others at DRI, has researched blending hydrogen with compressed natural gas in buses, says consumers should be wary of glowing reports about the technology’s effects on fuel economy and emissions. “I see all sorts of claims,” he says. “In general, the claims don’t pan out.”
Donny’s has installed the system into more than 100 privately owned vehicles and for five local businesses. “We just completed a trial run with the system in one of our vehicles, and it works,” says Matt Rotter, vice president of operations at Bennett Medical Services. “We’re looking into updating the other 15 vehicles in our fleet because of the money saved on gas.”Kat Kerlin contributed to this report.