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Salt water burns - new energy source
July 6, 2007 12:28 PM   Subscribe

John Kanzius can make salt water burn using radio waves. It is not yet practical for energy generation, more energy is consumed than produced, but increases in efficiency could make salt water a viable replacement for fossil fuel.
posted by stbalbach (70 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Now we just need those aliens to start beaming radio waves at us in massive quantities and we are all set.

OK, I kid--you can actually get a lot of radio waves from the Sun too. There's been a little bit of research in this area.
posted by DU at 12:34 PM on July 6, 2007


Free energy nuts have their own wiki now. Nice.
posted by delmoi at 12:34 PM on July 6, 2007


1) We use fossil fuels so that the ice cap melts, creating an excess of sea water

2) We find a way of burning sea water for energy

TELL ME THAT THERE ISN'T A GOD!!!!
posted by humblepigeon at 12:36 PM on July 6, 2007


Stopped reading when I saw "over unity." You should too.

Think about it - do radio waves come from nowhere? If you've already got energy to create radio waves, why would you go through the multi-step process of using them to burn something, which would then turn some kind of shaft or turbine?
posted by odinsdream at 12:37 PM on July 6, 2007


humblepigeon

Except that the exhuast of such a system would be water vapor, which would then rain back into the seas.
posted by delmoi at 12:37 PM on July 6, 2007


1. Burn salt water.
2. ???
3. Profit.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 12:37 PM on July 6, 2007 [3 favorites]


But seriously, cool.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 12:38 PM on July 6, 2007


TELL ME THAT THERE ISN'T A GOD!!!!

OK, THERE ISN'T A GOD!!!!
posted by chlorus at 12:38 PM on July 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


"Increases in efficiency" can be used to make anything viable.

With suitable increases in efficiency it will become possible for me to hurl the entire planet into the sun. For centuries mankind has yearned to destroy the sun, but I will do the next best thing: choke it on our ashes!
posted by aramaic at 12:39 PM on July 6, 2007


Oh god not again.

(Everybody has to play)
You can't win.
You can't break even.
You can't stop playing.

posted by Skorgu at 12:45 PM on July 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


"This is nanoparticle technology"

"Abracadabra" for the 21st Century.
posted by bonehead at 12:45 PM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


"This is the most abundant element in the word...water"

Water is an element? I thought we'd discredited the earth-wind-air-fire model a long time ago.
posted by mullingitover at 12:46 PM on July 6, 2007 [3 favorites]


Microwaves are radio energy that can heat water, so it doesn't seem impossible that electromagnetic waves at the right frequency and energy could break water bonds. That doesn't mean that this will save the world's energy crisis, but it could be useful for generating potable water.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:47 PM on July 6, 2007


Ye Gods. Are there really people who believe this sort of thing?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:47 PM on July 6, 2007


er, earth-water-air-fire
posted by mullingitover at 12:48 PM on July 6, 2007


more energy is consumed than produced

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and predict that, strictly speaking, this will always be the case.
posted by sidereal at 12:54 PM on July 6, 2007 [5 favorites]


Oh great, now I have to worry about oceanfires?
posted by R. Mutt at 12:54 PM on July 6, 2007


The Fifth Element is a suit of strategically draped thermal bandages.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:57 PM on July 6, 2007


Is it okay if I pretend this is a wicked satire on the practicality of hydrogen fuel cell technology?
posted by Reggie Digest at 12:58 PM on July 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


God damn it, this sounded neat. I mean, it's not unthinkable that you could do something that would break apart the bond and release the hydrogen using a mechanism other than electrolysis, and then I saw:

Since it appears we now have now achieved more than unity,


Fuck.
posted by quin at 12:59 PM on July 6, 2007


But does it cook hot dogs??
posted by MtDewd at 1:02 PM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


This seems like it would be a great way of generating hydrogen simply, and without a single moving part. Solar panel -> microwave transmitter -> sea water -> hydrogen tanks.

It would also be an effective way for nuclear power plants to 'bank' their power output. As load drops from the grid, they could switch to splitting water.
posted by mullingitover at 1:07 PM on July 6, 2007


Steven C. Den Beste writes "Ye Gods. Are there really people who believe this sort of thing?"

You know, war in Iraq was about saving the iraquis, getting rid of nucular weapuns, teh terrorist. Preventing you from taking pictures of building makes them terror free ! $5 rent-a-cop are security experts doing accurate 30 seconds inspections !

And you expect people to think that maybe separating the hydrogen from the oxygen used more energy then the energy generated by its combustion ? Not a self sustaining reaction ? Cost of energy ? It's must be Cheney's fault !
posted by elpapacito at 1:07 PM on July 6, 2007


They should have claimed some neutron flux or faked up a few scintillation counts or something. Then we could all ooh and ah about thermal balances, mysterious salt mixes and the possible energy wells in their "virtual palladium" catalyst, but no, they've just got some bog-standard klystron possibly ionizing some water. Nothing exciting to see, just some half-century-old technology that anyone can replicate at home with a dill pickle. It's like they're not even trying anymore.

Their "virtual platinum catalyst" is GENIUS! but they don't take it anywhere.

I give this one a single pot with fragments. Needs Improvement.
posted by bonehead at 1:08 PM on July 6, 2007


THIS IS NOT A PERPETUAL MOTION MACHINE

It does not violate any laws of physics. It is simply a way to derive energy from a benign and liquid fuel source. I'm not sure what its current EROI ("energy returned on energy invested") is, but there are plenty of fuel sources that have negative EROI's - ethenol for example takes about 70 percent more energy to produce than it gives back. Unlike ethenol, sea water does not compete with corn as a food source. Unlike hydrogen, sea water does not blow up. Where this device fits, if at all, remains to be seen.
posted by stbalbach at 1:09 PM on July 6, 2007


John Kanzius has found a way to burn salt water with the same radio wave machine he is using to kill cancer cells.

Energy from water and cancer? Someone should start working on this guy's statue.
posted by rocket88 at 1:12 PM on July 6, 2007


Is this Forget The Laws of Thermodynamics Week on Metafilter?
posted by tommasz at 1:13 PM on July 6, 2007


THIS IS NOT A PERPETUAL MOTION MACHINE

I wish you were right, because like I said, it sounded interesting. But:

Since it appears we now have now achieved more than unity,

Despite any other value this research may have, or discoveries it could reveal, the fact that anyone attached to this said something this stupid taints the whole concept.
posted by quin at 1:15 PM on July 6, 2007


"Increases in efficiency" would allow me to power the world using only the engine in my VW, too -- where's my article?

Particularly since "Kanzius is not publicly disclosing the mechanism of action at this time," you should take this with, oh, how about a nice long draught of salty water?
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:17 PM on July 6, 2007


Well, hang on.

Put a layer of gasoline over water, and throw in something to ignite it, and you'll achieve more than it took to ignite.

Is there anything in sea water that might burn? Maybe he's adding something, as so:

1) Add small platinum nanoparticles, which re-bond with the water in some bizarre way
2) Put mix under RF stimulation. Reaction causes the nanoparticles to bond in some other way, with a lower energy state.
3) See burning seawater -- be left with low energy state platinum waste.

Obviously I'm not a chemist. But if oxidized platinum nanoparticles were a lower energy configuration than water itself, then you could indeed achieve some sort of energy profit from the hydrogen emission.

Then again, using the phrase over unity is a lame way of saying that.
posted by effugas at 1:33 PM on July 6, 2007


Where does he claim he's invented a perpetual energy device? Honestly curious. "Over unity" is a term that can describe devices like hydroelectric dams, etc. which are probably not hoaxes.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:34 PM on July 6, 2007


Salt water is truly *excellent* anti-freeze, too -- far, far better than ethylene glycole. It's also incredibly corrosive to metals...

...which is...

A problem.
posted by LordSludge at 1:35 PM on July 6, 2007


It's Raining Florence Henderson: Don't be silly, everyone knows the Fifth Element is LOVE!
posted by Zephyrial at 1:37 PM on July 6, 2007


mullingitover:
It would also be an effective way for nuclear power plants to 'bank' their power output. As load drops from the grid, they could switch to splitting water.
Some plants use a simpler scheme of pumping water uphill into a reservoir and then running it through a turbine later to supply peak load. Kind of a hydroelectric battery. (Key phrase is "pumped-storage hydroelectric".)

It would be nice to have a better way to supply peak load than the usual dirty, inefficient gas turbines.
posted by hattifattener at 1:38 PM on July 6, 2007


sorry - I guess I'm not understanding something here. Isn't this just electrolysis - presumably the RF energy is inducing an electrical current in the water ?
posted by silence at 1:39 PM on July 6, 2007


This perpetual motion machine also appears to be a cure for cancer at the same time. I'm sending this laetrile straight back to Mexico!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:39 PM on July 6, 2007


Blazecock Pileon, no dams aren't over-unity, they pretty much require a big fat source of stored kinetic energy (that river thing). Likewise gasoline is stored chemical energy.

Over-unity refers to a box that, in absence of stored energy to convert, creates it, violating thermodynamics and conservation laws. It's a box that takes 1 watt in and puts 2 watts out, without any other interaction.
posted by Skorgu at 1:39 PM on July 6, 2007


Put a layer of gasoline over water, and throw in something to ignite it, and you'll achieve more than it took to ignite.

What on earth are you talking about? Have you ever been to a refinery? A desert?
posted by odinsdream at 1:42 PM on July 6, 2007


I have a device that achieves over-unity. In my pants.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:43 PM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Blazecock Pileon, no dams aren't over-unity, they pretty much require a big fat source of stored kinetic energy (that river thing).

I'm aware of how dams work, I'm just pointing out the term can be used to describe getting more usable energy out of a system than what you put in. That river doesn't do much with its energy other than roll downhill. Hydroelectricity can be called "over-unity" because we can get useful energy (electricity) from it without expending useful energy into getting water into the river in the first place.

Now, I'm aware that perpetual machines are often described as "over-unity" but I'm still reading and I don't see any place he's claimed to create energy, or extract more usable energy than the usable energy he's put in.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:46 PM on July 6, 2007


It's Raining Florence Henderson: Don't be silly, everyone knows the Fifth Element is LOVE!

And what does Korben Dallas LOVE? A suit of strategically draped thermal bandages.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:50 PM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Blazecock Pileon writes "I'm still reading and I don't see any place he's claimed to create energy, or extract more usable energy than the usable energy he's put in."

It's in the chemical thermodynamics. The energy required to break the hydrogen-oxygen bond to get burnable hydrogen is the same as the amount of energy yielded by the oxidation of hydrogen to water. If everything were perfectly efficient, you'd be producing the same amount of energy as you're consuming.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:56 PM on July 6, 2007


Energy from water and cancer?

If we could get water from cancer, maybe it would have a better rep.

er, or not
posted by davejay at 1:58 PM on July 6, 2007


It does not violate any laws of physics. It is simply a way to derive energy from a benign and liquid fuel source.


Okay so he's basically claiming that he can extract energy from saltwater via some chemical reaction. But what's the reaction here? I'm not seeing anything that can do it.
posted by delmoi at 2:09 PM on July 6, 2007


That river doesn't do much with its energy other than roll downhill. Hydroelectricity can be called "over-unity" because we can get useful energy (electricity) from it without expending useful energy into getting water into the river in the first place.

You're looking at it from the wrong scale. Thermodynamics thinks of systems, and a dam is not a system, it's an element in a (huge, complex) solar power system involving the atmosphere and oceans.

Systems cannot be "over unity," and if a system appears as such it's a good sign you're missing something. I suspect that this fellow is well-intentioned and simply measured incorrectly. There simply isn't enough stored energy in burning hydrogen to make electrolysis be energy positive.
posted by Skorgu at 2:10 PM on July 6, 2007


delmoi writes "Okay so he's basically claiming that he can extract energy from saltwater via some chemical reaction. But what's the reaction here? I'm not seeing anything that can do it."

It's in the third sentence. He claims to be liberating hydrogen, which then burns. This is the same basic idea for a perpetual-motion hydrogen-fueled car that I came up with when I was 8.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:15 PM on July 6, 2007


Hydroelectric power is a form of solar power. So are fossil fuels. Ethanol as well. Geothermal kind of is too (if it's viewed as stored kinetic energy from the sun's accretion disk).

Nuclear fission power is a form of SUPER NOVA power.

Basically, we rip stars off for everything. Until this salt water scheme is shown to rip stars off, I won't believe it.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 2:24 PM on July 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


"Over unity" is a term that can describe devices like hydroelectric dams, etc. which are probably not hoaxes.

Dude, a lot of your confusion would be taken care of if you realize one simple fact: words have specific meanings, and these meanings are not interchangeable. The definition of "over unity" is given here. Of course you're free to make up your own, but don't be surprised if things don't make sense.

This seems like it would be a great way of generating hydrogen simply, and without a single moving part. Solar panel -> microwave transmitter -> sea water -> hydrogen tanks.

Gee, it's so much simpler than electrolysis! Just one extra part - the RF generator!

It would also be an effective way for nuclear power plants to 'bank' their power output. As load drops from the grid, they could switch to splitting water.
Or you could just do what they are doing now - insert moderator rods into the core and slow down the fission.

Look people, when you "burn" something, you oxidize it. Meaning that you combine it with oxygen. In this case, burning hydrogen gets you back to water. You take a water molecule, pump energy into it to break H-O bonds, that gets you the hydrogen and the oxygen. Then you burn the hydrogen, which reforms these bonds and gives you back the same energy you put into it in the first place. Minus the entropic losses, of course. It's fun and all, but not very meaningful.
posted by c13 at 2:24 PM on July 6, 2007


This was doing the rounds a week or so ago so I guess it is about time to see it on the blue (always the very last place anything turns up on the web).

This is a scam.

There is no other way to put it. Motherfucking scam. Nothing more.
posted by Riemann at 2:28 PM on July 6, 2007


As I said in the last thread on perpetual motion machines: if you can get free energy, that means you can get a lot of free energy. Like, all you want... unlimited amounts of the stuff. And unlimited energy isn't easily contained.

Just before the dawn of time, some 9-tentacled social reject was tinkering in his squidly equivalent of a basement, determined to show those naysayers that he DID have a perpetual motion machine. He proved himself right, but the Big Bang was hell on local property values.
posted by Malor at 2:28 PM on July 6, 2007


I clicked on the video link. Then I saw it was some sort of television news program.
I closed it immediately, of course.
posted by signal at 2:32 PM on July 6, 2007


Odd, was just reading about this in the latest round of Dan's Data letters.

He's got quite the history of debunking claims and hoaxes such as this appears to be.

You can check it out here if interested. ( scroll down a bit )
posted by zap rowsdower at 2:36 PM on July 6, 2007


Someone once tried to burn me with WZBC. Maybe it would've worked if I had a higher sodium diet.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 3:18 PM on July 6, 2007


Dan's Data is a truly awesome site. I've been reading it for years and I'm always consistently amazed at how excellent his writing is, and how in-depth his reviews are. This is why I was thrilled to discover that he is a Mefite.
posted by quin at 3:28 PM on July 6, 2007


The definition of "over unity" is given here.

It is also used in other contexts, apparently, but if he's using the term to reference inventing a perpetual motion device, then he's a quack. I prefer my skepticism to be a little less about the knee-jerk and more about the thought, but full steam ahead with your party.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:30 PM on July 6, 2007


The news announcer's tight black shirt makes me burn. Perhaps we can use *her* as an energy source. Rrrrrowrrr
posted by KokuRyu at 3:42 PM on July 6, 2007


It doesn't seem to be clear to people, so I'll explain the joke:

Chemical bonds take a certain energy to break. That's the negative. When chemical bonds form, they release energy. That's the positive.

What's being claimed here is the following:

i) he's found a way to break water bonds using a microwave, making oxygen and hydrogen.
- This is a net energy loss. Energy from the microwave source is used to cleave the water.

ii) He burns the the oxygen and the water afterwards (according to the wiki).
- This step is the energy gain.

The "over unity" claim mans that he's getting more energy from step ii than he's putting in in step i. This is exactly analogous to claiming that not only can you spin a wheel forever, but that you can use it to turn a generator at the same time. In other words, he's claiming a kind of chemical perpetual motion, and topping it with the claim that he can use it to generate energy.

This is in direct contradiction to two of the laws of thermodynamics (1 and 2, see Skorgu's post). It's pretty nonsensical on the face of it. No one has every found an exception to these two "laws" in the century and a half we've known about them (and not for lack of trying).

Now there is an interesting issue getting obscured here: the overvoltage problem. Spitting water into its component parts with electricity isn't as efficient as it could theoretically be (see step i). Practically, the best one can do is about 40-50% efficiency. This means you have to put a higher voltage on your electolysis cell than you should have to. This is why electrolysis isn't used for energy storage. Too much is lost.

If Kanzius has come up with a more efficient way to turn electrons and water into hydrogen and oxygen, that would be a very interesting breakthrough. The way microwaves interact with water make this very unlikely, but, who knows? Anyway, the claims here are so over the top (Free Energy! Cancer Cure!) that he's missed the interesting one that people might have given him a second look for.

So like I said: One and half stars out of five. He's way overguilding the lily, but virtual platinum catalysts make me smile. I'll give him a Gentleman's star for that alone.
posted by bonehead at 4:03 PM on July 6, 2007


I prefer my skepticism to be a little less about the knee-jerk and more about the thought

Hmmm, a guy wants to cure cancer, so he splits water, then burns the resultant gas. This apparently produces free energy.
Sure, let's contemplate it for a while.
posted by c13 at 4:05 PM on July 6, 2007


There is no other way to put it. Motherfucking scam. Nothing more.

Entirely correct. What is almost certainly going on here is a simple variation of the old plasma-in-the-microwave-oven trick. Note the "wick" as if he was really "burning" salt water, why would he need a wick at all. No, he's nuking the wet paper with microwaves, and it's turning into a plasma. I've done the same sorts of experiments myself, through "doping" various plasma ignition sources (usually carbon fiber) with various salts. Potassium chloride will produce a slightly violet plasma, though the effect is hit-and miss.

Of course I should now link to my own YouTube video, but this short MySpace blog entry will have to suffice. Warning: dirty microwave oven...

Carbon fiber as a microwave plasma initiator.
posted by Tube at 4:06 PM on July 6, 2007


Tube: That's neat about the carbon fiber. I was unaware that you could "ignite" plasma like that without a pre-existing source.

I once destroyed a perfectly good microwave in the faculty lounge at my undergrad, after melting through the top of a beaker that I was using to "catch" plasma rising up off a lit candle.

I'm still surprised they let me graduate.

Anyway, it's unfortunate that this guy went all cuckoo (cancer cure, free energy, 'over unity,' secret method, etc.) on this, because it's a great way to make sure nobody reputable investigates it. At best, he might have an interesting hydrogen-production apparatus, although I'm skeptical that it beats direct electrolysis and that nobody's tried it before.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:26 PM on July 6, 2007


it's possible that he believes it himself if he has fooled himself by adding something else to the water as part of the "secret process", something which combines with oxygen and/or sodium/chlorine ions to release some potential energy.
posted by lastobelus at 7:49 PM on July 6, 2007


OK, this is what I don't get. There are many compounds that release their stored chemical energy as heat given the right catalyst. As the obvious example, the amount of energy in a match is much less then the energy released when I throw it in a bucket of gasoline. From the wiki:

To get right to the point, I believe the Kanzius effect is caused by the polarization of the hydrogen molecules in the water. This polarization causes the two atoms of hydrogen to lose their 105 degree orientation to each other and de-stabilize the water molecule. The unstable water molecule comes apart easily then, combining hydrogen to hydrogen and oxygen to oxygen in a magnetic bond. Because the water molecules’ special property to hold sodium is lost, some sodium atoms must also be released to react violently with the water still present. This ignites hydrogen which recombines with the oxygen to keep the wick from being consumed. The unusual properties of the HHO gas, catalyzes the whole process to a very high efficiency.

Electrolysis actually breaks the O-H bonds and separates out the gas, and so burning the oxygen and hydrogen after it was separated would lead to a net loss. But electrolysis would seem to take more energy then just changing the orientation of the O-H bonds. If the amount of energy it takes to change the structure of the water molecules is less than the energy released when they recombine, couldn't this produce more energy than was put in?

Obviously not a physical chemist here, but I remember that pure sodium is explosive in water. If the RF is merely "bending" the bonds in such a way to start the Na reaction that then finishes breaking the bonds, releasing heat energy, then it seems like there might be net energy gain.
posted by Nquire at 8:32 PM on July 6, 2007


It would be very surprising if he's managed to get water to ionize just with rf input. It would require lots of ro-vibronic coupling to get the right electronic excitation to happen. That's an incredibly low probability, low cross-section multi-photon absorption. Quantum efficiencies are be vanishingly tiny, especially for something as rigid and simple as water. The physical chemistry doesn't look promising here and has been studied extensively since the 1920's.

This is very well trodden ground. It doesn't seem very likely to this ex-spectroscopist.
posted by bonehead at 9:03 PM on July 6, 2007


Bummer...
posted by Nquire at 9:26 PM on July 6, 2007


I saw this a few weeks ago via google news. It was being reported in some Florida local newspaper. There was no skepticism, no fact checking, no anything. According to the article, he HAD cured cancer and HAD created a new energy source by "burning" saltwater.

I wanted to cry.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 2:38 AM on July 7, 2007


Let me start off saying that I personally assume this won't work, mostly because of its similarity to dozens of false "omg cheap fuel" stories in the past.
"Since it appears we now have now achieved more than unity, I am going to do an embargo on releasing all further information."
Couldn't one interpret this to mean that he knows more-than-unity can't be right, so he's going to refrain from hyping it further until he understands why it appears that way? Could this just be the story of someone so close to his work that he got overexcited by some misleading results?

The news coverage was truly groan-worthy, if not surprising. Good on dansdata for picking up on the truly atrocious writing behind "The APV Company Laboratory in Akron has checked out John's amazing invention. They were amazed." I'm going to be q-tipping blood tonight after hearing that.
posted by Riki tiki at 2:45 AM on July 7, 2007


is it april already?
posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 3:57 AM on July 7, 2007


microwave grape plasma (cover it with a glass to catch the plasma)
posted by LordSludge at 8:06 AM on July 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


LordSludge - that is excellent - I am off to buy grapes!
posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 9:16 AM on July 7, 2007


Don't nobody go dissin' on Fifth Element. That was a great movie. Armageddon too. You heathens!

THERE IS A GOD! He just doesn't believe in you. or me. or perpetual motion machines. or anything on this rock with the singular possible exception of Linda Ronstadt.

I saw Adam & Jamie disprove Perpetual Motion machines on MythBusters. A-yuppers! Ah reckon dat myth's done been busted, y'all. Let's go back to pickin' fleas off each other and watchin' cars rust a-yuppers!
posted by ZachsMind at 3:47 AM on July 8, 2007


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