by J. M. Sylvan
American Reporter Correspondent
New York, N.Y.
January 20, 2009
FAMILY TALES FROM NYC
CLEARWATER, Fla., Jan. 16, 2009. 4:04AM -- Here in this coastal resort town that is home to more Scientologists and assorted inventors and kooks than you can shake a stick at, Barry Holzsweig is breaking the mold today as he opens a long, sleek service station on a busy U.S. Highway 19 in an event that could be almost as important as the sale of the first Model A some 106 years ago. If Holzsweig and his handful of investors have their way, after today Americans may soon drive hybrid cars on hydrogen produced from water, added to ordinary gasoline - but much less of it.
Gov. Charlie Crist, an alternative energy enthusiast, won't be coming, and the grand opening of YourWater2Gas at 18300 U.S. 19 in Clearwater may not attract the national media attention that Holzsweig, a former television producer himself, is hoping for. But for better or worse, it will mark a signal moment in the transition predicted by the U.S. Dept. of Energy and America's National Research Council last summer: to the total replacement of petroleum with hydrogen by 2050, and the widespread use of hydrogen as fuel for everything from go-karts to semitrailers and seagoing yachts by 2020.
Holzsweig, a youngish 56-year-old with boundless energy and unlimited enthusiasm for his product, has faced one skeptical challenge after another ever since he decided to become the first in the nation - and probably the world - to open low-priced installation centers that are a poor man's alternative to hydrogen filling stations. Some vendors of costly bottled hydrogen for costly bottled-hydrogen cars would like to see those on highways all across America a few decades from now.
Beyond their competition with the oil industry's vision of the future hydrogen industry, HHO developers are plagued by skeptics who erroneously assert that the process of burning hydrogen created by electrolysis uses more energy than it creates. But that construction of the Second Law of Thermodynamics only applies to a closed process, for instance when a battery powers electrolysis to create hydrogen that would serve as the only source of fuel for a car. [Update: According to Dr. Yi-ping Zhao, a professor of physics at the University of Georgia and expert in hydrogen storage, a second process begins when the HHO mixture of hydrogen gas and oxygen is added to gasoline to burn in the engine.
"That does not violate the law of thermodynamics," Professor Zhao said. "That could burn gasoline more efficiently and reduce emissions," he said, depending on many variables.]
But not now, and not on US 19. Holzsweig's answer is the Fuel Genie, one of hundreds of so-called HHO kits the size of a blender that use 12-volt battery power to manufacture hydrogen gas from water right under the hood.
After mustering out of the U.S. Army in Germany, Holzsweig stayed there, became fluent in German, studied Electrical Engineering and then went to work on high-tech projects for Roger Bosch, the high-tech German conglomerate. After 14 years in Germany, the Virginia native returned home and settled in Florida. His foray into hydrogen came as he, like many, grew angry and frustrated by America's dependence for a vital energy source on sometimes hostile foreign governments, and the rising gas prices that did much to cripple the American economy. Tossing aside what he said were flawed designs designs by Water4Gas founder Ozzie Freedom, he improved the originals in countless hours of experimentation over the past two years. The Fuel Genie is the final result.
For Holzsweig, the hydrogen-on-demand kits he'll start installing for $499 today - with 60-day, money-back guarantees and long replacement warranties - are the answer to gasoline prices that have risen 20 cents in a few weeks and may rise by several dollars more this year, and to America's crushing dependence on foreign oil, and the planet's suffocation from the toxic byproducts of burning fossil fuels, including nitrogen oxide (NOX), CO2 and benzene.
Hydrogen eliminates emissions as efficiently as a catalytic converter. The oxygen turns into water vapor and is burned (a safe process discovered by racecar drivers). When the two recombine after burning, it's drips via the tailpipe as water vapor. First, though, the lighter, more flammable and much more rapid-burning hydrogen must be created in a small canister - Holzsweig uses a glass jar wrapped in a thick Styrofoam sleeve - through the simple process of brute force electrolysis.
That process, discovered by Alessandro Volta in the winter of 1800, soon revealed itself as a source of hydrogen four months later. Famed English chemist William Nicholson added electrolytes to water as a current from a primitive battery was fed to two steel rods, an anode and a cathode resting in a jar of water. As the current passed through the water from one rod to the other, minute bubbles of hydrogen and slightly larger bubbles of oxygen began to appear. And they burned.
Even today, that is the only practical way to produce hydrogen, although production methods vary from one application to the next and special coating for anodes can quintuple production and lengthen their life while raisin the energy efficiency of electrolysis from about 80 percent to 95 percent, reducing the energy cost of creating the hydrogen gas. Holzsweig prefers heavily chromed, deadsoft annealed 316-L stainless steel, the best stainless available, and uses common baking soda as an electrolyte because it helps retard the explosion in an auto's cylinder for the microsecond it takes for the crankshaft to move past "top dead center," when the piston is directly above the crankshaft. By moving it forward slightly - as a result of the carbonate cooling the mixed hydrogen and gasoline - the explosion in the cylinder at combustion has more power on the downstroke.
Much of this process is controversial among scientists and even among other HHO developers, who may number in the millions now. The scientists say electrolysis is such a costly venture (energy-wise) that nothing can be gained by then burning the hydrogen as fuel. But often, those scientists think only of cars running on pure hydrogen, not hydrogen mixed with gasoline.
The HHO enthusiasts say that other factors cause the gains they experience with hydrogen-on-demand kits, and some deride the Mason jars that are sometimes used a "glass grenades." Even ZeroFossil Fuel, who is a careful, dedicated inventor, had his own unprotected, experimental Wal-Mart Bell jar blow its plastic lid under his hood as he drove his Honda to the HHO Games & Exposition in Palmetto, Fla., last November, sending shrapnel all over the engine compartment. More than 2,100 people came out on a Tuesday to hear and see Zero and meet dozens like him who are struggling to get their companies off the ground. It's slowly becoming a significant cottage industry in Florida, and one with promise: a pair of Latino inventors was rewarded with a seven-figure investment in cash and equipment from a high-tech firm in North Carolina shortly after the HHO Games.
The Fuel Genie, with its mimimal HHO production and triple casings of stiff plastic, seem unlikely to harm anyone. An electric heat sleeve keeps it warm enough in sub-zero weather to avoid freezing.
The oxygen-bearing hydrogen produced by electrolysis, Holzsweig says, is combined with gasoline as it's carried into the air intake and taken up with ambient air and gasoline, becoming a single stream of fuel-injected magic that burns much more of the gasoline than normal, burns it faster and cleaner due to its 122-octane rating, completely vaporizing the gasoline and its many chemical additives.
That cleans the engine "gunk," he says, cools the engine's temperature, and increases the efficiency of burning gasoline. That is generally thought to be about a 22-percent fuel-efficient process, while hydrogen makes gasoline combustion 100-percent efficient.
Since electrolysis is 80 percent efficient process, enthusiasts say, whatever remains after the two processes combine their efficiencies is experienced as better mileage. Thus if a 20-percent efficient combustion process becomes 100 percent efficient, you have a net gain of 80 percent efficiency, minus another 20 percent for the negative energy cost of using the battery to create electrolysis. Then subtract the original 20-percent efficiency of the gasoline combustion, and you have a 40-percent gain in efficiency, and mileage.
Holzsweig says that's why most of the 100 cars he's installed the hydrogen-making Fuel Genie on have experienced a 40-percent gain in mileage. At $4 a gallon - the price when Holzsweig started burning the midnight oil - that's a savings of $1.60 per gallon, anywhere from $16 (for a 10-gallon tank) to $64 (for a 40-gallon heavy-duty pickup) a tank. Today, hundreds of thousands of cars with small hydrogen kits are on the road, perhaps making a dent in the income of cities, states and the Federal government by reduced gas tax revenues, while also changing the prevailing model of American commerce.
But skeptics have their doubts. Among them are an Ohio-based pair of hydrogen-on-demand entrepreneurs, Ralph Gugar and George Papp. At Papp's insistence when he met Holzsweig at the Palmetto, Fla., HHO Games & Exposition last Veterans Day, Papp brought the Fuel Genie back to Cleveland and tested it on his mobile bench equipped with two Dwyer industrial-grade variable area flow meters calibrated to HHO gas - the only ones in the country, he believes. The Fuel Genie produced "immeasurable" amounts of hydrogen, Gugar said in a recent email message. "Someone ought to tell the governor."
While the gas was measure din liters per minute, the efficiency of the HHO cell was measured in an unusual metric called MMWs milliliters per minute at "x" watts), a scale invented by a Connecticut man known only as ZeroFossilFuel, which is now widely accepted in the industry.
"Whatever that is," said Holzsweig of MMWs. "In any case, we have now installed the Fuel Genie on seven other cars which have come in to have them installed. I have to say that to a man and woman, they are all totally satisfied with the results they are having," he told The American Reporter in an e-mail message.
He plans to produce drivers at the Grand Opening who say they have experienced far greater fuel mileage with the Fuel Genie. And other hydrogen-on-demand developers, who call this hydrogen gas HHO (for its two atoms of Hydrogen and one of Oxygen), say just a "small fraction" of hydrogen by volume is needed to completely catalyze gasoline in an automobile, truck or marine engine - or any kind of engine that burns fuel, whether gasoline, biodiesel, diesel, methanol or natural gas (propane) because the Hydrogen atom is smaller and lighter than any other in the Universe.
In 1804, a Swiss inventor of a hydrogen-powered, piston-driven combustion engine traveled 15 feet in his vehicle every time he lit a match to the hydrogen. But if he'd latched on to such a good thing, why aren't the Bankrupt 3 wiring up HHO kits to keep their SUVs rolling off the assembly line?
It's a lack of money, imagination and knowledge. Little hard data exists in the scientific literature about hydrogen-enriched gasoline. A single 1977 paper by three scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said their 1978 carbureted, not fuel-injected Chevy got better mileage and lower emissions using a tiny amount of hydrogen from an onboard kit. But electrolysis as a source of hydrogen is such a well-known process that it cannot be patented. All inventors can hope for, instead of the billion-dollar prize, is that they can come up with a patent-protectable kind of electrolyte or a novel arrangement of plates, coils, rods or other object that achieves the same result - electrolytic production of hydrogen - in a new way.
A lot of work is being done on that, and a few inventors claim limited success. For now, the goal is set at 90-percent efficiency, and rumors of electrolysis that is 85-percent efficient periodically erupt in forums like HHO-INFO.com, where users discuss a myriad of efforts to get fuel from water.
But for Barry Holzsweig, that future is here. He's bet hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours on his installation centers, and hopes his bet will pay off not only in big dollars for him but in a path Americans can follow to move quickly and cheaply from their gas-guzzling cars to ones with a cheaper and more rarefied appetite for hyd.
Arrayed against him are the combined trillions of dollars of the world's oil companies, any politicians who may be in their pockets, all the scientists, science and publicity they can buy, all the oil-producing nations, and the huge automakers who've proved they'd rather become beggars or go broke rather than abandon the internal combustion engine as we know it.
All of them are joined by the myriad of oxygen, throttle position, mass air flow, manifold absolute pressure and other sensors arrayed in modern cars to defeat emissions, which by also can defeat an emission-less fuels like hydrogen.
So nobody's betting on Barry but 12 other Greater Tampa Bay garages that are rolling out YourWater2Gas banners even as the Grand Opening at Holzsweig's main shop unfolds this morning.
But in a small, still voice, overburdened American drivers are probably whispering a prayer that Holzsweig will make it, even as they cast their eyes with longing up US 19 to the long, gleaming Jeep, Honda and Dodge lots where so many SUVs sit unsold. They look at Holzsweig's giant sign and perhaps wonder, "If I had one one of those kits, could I afford an Escalade?"
Joe Shea heads the HHO Games & Exposition and is chairman of the non-profit HHO Foundation. The Foundation's advisory board has not yet taken any position on glass jars, but some - including Zero Fossil Fuel - have resigned as a result of the controversy.