Can hydrogen help stretch your gas mileage?

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Once again, this show people are far more worried about the price of gas than they are about congestion. Simple economics dictates that few can afford to pay tolls on top of escalating gas prices.

I-Team: Hydrogen generator that increases gas mileage being tested in S.A.
By Barry Davis
KENS 5 Eyewitness News

The national average for unleaded gasoline is more than $3.75 per gallon and is expected to go higher. Unless you’re driving a hybrid vehicle, you are likely spending almost twice as much on gas as you were just two years ago.

But what if there was a way to cut gas expenses by as much as 50 percent by doing something as simple as turning on your kitchen faucet?

Scientists in San Antonio are testing a hydrogen generator that could dramatically raise your fuel efficiency. Some scientists, however, say it just doesn’t wash.

“You can’t get something for nothing. And starting with water is a very difficult way to get energy,” said Dr. Charlie Roberts, with the Southwest Research Institute.

The technology to produce hydrogen gas is actually about 100 years old. Through electrolysis, two molecules of hydrogen are separated from the one molecule of oxygen in H20 (water). The relatively new use is burning the elements separately to supplement gasoline.

It seems almost futuristic to take water from your faucet and put it into a generator under your vehicle’s hood and drive away.

“We tested several vehicles in New Jersey last month and the numbers were like fiction, you know — 80 miles per gallon with a 4-cylinder Honda, 80 miles per gallon with a 4-cylinder Ford Focus,” said professional mechanic Steve Gerhlein. “This system doesn’t do anything more than help stretch the gasoline dollar by converting water with a chemical, which is potassium hydroxide mixed up in a special proportion. And then it makes hydrogen and oxygen that the engine then uses as a fuel.”

Gerhlein, a professional mechanic for more than 30 years, was so intrigued by what he read about hydrogen generators that he put one on his wife’s Lexus.

Without the hydrogen generator, Gerhlein said the Lexus, running on super unleaded, got about 14 miles per gallon. With the hydrogen generator the vehicle gets about 19 miles per gallon. By tweaking the computer to accept the extra fuel, Gerhlein says the truck now gets 26 miles per gallon.

“We know it works on my wife’s truck for about a 40 percent increase in gas mileage without the computerization,” Gerhlein said. “The work that I do is concentrating on hydrogen used in more traditional engines, like we drive every day,” Roberts said.

Roberts has worked on making hydrogen a fuel source for years. He says while hydrogen by itself is too expensive, when used with gasoline it does have promise.

“If you use a small amount of hydrogen there’s a chance, and I think this is what many of us are looking for toward the future,” Roberts said.

Gerhlein believes this new technology is literally days away.

“All your liability is you have to clean out this canister probably once every six months, and you may have to clean the actual electrolysis producing cell out maybe once a year,” Gerhlein said.

Drivers also have to add very inexpensive chemicals with the water to create the hydrogen gas.

There are plans for hydrogen generators all over the Internet. However, Gerhlein says 98 percent of them won’t produce enough hydrogen to help much.

None of them come with a computer to help today’s car read and understand the additional source of fuel except the one he is researching. Gerhlein’s hydrogen generator costs $1,500 to have installed in your vehicle.

“But if you’re driving from Pipe Creek to San Antonio every day, and you can make it run at double the gas mileage for $1,500, our research says that after 11,000 miles, the system’s paid for itself. And the system runs an indefinite period of time,” Gerhlein said.

There could be a couple of other benefits, too. According to Gerhlein, burning hydrogen also cleans out the engine, has less toxic emissions and would pass Environmental Protection Agency standards.

Roberts says that is possible, but it is also possible that the hydrogen generator could burn worse.

“Today, just putting a device onto the engine, without changing the engine in a more drastic way, about 5 percent fuel economy improvement is the best I would expect,” Roberts said.

The Southwest Research Institute is testing the hydrogen generator, and Gerhlein says if researchers tell him it’s for real, maybe it won’t be long before you can have one under your hood.

“Americans won World War II with people who invented things when they needed them, at that time. We’ve been to the moon. We’ve been the space race leaders for years. Our aircraft are the best there is because Americans will find a way around a bad situation, and there’s a lot of folks working on this right now. And somebody’s going to pop the right unit out into the populace to do exactly what we’re talking about today,” Gerhlein said.

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