Water Is Not A Fuel

Last week I received a press release touting the latest “game-changer in zero-emissions energy.” In this article I take readers through a few steps you can undertake to evaluate such claims.

For example, as I mentioned in my response, sodium metal reacts — violently — with water to form sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and hydrogen (H2). The reaction evolves energy so rapidly that the hydrogen can explode. In the process, the sodium metal is converted to sodium ions. Thus, sodium is a reactant and not a catalyst. Further, it is highly energy intensive to convert sodium ions back into sodium metal.

I don’t know for a fact that this is the case with the Electriq~Fuel, but the press kit does say that the “catalyst” is a salt chemical they call BH4. I suspect it is a metal hydride (like sodium hydride, NaH). This class of compounds will produce hydrogen when reacted with water, but are themselves energy intensive to produce.

Thus, a car running on such a system could claim to be a zero carbon emission vehicle, but those emissions do occur where the salt itself is produced. Much like an electric vehicle running on coal-fired power releases zero emissions, but there are emissions associated with the production of its electricity.

This is clear from the press kit, which says “The footprint of our technology is zero when we use renewable energy to recycle our fuel. We consume low purity industrial H2 that is produced as by product of other chemical processes (eg: production of chlorine or steel).”

That may well be true in theory, but far too many technologies invoke the magic wand of renewable energy to claim zero emissions. What we would really like to know are the actual required energy inputs to produce enough salt to propel the vehicle X miles. That way, we could compare this technology to the energy efficiency of an internal combustion engine or an electric vehicle.

Further, in my experience “low purity industrial H2” is typically used on site for fuel, rather than transported elsewhere to an end user. There isn’t an abundance of such hydrogen available to users.

In conclusion, it was by no means my intention to discredit or disparage the Electriq~Fuel technology. As I mentioned in my reply to them, I would need more details before I could make a determination on whether I view this as a “game-changer.” My intent here was rather to help readers understand the kinds of questions you should ask when assessing these sorts of claims.

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