– By Hussain Asif, NUST Science Blog
The reason why I write this article today is not because I have seen a video in which an ignorant and under-qualified person apparently dominated one of our most celebrated scholars in a highly popular talk show. I am not even amazed that our supposed to be graduate PARLIAMENTARIANS fell for one of the most ridiculous hoaxes of human history. It’s no wondering that engineer Waqar Ahmad has gained the status of a national hero overnight for a nation which so desperately hopes for an end to a brutal energy crisis.
All of this was not much of a surprise considering the current state of our media and politicians. What really worried me was a Facebook poll (of all the things, for God’s sake!). A friend sent me a link to a question which asked if I thought engineer (my sincerest apologies to real engineers for abusing this title again and again, but apparently this is the title he has presumed) Waqar Ahmad was talking any sense?
Mind you, I am a biology person through and through and a proud member of back-benchers association, but even my first response was, “Who on earth put a yes option in there!”. Illogical as it may sound, that was my reaction… But wait, it keeps on getting better: on insistence of this friend, I opened the link and – guess what! Until a few hours ago, at least 24 people had answered yes! Intrigued by the ridiculous situation, I thought “what the hell, let’s take a look at the fools who said yes” (no disrespect if anyone of you readers voted yes, but that’s exactly what I thought).
I opened the list and that’s when all my sense of black humor suddenly departed and was replaced by shame, at least for a moment. Some of these people who said yes were actually NUSTians, or so there profiles said. I suddenly felt as if the last frontier of my nation’s defense against ignorance had been breached; almost everywhere else is fine, but universities! And one of the most prestigious ones in Pakistan! Some of them were even prospective engineers, but still I thought “oh c’mon, that must be sarcasm!” but then I asked around a bit and I actually found people within this prestigious institute who thought it was possible that Engineer (sorry again) Waqar Ahmad was correct.
That was more than enough interest building for me and I decided to give the matter a closer look. I started by reading an article of renowned scholar Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy who had so excellently identified the desperation of Pakistani nation as the root cause of otherwise unprecedented wide spread public appraisal. I then watched a popular talk show in which both Dr Atta ur Rahman (An eminent scientist) and the eng… sorry, the “inventor” were invited and an argument followed in which Dr Atta insisted that his invention violated laws of thermodynamics while the inventor kept on ridiculously evading the objections raised by him. Nevertheless, eminent scientists like Dr Samar Mubarakmand and Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan seemed to believe that the idea is feasible and that serious thought and attention should be given to this water-kit.
So, let’s get myth and bias out of the way and analyze this “water-kit” on purely scientific grounds. First thing’s first, let’s take a look at what he is claiming: this person claims to have invented an apparatus which, when installed in an automobile equipped with internal combustion engine, provides hydrogen to run the engine. To be clear, let us keep in mind that the title used for this car throughout is “car which runs on water”, also the individual has never mentioned that an automobile equipped with his invention will require any other source of energy other than water.
Now let us take a look at the mechanism step by step and concurrently note the accompanying energy changes.
Electrolysis breaks the water molecule and supplies oxyhydrogen (a combustible gaseous mixture containing two moles of hydrogen and one mole of oxygen per mole of water broken). So, here energy is supplied to the system in form of electrical energy which is stored in reaction products as chemical potential energy. Source is battery pack and sink is oxyhydrogen.
This oxyhydrogen is fed to engine via carburetor. The output is used for driving the car as well as running the electric generator to recharge the battery pack. Energy is supplied in the form of thermal energy and is then channelized into mechanical energy – to be split between kinetic energy (running the car) and electrical energy (electric generator of car). Source is chemical potential energy while sink is electrical energy and kinetic energy.
This electrical energy is then used for electrolysis and the cycle starts again. Energy is again converted from electrical energy to chemical potential energy.
A closer look reveals that there is a cycle in which oxyhydrogen is followed by water and vice versa. Let us now examine the energetics of both reactions; combustion of oxyhydrogen and electrolysis of water.
Combustion of diatomic H2 and O2 to form water as steam (releases energy):
H2(g) + ½O2(g) → H2O(g) ΔH° = -241.826 kJ1
Electrolysis of water releases H2 and O2 (consumes energy):
2H2O + energy → 2H2 + O2 ΔH° = 237.13 kJ2
So far so good. Here is the glitch, my dear readers: even the most cutting edge technology doesn’t provide more than 80-82% efficiency when it comes to electrolysis of water. Efficiency of 94% is predicted but hasn’t yet being achieved3. While the efficiency of commercially available alkaline electrolyzers ranges typically between 48 – 63% 4. And the maximum efficiency achieved by any internal combustion engine is less than 40%, usually it’s around 20-35% 5.
Now I suppose the math should be simple, we know that the energy released by production of water is roughly equivalent to the energy needed to break it down. And we know that there are plenty of energy losses throughout the processes and yet this individual claims that this car not only replenishes its own fuel supply but still somehow has enough spare energy to run the car!
Still don’t get the point? Here is the simplified version of law of conservation of energy which is an essential part of first law of thermodynamics:
Energy can be neither created nor destroyed. However, energy can change forms, and energy can flow from one place to another. The total energy of an isolated system remains the same.
Do the math people, identify a loophole in my logic or embrace the truth and spread the word. This pathetic hoax is making our nation look like idiots throughout the world.
This scandal really is a proof of concept that how easily and thoroughly a desperate nation can be fooled!