Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from HowStuffWorks.com.
Josh Clark: Hi, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark, a staff writer here at HowStuffWorks.com. With me, as always, is my trusty editrix, Candace Gibson. How's it going Candace?
Candace Gibson: Fabulous, Josh.
Josh Clark: I've got to say I envy you a little bit there, Candace. I haven't been so fabulous lately. My wallet keeps shrinking and shrinking. Have you been to the gas pumps lately?
Candace Gibson: Yeah, I know what you mean. The numbers keep climbing. It's not so expensive to fuel my car because I drive an itty bitty Civic.
Josh Clark: I drive a big old honking Volvo and it uses gas like you would not believe. Think about this, though. What if you could put something besides gas in your car to power it, like sand or air or something?
Candace Gibson: Well that would be nice. That really would be nice.
Josh Clark: What about salt water?
Candace Gibson: What are you talking about? That's crazy.
Josh Clark: No, it's not crazy, really. Have you ever heard of this guy named John Kanzius?
Candace Gibson: Indeed, I have.
Josh Clark: You have. Okay, so you have read the article.
Candace Gibson: Yeah. I was just setting you up.
Josh Clark: That's great. Thanks for that.
Candace Gibson: You're welcome.
Josh Clark: Well, let's tell the people out in podcast land what we're talking about. This guy named John Kanzius is this retiree in Florida. He's a retired radio broadcast engineer. And he came up with this thing called a radio frequency generator.
Candace Gibson: RFG.
Josh Clark: RFG is right. And basically what it does is it takes radio waves and condenses them into a beam. And it's got all the - it has, actually, three applications that they found so far. But one of them came about when Kanzius was tinkering with trying to desalinate water, salt water, which could solve the global thirst crisis, right?
Candace Gibson: Yeah, because not everyone has access to clean water.
Josh Clark: No, actually, to the tune of about two billion people, I understand, yeah. So he was trying to desalinate water using his RFG. And he had the little box trained on a test tube of salt water, and he noticed that it sparked, which is fairly unusual for water because it usually -
Candace Gibson: Yeah, water doesn't burn. On the contrary, water actually puts out fire.
Josh Clark: Exactly. So Kanzius has a little bit of this mad scientist bent to him. He's a very curious fellow. And he lights a paper towel and turns the RFG facing the test tube again. And he touches the paper towel to the water. And rather than the paper towel being put out by the water, the paper towel -
Candace Gibson: The flame got bigger.
Josh Clark: Exactly. Basically, it caught the water on fire. And on fire it was. It was burning at about 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Candace Gibson: Unbelievable.
Josh Clark: It was a pretty serious flame, actually.
Candace Gibson: Yeah. So how does this convert to fuel for our cars?
Josh Clark: Well I'll tell you. Basically what Kanzius did, inadvertently, was to separate water into its components.
Candace Gibson: Two hydrogen molecules and one oxygen molecule, basic science H2O. We're all there.
Josh Clark: And we've known for a while that you can use hydrogen as fuel. You can create an electric charge from it. Or you can burn it and combustion.
Candace Gibson: Wait, wait, wait. Hold on because hydrogen fuel is potentially dangerous, right? Look at the Hindenburg. That exploded.
Josh Clark: Actually the Hindenburg has been kind of latched onto by people who aren't all about hydrogen, e.g. the big oil companies. That's kind of a fallacy, actually. The Hindenburg explosion, it was a blimp, held aloft by hydrogen. The static spark caught the hydrogen on fire. And 37 people ended up dying.
Candace Gibson: Yeah.
Josh Clark: The problems is 35 of those peopled died by jumping to their deaths. Most of the people, actually all of the people who were on board the passenger compartment who stayed aboard, landed safely and unharmed.
Candace Gibson: And that's because hydrogen is actually the most lightweight of all the elements and so it floated upward.
Josh Clark: It's lighter than air, exactly.
Candace Gibson: Yeah.
Josh Clark: And it burned upward, actually, away from the passenger compartment. That's not to mention that the Hindenburg's outer skin was coated in rocket fuel and a really highly flammable acetate.
Candace Gibson: That wasn't too conducive to that either.
Josh Clark: So the Hindenburg is probably not the best thing to point to to say hydrogen fuel is dangerous.
Candace Gibson: No. Right. It's not that dangerous. The problem with this type of hydrogen fuel, salt water fuel, essentially is that it has a negative net energy ratio. And so to create this type of salt water fuel, you're actually putting in more energy than what you're getting out.
Josh Clark: Exactly. And what's the point? Speaking strictly from an energy standpoint, you might as well just use the gasoline that you get a gallon's worth of energy from, rather than say, using a gallon to get a half a gallon's worth of energy from. It doesn't make sense.
Candace Gibson: It doesn't make sense.
Josh Clark: You can't get something from nothing.
Candace Gibson: Indeed.
Josh Clark: And Kanzius isn't the only person to run into this stumbling block. Hydrogen could be a really legitimate fuel. It packs a real punch.
Candace Gibson: And their emissions are nothing but water vapor, essentially.
Josh Clark: Yeah, so it's probably the cleanest burning fuel. The only other thing that's cleaner is electricity. And if you follow electricity back to its origin -
Candace Gibson: Fossil fuels.
Josh Clark: Fifty percent of electricity is created by burning coal. So really, hydrogen would be cleaner. But there's that negative net energy ratio.
Candace Gibson: It keeps popping up. When are we going to figure this out?
Josh Clark: I don't know, but I've written a couple of articles on it so far. One is "Could Salt Water Fuel Cars," and the other is "Is Hydrogen Fuel Dangerous." And they're both pretty interesting. You can read them both on HowStuffWorks.
Candace Gibson: Dot com.
Josh Clark: Dot com.
Candace Gibson: And it will take you no gas to get there.Announcer: For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit HowStuffWorks.com. Let us know what you think. Send an e-mail to Podcast@HowStuffWorks.com.