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The Revolutionary Fuel

Just Add Water

Aureon Kwolek 


In the 1920s, Henry Ford model ‘A’ cars and trucks ran on 165 proof 82.5% ethanol and 17.5% water. That’s a fact.

Two French researchers, during the Arab oil embargo, invented a car that ran on 60% water and 40% ethanol: 1974, Jean CHAMBRIN & Jack JOJON, France, car running with 60% of WATER. Patent WO8203249A1: "A reactor for transforming water and carburant for use as a fuel mixture".

Phil Ratte’:

“From 1981 to 1989, I worked with Herb Hansen, who had been an engineer on a WW II submarine, and a former captain of a nuclear submarine. We developed two prototype cars, a Ford Pinto Station Wagon and a Mitsubishi Sedan, that ran as well on 65 proof ethanol (2/3 water and 1/3 ethanol) as they did on unleaded regular gas.”

Phil Ratte’ - Mechanical Engineer (BME 1961 U of MN)

Inventor Rudolf Gunnerman describes modified gasoline engines running smoothly on 50-50 ethanol-water, running more efficiently than they ran on gasoline. US Patent # 5,156,114 “Aqueous Fuel for Internal Combustion Engine and Method of Combustion”, patented 10-20-1992, now expired. 

Excerpt from the Gunnerman patent language:

“The hydrogen and oxygen released by dissociation are also ignited during combustion to increase the amount of energy delivered by the fuel. It has been observed in experiments using 100 proof alcohol (50-50 ethanol-water) as the engine fuel that the engine produced the same power output, i.e., watts per hour, as is produced with the same volume of gasoline.”

“This is indeed surprising in view of the fact that the 100 proof ethanol has a theoretical energy potential of about 48,000 BTU's per gallon, with a usable potential of about 35,000 to 37,500 BTU's per gallon, as compared to gasoline, which has an energy potential of about 123,000 BTU's per gallon, nearly three times as much.”

“The fact that the lower BTU ethanol is able to generate as much power as a higher BTU gasoline suggests that additional power is attributable to the liberation, i.e., dissociation and combustion of hydrogen and oxygen from the water.”   Rudolf Gunnerman

See the entire patent description including how Gunnerman modified conventional internal combustion engines to run smoothly on ethanol-water:

Gunnerman says that both ethanol and water contain much higher levels of oxygen than gasoline. For an engine running on ethanol-water, he recommends decreasing the ratio of air to fuel – to below 5 to 1 and even lower, as low as 1 to 1. Compare this to most mainstream gasoline engines that have an average air to fuel ratio of 14 to 1. They require much bigger volumes of air, to get the required oxygen into the combustion chamber.  

Today’s gasoline engines are not currently designed to exploit the attributes of ethanol and blends of ethanol-water, which already carry most of the oxygen required for combustion. Mainstream engine specifications (including spark plugs) are optimized for gasoline as the primary fuel, not ethanol. Likewise, flexi-fuel engines may be compatible with ethanol, but they’re still optimized for gasoline. That’s the main reason gasoline engines running on E-85 tend to get lower mileage. Critics like to claim that ethanol doesn’t measure up to gasoline because it has lower BTUs. But engines optimized for ethanol, even without adding the water component, get as good or better mileage than gasoline. Ethanol is a performance fuel, and its attributes can be exploited. It also shares a special relationship with water.

Ethanol fuel technology will evolve to the next level, which contains up to 50% water. When we optimize the timing and the air to fuel ratio, and add turbo-charging and high compression, and add plasma spark plugs that split steam in the combustion chamber – fuel efficiency will go way beyond what we have now - Running on cheap watered-down renewable domestic fuel. 

Automakers are building you flexi-fueled engines, but when will they be optimized for ethanol instead of gasoline? When will they be optimized for hydrous ethanol? We already have engines in the wing, that get better mileage on ethanol than they get on gasoline, such as Ricardo, Lotus, Ford “Sigma” and others, but most automakers have been avoiding them. They seem to have a profitable alliance with petroleum based fuels.

Big oil and big auto have been collaborating since gasoline became the dominant fuel. Prior to that, Henry Ford had a vision that renewable, domestic ethanol would become the universal fuel. It was beginning to catch on as an octane booster that could be used to increase the compression ratio. But the Rockefellers challenged Ford with cheap gasoline and got ethanol outlawed by engineering prohibition. In 1923, GM and Rockefeller’s Standard Oil formed a partnership called the Ethyl Corporation. They jointly produced “leaded” gasoline, which enabled higher compression ratios, until it was outlawed in 1986 due to toxicity.

The fight for market share that we see today between ethanol and gasoline has historical roots. According to an article called “The Summer Spirit” - History of renewable fuel:

“Widespread attempts to market alcohol gasoline blends in competition with leaded gasoline failed, as Ethyl Corp. ruthlessly controlled the fuel market.”

After leaded gasoline was discontinued, the oil industry came up with their oxygenator, MTBE, a waste product that was eventually outlawed due to toxicity. This is what ethanol replaced. Today ethanol oxidizes the unburned gasoline residues and toxic additives that would otherwise be in the air we breathe.

With 30% higher octane, and a much faster vaporization rate and flame speed than gasoline, ethanol is much better suited to high compression ratios and turbo-charging. Ethanol optimized engines are coming, and we’ll soon see how the major automakers respond.

Suzuki has already announced that all of their vehicles will also run on up to 100% ethanol, by the end of 2010. For some buyers, that may be exactly what they’re looking for. Suzuki is looking ahead to a universal fuel, even beyond E-85. Here’s one automaker that seems to understand our desire to shift from imported oil to domestic biofuel.

Ethanol advocates are also paving the way to give you a choice at the pump, midlevel blends and E-85, which is now 40-60 cents per gallon cheaper than gasoline. And E-100-4 is cheaper yet.

The next step will be ethanol optimized engines that get better mileage on ethanol than they get on gasoline. Growth Energy is already demonstrating a running prototype - a Ricardo engine that runs on any percentage of gasoline or ethanol, retrofitted to a GM pick-up. The engine has all the power of a diesel, yet the up-front cost is thousands of dollars less. It runs on clean domestic E-85 which is a dollar a gallon cheaper than diesel. So move over fossil fuels.

We can also optimize that engine for hydrous ethanol. Our next assignment is converting water vapor into steam, and then into hydrogen, inside the combustion chamber. Adding the water component adds a quantum leap to fuel efficiency.

Basically, this can be accomplished with fairly simple, inexpensive technology. In fact, even the standard gasoline engine, that’s in most of our vehicles, can be enhanced with water vapor and advanced spark plugs. This is what the oil industry doesn’t want you to know. There’s been a mis-information campaign against ethanol and another one against water-fuel technologies, since the Model ‘A’ ran on ethanol-water. Let’s take a closer look at the special relationship between the two.

In his 1992 patent, Gunnerman described how to adapt a conventional gasoline engine to run efficiently on ethanol-water. He developed a method for adjusting the incoming air, and he screwed a piece of metal catalyst inside the head of the combustion chamber. The explosion of the primary fuel turned the water into steam, and under the intense pressure and heat of combustion, the catalyst split the steam into hydrogen and oxygen. Thus, the water component was converted into a supplementary fuel.

This was before advanced spark plugs were invented that can also split steam inside the combustion chamber. Automakers may also be suppressing plasma spark plugs. Instead, they’re still installing old fashion plugs in their engines, while for over ten years we’ve had high performance plugs that are many times more powerful – powerful enough to split steam into hydrogen and oxygen.       

Gunnerman also described other adjustments and minor modifications. His engines, powered with watered down ethanol, out-performed gasoline 2 to 1 or better, even with standard spark plugs. This was several years after Phil Ratte’ and Herb Hansen accomplished the same thing. So ask yourself why the technology was never brought to market? If it was, we would all be enjoying cheap fuel, cheap energy, and a higher standard of living. But instead, we got addicted to petroleum.


Reforming ethanol-water to hydrogen in the U.S.

Gunnerman’s ethanol-water engines did not reform the fuel mixture before it combusted. When ethanol, the primary fuel, exploded inside the combustion chamber, the water vapor simply flashed into steam and split into hydrogen and oxygen, in the presence of a catalyst. It was basic and low-tech.

Fuel reformers had already been invented in the 1970’s. They use a different method. Most reformers can process almost any fuel into a hydrogen-rich vapor called “syngas” – prior to combustion. Other researchers were experimenting with hydrous fuels. Since ethanol is rich in hydrogen and also water soluble, researchers demonstrated that it was the ideal fuel to mix with water and reform into hydrogen:

In 1996, The Illinois Corn Marketing Board (ICMB) and Arthur D. Little tested and demonstrated an advanced fuel reformer processing ethanol-water. It produced instant hydrogen that was used to power higher efficiency fuel cells. However, fuel cells were not perfected at the time. At least that’s what we were told. Alternately, we could have taken that same hydrogen and used it to power internal combustion engines. But again, ethanol-water was a threat to the lucrative relationship between big oil and big auto.

State and Federal government would also be players, because when you cut your fuel 50-50 with water, that cuts the tax at the pump in half. And we can’t have that…Can we?  

Results of the Arthur D. Little research were presented to the Society of Automotive Engineers in March, 1997, over 13 years ago. Again, this reformer was not the first of its kind. Major auto makers already had them. But it did demonstrate the advantage of ethanol, a water soluble fuel. That’s an advantage, because simultaneously, the reformer also extracted hydrogen from the water. 


In 2003, Lanny Schmidt, a professor of chemical engineering and materials science at the University of Minnesota, demonstrated a reformer that transformed a solution of 60% ethanol 40% water into hydrogen. This was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment at the University of Minnesota. Schmidt authored "Renewable Hydrogen from Ethanol by Autothermal Reforming," Science, February 13, 2004. One observation he made was remarkable:

Not only was all the hydrogen in the ethanol extracted – So was HALF of the hydrogen in the water.

Schmidt apparently extracted more hydrogen than the ethanol contained, and then looked to the water as the source. He referred to the extra hydrogen as a free bonus. His device appears to be a compact thermo-chemical reactor, self-powered by its own byproducts, weighing under 30 pounds. He said the size of the reformer would be reduced to that of a coffee mug.

“The researchers eventually solved the flammability problem by using an automotive fuel injector, said Schmidt. ‘It rapidly vaporizes ethanol water and mixes (it) with air and does this so fast that there's no time for flames to start’…”

“The researchers' method is relatively simple. ‘You feed ethanol plus water into the top of a reactor’, said Schmidt. ‘The fuel injector vaporizes the fuel and sprays the drops onto a hot surface, to make a mixture of mostly ethanol with a little air and water, which hits a catalyst that's glowing bright orange from the heat of the chemical reaction. That makes hydrogen form very quickly... and that feeds into the fuel cell’..."

“Ethanol Yields Hydrogen”, by Kimberly Patch, Technology Research News


The universal fuel in Brazil - hydrous ethanol

ALL Brazilian ethanol is hydrous ethanol, containing 4% water. About 90% of all new vehicles in Brazil are flexi-fueled. Some are even “optimized” for ethanol, such as the Ford “Sigma” engine - going in the Focus. This engine gets more power and better mileage running on watered-down ethanol, than it gets on Brazilian gasoline. All E-100 Suzuki vehicles also drop-right-in to the Brazilian system.

The world is shifting to alternatives, and Brazil already has the universal fuel, hydrous ethanol, 96% ethanol with 4% water. The other choice at the pump in Brazil is 75% gasoline, blended with 25% hydrous ethanol. Brazil has used this system for many years. It’s now dispensed from an infrastructure of 33,000 ethanol pumps. Ethanol containing this small percentage of water has already enabled Brazil to become Energy Independent. We can learn from that.


Fuel reforming in ethanol-rich Brazil

After recognizing the significance of Lanny Schmidt’s ethanol-water reformer, in 2005, “HyTron” was formed in Brazil. This was a group of 12, mostly college students finishing their doctorates and masters degrees. Their objective was to take the evolution of ethanol to the next level, by adding a higher percentage of water. They built prototypes of 50-50 “ethanol-water-to-hydrogen” fuel reformers that could be adapted to fuel cells, electric power plant turbines, and possibly even automobile engines:     

“The reformer’s heart is the reform reactor, where a mixture comprised of 50% water and 50% ethanol is heated to a temperature of around 700°C (1,292º F). The high temperature breaks the ethanol molecules; catalysts hasten the process. In this phase is produced a synthesis gas, comprised mostly of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. That gas goes to a sequence of smaller reactors that extract all the hydrogen…”

English option selected:

Reference: “HyTron - Young company is developing equipment that extracts hydrogen from ethanol and natural gas; technology is strategic for Brazil”.


Fuel reformer - fuel vaporizer

Most fuel reformers are not specifically designed for ethanol. They’re multi-fueled, like the compact “InnovaGen” that you can hold in the palm of your hand. They can also be clustered as modules for extracting any amount of hydrogen-rich syngas. They can reform a variety of fuels, giving an engine “multi-fueled” capability. We can optimize that engine for ethanol-water.

A fuel reformer uses a thermo-chemical reaction to change liquid fuel into a gaseous state, where its chemical components can be more easily manipulated. This is usually accomplished by subjecting the fuel to high temperature, in the range of 350 degrees F to 1,300 degrees F or more.

Fuel reforming is another form of gasification. The “syngas” can also be filtered before it enters the combustion chamber. In addition to hydrogen, it may also contain carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, and other byproducts and waste products, depending on the fuel. The byproducts can be separated out and used to power the reaction. Hot engine exhaust can also be used.

Rich in hydrogen, the perfect fuel, hydrous ethanol is perhaps the cleanest and most efficient fuel to reform - cleaner than natural gas.

If there is water mixed with the fuel, and the fuel reformer is designed for it, the water is transformed into steam, exposed to a catalyst, and split into hydrogen and oxygen. As Lanny Schmidt reported, his fuel reformer also stripped the hydrogen from half of the water. Could we also strip hydrogen from the other half?

In contrast to fuel reformers, Gunnerman’s 1992 method for splitting water was performed inside the combustion chamber. It wasn’t complicated. The average mechanic could read his patent and replicate it. The piece of catalyst that he screwed to the inside of the head split steam into hydrogen and oxygen.


The origin of plasma spark plugs

In the early 1990’s, about the same time that Gunnerman had engines running on 50-50 ethanol-water, a revolutionary spark plug was quietly being created across the Atlantic. Without being authorized by the management, an automotive engineer at Ford UK secretly built a set of spark plugs – with platinum tips on both ends of the spark gap. Since platinum is a water splitting catalyst, this plug could have split steam, although at the time, that was not the intent.

When the Ford engineer installed a full set of his experimental spark plugs in several Ford engines, he discovered a dramatic boost in power and fuel efficiency. However, when he presented his breakthrough to top Ford executives in the UK, they were upset. What a strange reaction. They quickly covered-up and suppressed a major discovery. That ought to tell you something. Automakers are playing games with us.

High performance “plasma” spark plug technology can drastically reduce emissions and IMPROVE fuel economy. What could have been the first plasma plug, proven 20 years ago, was recently described by the man who made it…
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Copyright © Aureon Kwolek 2010