Burning Water Amazes Researchers

Water is the most frequent molecule on earth. Yet, it hasn’t revealed all its secrets. When John Kanzius discovered a new way of splitting up und burning water by subjecting it to a radiofrequency field this was first caught up by the local media. A “Water Into Fuel” discussion ensued in the web. Not so fast, says Rustom Roy of Penn State University who checked the claim with a team including Kanzius. Until the recent publication of the first paper, no measurements of efficiency had been made. Roy ponders why water can be split in a weak RF field at all. He points towards the phenomenon of resonance. The following article is a longer version of a report in German that aired in Deutschlandfunk on 21 May 2008.

Brennendes Salzwasser in Gegenwart eines Radiowellenfelds im Labor von Rustom RoyIn 1832 the trained bookbinder Michael Faraday described a simple method to split water. Take a glass of water, add some salt to increase its conductivity, and insert two electrodes. When you impress a voltage water molecules get split into their components hydrogen and oxygen. Both gases evolve separated at the two electrodes. This method of splitting water is called Faraday electrolysis. A new, so far unknown method was made public in 2007 by local US media. It was discovered by broadcast engineer and manager John Kanzius. The video caught the attention and curiosity of water researcher Rustum Roy at Pennsylvania State University.

I found out about the Kanzius experiment because a friend sent me a link to YouTube. This was about August 2007. I thought that’s very strange and I wondered what that guy was doing. We checked it out and it simply worked. We did the experiment ourselves in my microwave lab at Penn State, observed by a dozen leading scientists of the university. What he is obviously doing is breaking up water in a new way.

The observations of the first systematic experiment have recently been published by Roy, his postdoc Manju Rao, and Kanzius in the science journal Materials Research Innovations. As in common electrolysis they use water with sodium chloride, also known as table salt. But instead of immersing electrodes they subject the water to radio waves of 13.56 MHz. This is almost the same radio frequency (RF) band used for broadcasting. The power of about 300 Watt used in the experiment, however, is 100 to 1000 times smaller. Now something unexpected happens. Gas evolves that can be ignited. It burns until the water is consumed and as long as the RF field is sustained. Which gases evolve is the big question. Solid state professor Roy can only offer a first guess:

It is not ordinary electrolysis where at one electrode you get oxygen and at the other you get hydrogen. In this case, obviously, you get essentially a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen atoms and ions and molecules in all kinds of configurations, which we don’t know yet, of course. That mixture is emerging together and is not identical to a mixture of burning hydrogen molecules that react with oxygen molecules in the air.

Austrian chemist and water researcher Elmar Fuchs from Graz University of Technology has taken a close look at the paper by Roy and co-workers. He confirms that a new method of splitting water appears to have been discovered:

This is a new effect that at least I hadn’t known before. Unfortunately the authors did not study the evolving gas itself. When you describe a new effect you would normally have to do such basic things.

Roy replies that one will have to wait for this analysis because the experiment first needed to be improved. Like any new discovery the Kanzius method now needs to be replicated by independent researchers. The consequences are possibly enormous, says Fuchs:

Hydrogen, of course, resounds throughout the land as the energy source of the future. Any method of producing hydrogen from water in a good and simple way is welcome.

Instead of jumping to conclusions Fuchs wishes for a detailed analysis of the method. Roy and co-workers owed the scientific community a crucial comparison. To split water, does the Kanzius method require less energy than conventional Faraday electrolysis?

Should the new method be essentially less efficient, there still remains an interesting physical effect. But for the application of producing hydrogen the method would be irrelevant. Should the efficiency be in the range of electrolysis, however, the whole thing also could become economically interesting.

Before there is clarity about what processes are actually happening in the Kanzius experiment much more research will be necessary. Asked for what Roy considers the key innovation discovered by Kanzius he offers his view which direction research should take.

The key innovation discovered by Kanzius is that there is some kind of a black hole in physics. Over the years there have been strange comments about how radiation interacts with liquids – mainly water – but also with solids. And I mean very weak radiation. I’m talking about a millionth of the energy of a light bulb. The photons here are very, very weak. So how can they possibly affect water so drastically? I have taught thermodynamics for fourty years and in that we only think of pressure and temperature as effecting the stability of liquids or solids. There is no room in any textbook for the electric field or the magnetic field. Now that is a black hole! We have in fact ignored major intensive thermodynamic interactions – now I put it very precisely – of radiation with matter. And I’m as guilty as everybody else, of course!

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