The only real definitive claim Genepax makes is that its process is going to save the world from global warming. (A request for comment was not returned at press time.) Their Water Energy System (WES) appears to be nothing more than a fuel cell converting the hydrogen and oxygen back into electricity, which is used to run to a motor that drives the wheels. Fuel cell technology is well-understood and pretty efficient at changing hydrogen and oxygen into electricity and water, which is where we came in, right? Except the hydrogen came from water in the first place--something doesn't add up here.
There is energy in water. Chemically, it's locked up in the atomic bonds between the hydrogen and oxygen atoms. When the hydrogen and oxygen combine, whether it's in a fuel cell, internal combustion engine running on hydrogen, or a jury-rigged pickup truck with an electrolysis cell in the bed, there's energy left over in the form of heat or electrons. That's converted to mechanical energy by the pistons and crankshaft or electrical motors to move the vehicle.
Problem: It takes exactly the same amount of energy to pry those hydrogen and oxygen atoms apart inside the electrolysis cell as you get back when they recombine inside the fuel cell. The laws of thermodynamics haven't changed, in spite of any hype you read on some blog or news aggregator. Subtract the losses to heat in the engine and alternator and electrolysis cell, and you're losing energy, not gaining it--period.
Recirculation of hydrogen has a remarkable effect on the overall efficiency of a fuel cell system, as recirculation affects not only the performance of the fuel cell through hydrogen stoichiometry and water balance but also the consumption of fuel.
The feed-in tariff proposed by the UK government would radically improve economic outcomes; as 10p paid per kWh of electricity generation would reward fuel cell owners with £600-750 annually.
Fuel cells are therefore not among the ‘low hanging fruit’ of carbon abatement technologies, although the carbon costs will halve over the next ten years in line with system price reductions.
This project has been one of the finest achievements of my engineering career. It also earned me an MS degree. Right out of college with a fresh Chemical Engineering degree in my hands I started working at as the lead R&D Engineer in a project to build a PEMFC from "scratch". I put all the process design knowledge I had into practice; pumps, heat exchanger, humidifiers, process control unit, piping and instrumentation diagram, material selection... you name it. All chemical enginering fundamentals were put to work to design the fuel cell. It was also a great industry/university collaboration. When we had finished it back in 2003, it would be the first fully operational Proton Exchange Membrane Fuell Cell built "in Turkey". I also manufactured several membrane-electrod assemblies and tested them for my MS thesis. Browse through the pictures from those days to see what I have achieved.
PEM fuel cell. Adding a third metal, molybdenum, to the surface of platinum-nickel nanostructures made the alloy surface more stable and prevented the loss of nickel and platinum over time. Image credit: Yu Huang Lab/UCLA (Click image to enlarge)
The techno-economic fuel cell simulation model was validated against results from literature and Japanese field trials, and then used to estimate the changes in home energy consumption from operating the four leading fuel cell technologies in the UK.
Juan Bisquert is a Professor of applied physics at Universitat Jaume I de Castelló, Spain. He is the director of the Institute of Advanced Materials at UJI. He authored 360 peer reviewed papers, and a series of books including Nanostructured Energy Devices (1. Equilibrium Concepts and Kinetics, 2. Foundations of Carrier Transport) and 3. Physics of Solar Cells: Perovskites, Organics, and Photovoltaics Fundamentals (CRC Press). His h-index 75, and is currently a Senior Editor of the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters. He conducts experimental and theoretical research on materials and devices for production and storage of clean energies. His main topics of interest are materials and processes in perovskite solar cells and solar fuel production. He has developed the application of measurement techniques and physical modeling of nanostructured energy devices, that relate the device operation with the elementary steps that take place at the nanoscale dimension: charge transfer, carrier transport, chemical reaction, etc., especially in the field of impedance spectroscopy, as well as general device models. He has been distinguished in the 2014, 2015, 2016 list of ISI Highly Cited Researchers.
These models were supplied with economic and performance data from an extensive meta-review of academic and commercial demonstrations; showing for example that fuel cell efficiencies are a third lower when operated in people’s homes rather than in the laboratory.
Fuel cells generate electricity through an electrochemical reaction, not combustion. Fuel cells are scalable and range in size from units that power consumer electronics, to passenger cars and buses, and even large-scale plants that power neighborhoods, businesses, and more.