POSTSCRIPT / October 7, 1999 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Gov’t not interested in water-powered car?

REP. Leovigildo B. Banaag of Agusan del Norte has filed House Resolution No. 1164 urging the proper government agencies to help former NASA engineer Daniel D. Dingel develop his invention using plain water to generate hydrogen gas to run motor vehicles.

Reacting to a Postscript mention of the revolutionary invention, the congressman sought for Dingel the technical and financial help of the departments of science and technology, environment and natural resources, energy, and trade and industry (its Industrial Property Office).

It’s anybody’s guess where Banaag’s efforts would lead, but judging by the attitude of some officials of the offices mentioned, it takes more than a House resolution to make them appreciate and help Dingel.

* * *

BASED on reactions to our Postscript mentioning Dingel, there seems to be more foreigners and Filipinos based abroad who are ready to help the inventor perfect his mini-reactor that breaks up water (H2O) into hydrogen and oxygen gases for fueling a car engine.

The device takes Dingel’s converted Toyota Corolla some 500 kilometers for every gallon of water, which a motorist can get for free almost anywhere. Compare this to the five to eight kilometers that a similar 1600cc engine can run on one liter of premium gasoline costing some P14.

This Dingel device, if produced commercially, could be the long-sought answer to the insatiable oil cartel that keeps jacking up the prices of gasoline and other petroleum products whenever the fancy strikes it.

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A COMMERCIAL water-powered car engine would make fossil fuel irrelevant and send the oil sheiks back to their camel tending days in the desert. Or they could drown in their pool of suddenly unneeded oil.

That’s why Dingel does not need only financial and technical assistance but also protection. He has stopped worrying about his safety, or so he claims, but it is easy to imagine why oil giants may want him erased from the face of the earth.

We have examined Dingel’s gadget, the size of a large car battery, and watched it generate gas from water and feed this into the combustion chamber of his red Toyota.

Instead of the usual fine gasoline spray that explodes and provides power when ignited by the spark plug, the hydrogen and oxygen gases produced by Dingel’s device are fed directly into the same combustion chamber where the same spark plug triggers the needed explosion to move the piston.

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THERE have been many experiments, most of them abroad, using the same principle of breaking down water into its hydrogen and oxygen components and using the resulting hydrogen gas for fuel.

In the application on motor vehicles, the hydrogen is usually stored first in power cells that are used as pollution-free batteries to run engines and other devices. But the cost of producing these clean fuel cells is relatively high for commercial motor vehicles.

Dingel says that he spent only around P1,000 in fabricating his mini-reactor. That may be true. We’ve looked at it and even from the point of view of this layman, it needs some refinement.

Dingel’s technology does not store the hydrogen in fuel cells. Instead, it directs the gas via piping into the engine for instant use. We see a potential hazard here in the handling of explosive hydrogen gas that should be addressed in future research.

* * *

OUR examination of his device is, at best, superficial and non-technical. We were neither competent nor equipped, for instance, to check if there is any hidden gasoline tank actually fueling his car. He swears there’s none.

Is there any other car he has equipped with the same gadget? There’s none. We understand that, since we imagine the possibility that anybody whose car is fitted with Dingel’s invention could run away with it and patent it himself.

On the matter of patent, we understand Dingel’s hesitation to leave his invention with the local patent office for assessment while his patent application is pending.

* * *

IRONICALLY, Postscript has received earnest foreign mail from parties offering to help Dingel patent and protect his invention worldwide. There are also offers of other forms of assistance.

By writing on his water-powered engine, we are not saying that we are totally sold to it. As is our mental habit, we’re taking it with the usual grain of skepticism.

But based on what we’ve seen, it is a project worth considering. Instead of dismissing it without even a second look, the government should discard its pro-oil cartel bias and take up Dingel’s claim of having invented a device that will solve the oil problem of this country and of the entire world – by substituting oil-based fuels with plain water!

* * *

FOR that matter, this country is lucky – and challenged – that it is uniquely situated to be a pioneer in the development of alternative fuels.

Our capacity for practical applications of geothermal energy, such as in the commercial generation of electric power, has been proven. Our Tiwi geothermal plant in Albay needs no introduction.

But, pardon our saying it, it seems that after the generation of the first watt of geothermal power, by force of habit we leaned back and forgot about research and development. It appears that we’ve dropped the subject and are just coasting along on old technology.

That has been the recurring sad story of how this blessed country, which was technologically second only to Japan a few decades ago, has been overtaken by its more disciplined neighbors.

* * *

ANOTHER area where local research and commercial application have been laggard is the tapping of solar energy.

Yes, we have contraptions that use solar energy to heat water, run appliances, et cetera, but we’re amazed that this sun-drenched country is not taking to solar energy in the magnitude and the manner it should.

Let’s not wait for the government to take the initiative in this direction, unless we’re willing to wait forever. Private researchers and developers who have put together solar devices for commercial use should not stop even in the absence of adequate government support.

One application we have in mind is a sun-powered car, probably with solar panels built into the design of the roof. It may not run as fast as the gas-guzzlers zipping around, but a quiet, pollution-free solar car, backed up by solar storage cells, will surely have myriad uses.

There are such vehicles already in use, but that’s not the end point of solar technology. And the Philippines, despite its rainy days, is still an excellent site for research along this line.

* * *

IT seems that the only pencil-pushing that our experts in government do in connection with fuel is computing how much higher gasoline and other oil products would be priced based on the oil cartel’s latest whim.

The oil giants propose, and our cartel-compliant government disposes.

We’re not surprised, because it is a symbiotic relationship that the oil companies and the government have forged. Suffering Filipinos should be told that more than half of the money extracted from them for gasoline goes to the government as taxes.

We should insist that if the government refuses to rein in the greed of the oil companies, it should cut back on its own levies on oil products so as to lower prices and provide relief to consumers.

* * *

BUT officials will scream about the resulting drop in government revenue? So? Nanakawin lang naman nila, so why collect more taxes?

The truth is that if we could only reduce graft and corruption to “tolerable” (?) levels, we could have lower prices for gasoline and other oil-dependent goods and services.

Even road toll and light-rail fare is sky-high because the private project developers have to recover from the riding public the graft money paid to certain officials who had awarded them the projects.

Imagine the relief if we could reduce toll fees and transport fares by 40 percent — which figure represents the average cost of graft in this only Catholic country in Asia.

* * *

IN this connection, my barber has a question. He wants to know who is supposed to restore or repair EDSA and other streets and public structures damaged by the construction of light rail systems in the metropolis. (Pardon our use of the high-sounding term “metropolis” to refer to this god-forsaken capital city.)

We told him that naturally the contractor or the developer who caused the destruction should pay for the repair. And we gave the example of Citra paving back to decent standards the South Superhighway running under its too ambitious but now rarely-used Skyway.

With a malicious glint in his eyes, our barber followed through: If the road repairs were to cost the developer P100 million, he could save money and make some officials happy by offering them P50 million to have the government (public works department) do the repairs instead. With taxpayers’ money, of course.

Sometimes we think our barber should be named public works secretary and make some presidential relative happy.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 7, 1999)

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