POSTSCRIPT / September 21, 1999 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Answer to oil cartel: Water-powered car!

THERE is a direct solution to the problem of rising costs of gasoline and other oil products used by motor vehicles.

The solution is to stop using gasoline for motor engines and thereby bring down the oil oligopoly and all the leeches clinging to it.

Incredible as it may seem, Filipino inventor Daniel D. Dingel, a former NASA engineer who has several fantastic money-saving inventions to his name, has a gadget that makes a motor car run on water!

Strictly speaking, the car does not run on water itself, but on the hydrogen gas extracted from plain water by his invention, a mini-reactor, attached to the car engine.

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WE inspected last Sunday his water-powered car, a red Toyota Corolla whose gas tank has been disconnected.

Under the hood, there is a box-like gadget the size of a car battery covered with a clear plastic case through which one sees water – the fuel. There is a gadget, Dingel calls it a reactor, immersed in the water.

When the ignition is on, the reactor in the box runs and the water percolates. Bubbles rise in the water and break at the surface. The water molecules (H2O) are continuously broken down into their hydrogen and oxygen components.

The hydrogen, which is lighter than oxygen, rises and goes to a pipe leading to the internal combustion chamber of the engine. The oxygen goes into a slightly smaller pipe also leading to the combustion chamber.

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IN the chamber, the two gases are ignited by the usual spark plug, causing an explosion and moving the engine’s piston as in the conventional gasoline-fed engine.

Dingel has installed in his car an auxiliary reactor, a smaller version of the first reactor performing the same function of producing hydrogen gas. When the engine’s RPM (revolutions per minute) reaches a certain high level, he said, the auxiliary reactor works and contributes to making the engine’s performance more efficient.

A gallon of water that you get for free anywhere, he says, can take you 500 kilometers. Compare that to special gasoline costing P13.37 per liter that can take you from six to eight kilometers to the liter only.

The prototype cost Dingel only around P1,000 to fabricate. How’s that for economy?

Dingel says that his invention can use any water, although he said hard water is preferred to distilled water. Tap water with traces of chlorine will do also. In fact, if one needs water when out in the countryside, he can scoop clear water from any stream. The residue can be drained later without much trouble.

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THERE have been earlier experiments worldwide on using water as a source of hydrogen to run combustion engines. Many of them worked, but they were not viable. Nor have they been found suitable or practical for hooking up to a regular car engine.

One surprising aspect of the Dingel reactor is that it uses only the usual 12-volt car battery to run it. In the more sophisticated processes of extracting hydrogen from water, an ultra-high temperature of about 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit is needed.

While other experiments abroad are on the high-technology level, Dingel’s approaches are more basic. One is tempted to add intuitive.

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HIS reactor has not been patented. Asked if this was because he did not trust the patent office, he recalled instead reported cases of inventors submitting their gadgets to the patent office, leaving them for assessment and coming back days later only to be told that a similar invention has been patented.

He is looking for somebody he can trust to help him patent his invention worldwide without risking its being pirated at the patent office.

On the prospects of earning billions from his invention, he says he wants to use the money for paying off the country’s foreign debt. He stresses that his invention is Filipino, and not the product of the ingenuity of foreigners.

When asked what college degree he has, he says he completed Grade 6 – in the Philippines. This is probably true, but we learned that he had been sent on special studies abroad, has trained extensively, has demonstrated his theories in foreign laboratories, and has worked with the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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DINGEL has a similar invention — a marine engine that runs on seawater. Imagine motorized watercraft drawing their fuel from an endless supply of sea water!

Many foreign visitors go to his place showing interest in his inventions. Volvo, manufacturer of marine engines, heard about Dingel’s invention and sent an emissary and some technical men to look at it.

Result: Volvo is paying Dingel a substantial amount monthly on agreement that he would not give or sell his invention to any other person or entity. Volvo is reportedly refining the Dingel invention and is planning to unwrap it for the market around 2002.

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THE effects on the world and on civilization of a motor vehicle running on water are mind-boggling.

We told him that his invention might even cost him his life, but the 60ish Dingel just shrugged off the thought.

But seriously, why would the oil-producers in the Middle East, for instance, allow such a thing as a Dingel contraption knock down their multibillion-dollar racket?

If combustion engines –such as those in the family car and public buses – suddenly stop using gasoline and diesel and switch to good old water, that would make the Arabs’ oil wells irrelevant and drag them back to tending their camels in the desert.

* * *

THE idea of hydrogen as an alternative fuel, even for spaceships, has sparked endless research. But much of the applied research for earthbound engines is on making pollution-free power cells, something like the household or the car battery.

Dingel’s invention does not store the hydrogen in a cell, but directly feeds the gas into the motor engine much like a spray of gasoline is injected into the engine’s combustion chamber in a regular car.

Read this condensation from a related report of Mark Jaffe of The Philadelphia Inquirer:

TAKE a Ford Taurus and an Apollo mooncraft and smash them together and just maybe you end up with the automotive holy grail—a car that zips along without polluting.

Well, just maybe. The product is a hydrogen-powered car that uses an absolutely non-polluting fuel and an electric motor for power.

Utilizing space technology, the hydrogen car doesn’t rely on combustion. And it has hardly any moving parts.

But wait a minute. Before running out to trade in the family gas-guzzler for a hydrogen-power roadster, know that the prototype’s price tag was $180,000. Cheaper than a Maserati, but not cheap.

Nevertheless, a host of auto makers—including all three American manufacturers, Japanese producers Toyota and Mazda, and Germany’s Daimler-Benz and BMW—are experimenting with hydrogen technology.

“It is potentially attractive,” said Brad Bates, manager of the alternative fuels program at the Ford Motor Co. “It is worthy of study… But I think that a hydrogen-powered personal transport, the way you or I think of it, is still decades away.”

Hydrogen—an odorless, colorless gas—is the lightest and simplest of all the elements in the universe. A hydrogen atom has a nucleus containing a single proton that is circled by a single electron. (An atom of uranium has a nucleus with 92 protons and 146 neutrons, surrounded by 7 shells containing 92 electrons.)

Hydrogen is also highly volatile and flammable. It has been used to power rocket engines and make devastating bombs.

But it is not the combustible nature of hydrogen that the fuel cell harnesses. Rather, it is a basic electrochemical reaction that scientists have understood for more than 150 years.

Electricity can be used to split water molecules into their basic components—hydrogen and oxygen. This process of running electricity through a solution to separate materials is called electrolysis.

In 1839, Sir William Grove demonstrated that if electrolysis was “run in reverse”—that is, if hydrogen and oxygen were combined to make water—the process would release electricity.

This is what a fuel cell does. The hydrogen fuel is fed into one end of the cell, where it comes in contact with a platinum plate. The platinum acts as a catalyst that helps break down hydrogen atoms into positively charged ions and negatively charged electrons.

The electrons are then screened-out using a substance called an electrolyte. The ions can pass through it; the electrons cannot. All the electrons are collected and sent through a wire. That stream of electrons is electricity, which can be used to power a motor. The wire eventually is routed back to the cell, where the electrons, ions and oxygen combine to make water—the fuel cell’s only waste product.

It was not until NASA began searching for onboard power supplies for its Gemini and Apollo spacecraft that hydrogen fuel cells became a true applied technology.

In space travel, traditional internal combustion power is not feasible. Fuel cell technology is efficient, the fuel is light and there is no heat or waste gas to deal with. In fact, fuel cell technology is sometimes called “cold combustion.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 21, 1999)

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