Tony O'Kane | Jun 25, 2008

As far as alternative fuels go, none are more radical than the idea of fueling your car with ordinary water. Japanese company Genepax have apparently developed an on-board system for cars that extracts the hydrogen from water held in a tank and sends the resultant gas to a fuel cell to be turned into electricity in a process that Genepax calls its "Water Energy System", or WES, promising fuss-free (and fossil-free) motoring for the commuter of the future.

One litre of water is supposedly enough to endow Genepax's demonstrator vehicle with a one-hour endurance at speeds up to 80kph. It's not voodoo, witchcraft or good ol' Snake Oilâ„¢ that runs this thing though. Rather, it's simple chemistry that enables Genepax's water-fueled car to function. You see it's not really water that's the fuel: instead, it's a bunch of metal hydride plates that stimulate hydrogen production in the water tank, plates that will eventually deplete and require replacement. Given the amount of energy required to manufacture these plates Genepax's water-powered car could be a false economy, indirectly consuming more energy than it saves.

Of course that's not so much of a problem if the energy needed to manufacture the plates is from a renewable source like the sun, wind, or a hamster wheel, but given the power industry's current appetite for fossil fuels that's not an entirely likely scenario. Still, it's a noble effort on Genepax's part to combat the looming oil crisis and one that may show promise if they can prove the technology works. After all, simply fueling up your car with water is a terribly convenient answer to the tricky problem of how the fuel infrastructure of the future is going to store, transport and distribute the volatile compressed hydrogen we're all meant to be using 20 years from now. Unfortunately I have a sneaking suspicion that such a solution won't be so popular with Big Oil.

[Inside Line]

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