Fuel From Water Using Only An Arc Welder

Water, high currents, blinding balls of plasma, and a highly flammable gas that’s toxic enough to kill you in three minutes if you breathe enough of it. What’s not to love about this plasma-powered water gas generator?

In all seriousness, [NightHawkInLight] is playing with some dangerous stuff here, and he’s quite adamant about this one being firmly in the “Don’t try this at home” category. But it’s also fascinating stuff, since it uses nothing but a tank of water and an electric arc to produce useful amounts of fuel very quickly. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that he’s talking about the electrolytic splitting of water into the hydrogen-oxygen mix HHO, but this is something else entirely.

Using a carbon electrode torch connected to his arc welder, a setup that’s similar to the one he used to make synthetic rubies, [NightHawkInLight] is able to strike an underwater arc inside a vessel that looks for all the world like a double-barreled bong. The plasma creates a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen which accumulates very rapidly in the gasometer he built to collect the flammable products produced by a wood gasifier.

The water gas burns remarkably cleanly, but probably has limited practical uses. Unless you live somewhere where electricity costs practically nothing, it’ll be hard to break even on this. Still, it’s an interesting look at what’s possible when plasma and water mix.

36 thoughts on “Fuel From Water Using Only An Arc Welder

  1. “Unless you live somewhere where electricity costs practically nothing”

    Recently in the UK we had a few hours where the price of electricity went negative. If you were on the right tariff you got paid 3p per kwh to consume electricity.

    1. Price and cost are two different things.

      For example, wind farms constructed around 2014 are still receiving subsidies in the UK because their levelized cost of production is £131/MWh compared to a wholesale price of £40–50/MWh. The difference is paid by price guarantees where they get the money as long as somebody uses the energy, which is ultimately paid by you since it’s taken out of your taxes.

      So this “free” electricity that looks like 3p in your pocket is actually about 5p out of your pocket.

      Nowadays the new wind farms are cheaper and can actually go below the wholesale prices, partly because they stopped paying them such ridiculous subsidies – but that’s not the entire story. Wind farms have to produce all they can to meet their LCOE – they’re like nuclear powerplants that sell regardless of the price, which results in overproduction and prices dipping below zero. They still have their power purchasing agreements with the utilities, so the utility pays them the agreed rate, and if they cannot accept the power, they pay them for shuttering the turbines. The negative prices are simply shifted to other hours where the price goes slightly more positive.

    2. Commenting system went to censor mode again.

      Actually, due to wind farm subsidies, that 3p you got paid is actually about 5p out of your pocket as a taxpayer due to still existing subsidy contracts for older wind farms which were not economical.

    3. Then there’s also the Renewables Obligations (RO) which at the current prices mean the utilities have to pay a 1.86p fine per kWh for failing to buy enough renewable energy. That means they can pay you up to 1.86p for consuming electricity so they can meet their quota. The buy-out fines paid by the companies that didn’t meet their quota are paid to those that did.

      It doesn’t make any sense to consume energy just to meet an arbitrary quota, but that’s how the politicians made the system, so there you have it.

      1. The farmers are only getting a few pence per unit. The winners are the electricity companies. The answer to our energy needs is farmers and the power they can produce. From wind, hydro, biogas, Biomass, biofuels. And on and on. The problem is like all products farmers produce. People expect them to do it for free. And electricity companies don’t want anyone else putting power in the grid except them. The terms of the buy back scheme need looked at. Paying farmers 5p and then charging customers 15p for literally no actual cost to these companies is just pure extortion. Aslo the producer is charged top money for his connection to the electricity grid. Again more profit for the electricity companies.

        1. The issue on a small island like England and Scotland is that everyone’s pretty much making power at the same time, so there’s always going to be severe over-supply and under-supply problems. Utilities actually have to pay people NOT to produce (constraint payments) for more than £100 million a year. Plus, 40% of the income of turbine owners comes from subsidies anyways.

          The value of such power really isn’t very much, and the electric companies have to pay a lot to accommodate it on the grid. For example, you can’t run a cheaper and more efficient, but slower baseload power stations such as CCGT when there’s highly varying output from wind turbines because the station can’t even ramp up before it has to shut down again.

          Less efficient, more expensive generators need to be used, either within the UK or if the power is exported and imported, then the other countries do it and charge extra for the trouble. Since the capacity factor of wind turbines is relatively low, it’s the other power plants that run for most of the time and energy, and this reduced efficiency and constant back-and-forth through the grid easily results in more CO2 being emitted than simply not having the wind turbines at all.

          The only exception is if you built a big power cable to Norway and used all their hydroelectric power for a clean battery, but guess what, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia… they all want that too and the price goes up, and inevitably you run out of fjords to dam up.

          1. Interestingly enough, there’s ongoing research into making hydroelectric turbine blades better, in Norway, because they’re experiencing stress failures from ramping the power up and down thanks to Danish and German wind power.

          2. What about adapt demand to supply, in particular schemes that focus on turning things *on* when there’s a surplus of production. Water heaters can be set higher, dedicated freezers can run full cold, data centers can start mining crypto using spare CPU/GPU cycles…

          3. It’s a very good idea, and another one is cold storage by freezing stuff with excess electricity.

            It’s just a matter of who pays for it, because it’s not really fair that some people are paid to use the electricity, while other people pay for it through subsidies.

        2. Anyone else putting power into the grid is a hassle. If it’s in any significant quantities it means it affects the sync and balance of the grid. And if it’s not enough to make an impact, it’s probably not worth doing (unless you’re consuming it locally, like charging a tesla from residential PV)

    1. I think you’d need a carbon source to make the CO gas. The carbon electrodes provide that here, but maybe you could do it with non-consumable (OK, less consumable) tungsten electrodes in a carbon-rich aqueous solution.

      1. I saw that water gas used to be produced at commercial scale by blowing superheated steam over burning coke. The coke provided the carbon, the steam provided the oxygen.

  2. Just a reminder again that “HHO” is a pseudoscientific crank name for H2 + O2 oxy-hydrogen gas. The name was popularized by the free energy crowd to suggest that this is not just oxy-hydrogen but a special gas where the atoms are dissociated into H H instead of H2 molecules. This was used as special pleading to “explain” to stupid or delusional people why an engine would generate energy out of water.

    HHO is not a common name to oxy-hydrogen gas. It’s associated with fraudsters and using it simply gives them an air of legitimacy. Please do not use it.

    1. More specifically, many of the HHO claims originate from one Ruggero Santilli who has a company called MagneGas that sells plasma-arc generated carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas mixtures to industries under the claim that its better than acetylene gas due to magic quantum woo and a Jewish conspiracy involving Einstein that’s keeping his science down from being published. The guy is a complete crank who has had his fingers in multiple scams involving fusion energy and quantum pseudoscience.

      The company has also been involved in a number of accidents where their gas cylinders have exploded on people and destroyed buildings due to hydrogen embrittlement and corrosion inside the tanks. CO gas is not stable – it breaks down into CO2 + C especially in the presence of a catalyst like iron and forms soot inside the tank (Boudouard reaction). The CO2 combines with any moisture left in the tank and forms carbonic acid, which corrodes the tank.

      This is why storing H2+CO gas in a steel cylinder under high pressure is very dangerous. The tank turns brittle and can split apart from the slightest bump. Something to bear in mind when playing with the stuff.

      1. The CO splits into CO2 + C, and the CO2 reacts with iron and water to form FeO + CO, where the CO then again breaks down to CO2 + C and so-on. The steel tank slowly consumes the carbon monoxide into rust if there’s any moisture left in to facilitate this reaction.

        >”All mixtures in steel cylinders containing Carbon Monoxide (CO) and Carbon Dioxide (CO2) must be extremely dry to reduce the likelihood of stress-corrosion.”

      2. The company making the “HHO” fuel is now known as Taronis. Beware.

        They claim that their fuel is “40 – 60% ionized hydrogen”, which is impossible because that’s claiming to bottle up plasma at room temperature, in a regular gas cylinder.

          1. They’re already under investigation for multiple reasons – it’s a scam company. Recently, they defrauded their investors by claiming that they have contracts or commitments with the City of San Diego, when in reality they counted purchase orders as contracts after the city was fooled into buying their gas.

  3. There are very old patents out there for gas generators (“electrolysers”) to produce H2/O2 for shop use in gas torches and IIRC revisions to “help” prevent the deflagration / detonation of the production/storage tank…holding fuel and oxidizer mixed in same tank is not ideal however it is produced…

  4. I’ve head from this more than 20 years ago by the name of “aquafuel” with weird claims of efficiency…
    however if you think about it, it might be usefull to trat gray water, and get gas as by product
    or if you could catch lighting in to a big reactor (if that was possible)

    1. For peak efficiency, you want the minimum voltage possible, which is a function of the metal in your electrodes. think it’s something around 1.2 Volts for Nickel, maybe a bit lower. Then also 80% of the energy for electrolysis of water comes out of environmental heat, which you don’t notice in laboratory beaker scale experiments, but you soon figure out when you do it in bulk. However, this would be a great bottoming cycle for low grade heat output from nuclear or other steam turbine power plants, or marginal geothermal sources, you’d get a theoretical net gain…. the problem is turning it back to useful energy again. H2 burning has a very fast flame front speed, such that existing ways of burning fuels are quite inefficient if retrofitted to H2 input.

      In engines, one can play a shell game with thermodynamics, scavenging from inefficiencies in the cycle to get greater overall efficiency. However, it is very easy to lose sight of your own ball, and also get misled by the ball played under the shells of the engine management system. It’s not actually much easier with a carburetted engine, due to many vacuum controlled compensators that don’t like what you’re doing to the vacuum. Modern cars have actually got some of the possible gains built in, because the variable valve timing flattens the torque curve, so you can’t play games with that. A possible strategy was to increase demand on the motor to take advantage of better brake specific fuel consumption regions, which now go wider across the power band if valve timing is not fixed. In essence the 10% gain you could have made from that is now built in.

  5. Very curious, what would be the outcome of using a saturated steam/or vapor in a vessel much the same way, instead of liquid water. Would that allow higher temps and a faster burn and exchange rate, therefore reducing the amount of electric demand to accomplish the same work?

  6. An interesting lab exercise, with no practical energy production application. Anyone with access to hardwood, wood gas wood be a better plan.. Where the comments went off topic, the thing is, our planet has limited resources, and few speak to limited consumption. No matter how good the effiency is, ultimately,even nuclear fuel is limited, given the human tendency to consume, beyond survival needs.

  7. I have experimented with woodgas – that is a similar mix of Hydrogen and carbon monoxide.

    You can run any gasoline engine on woodgas – but a diesel fitted with a set of spark plugs makes for a more efficient solution because of it’s much higher compression ratio.

    Wood gasification is the thermal decomposition of woody biomass – a process that is driven by heat and not electricity.

    In 2011 when the oil price peaked at $143 per barrel – some of these technologies became very viable – until they were succeeded by low cost solar pV.

    With the oil price at <$18 a barrel, or even negative in some cases, these old technologies are no longer viable – but nevertheless interesting all the same.

    If you want to learn more Google "Lister woodgas conversion"

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