Hydrogen Generation Made Easy

Even if you never want to generate hydrogen, [Maciej Nowak’s] video (embedded below) is interesting to watch because of the clever way the electrode is formed from stainless steel washers. You’ll need heat shrink tubing, but you ought to have that hanging around anyway. Building the electrode using the techniques in the video results in a lot of surface area which is important for an electrochemical reaction.

A standard rechargeable cell provides power for the generator which resides in a modified plastic bottle. The overall build looks good even though it is all repurposed material.

The chemistry inside is ordinary water and drain cleaner — potassium hydroxide. We don’t need to tell you to be careful with that and also take care of what you do with the explosive gas. We say “explosive” rather than “flammable” because this design doesn’t separate the hydrogen from the oxygen, and the resulting mix is ready to go off. The video shows a few homemade rockets using the fuel and while they aren’t going to the moon, they do pack quite a bit of energy.

We were impressed with how much gas the little bottle produces. We just couldn’t think of a good reason we wanted explosive gas for the holidays. Maybe you want some coffee? Or you could experiment with hydrogen paste fuels.

44 thoughts on “Hydrogen Generation Made Easy

    1. You could use a separate bottle for the +ve terminal that produces oxygen. Invert both bottles on a tray filled with the same electrolyte to form a connection. The gases are now trapped in separate bottles.

      You would need to use a higher voltage though.

          1. No because you’d be increasing the electrical load on the alternator which forces the engine to work harder to produce the increased torque required to turn it. Think of what happens when you turn on an electrical system like headlights or rear defogger while the engine is idling. You’ll notice the RPM drop momentarily due to the load, then come back up as the throttle opens to increase the flow of fuel to the engine. The power to turn the alternator varies with load and has to come from somewhere.

    2. Or make a nice explosion showering you with potassium hydroxide. Playing with stoichiometric mixes of hydrogen and oxygen is dangerous. Storing those mixtures is insane. It’s basically a bomb waiting to go off with the slightest ignition source which may be as simple as static generated by your gas flowing through a tube. Storing them under pressure is downright suicidal.

  1. Technically what is being produced is HHO and not hydrogen (which by itself is a tiny bit safer).

    I’ve seen someone hit in the head when testing an old lead acid battery with an old asbestos (that will give you an idea of how long ago it was) tester, basically two metal probes stab the battery terminals (and typically spark!) and the full load current is short-circuited through a low resistance long zig-zag plate of metal and an calibrated analogue voltmeter displays the full load voltage. But instead of voltages four segments a red one for dead/fully flat, a white one for low charge, orange for nominal and green for fully charged.

    Anyhow one day a faulty battery was (filled with hydrogen and oxygen), it must have had a microscopic crack and the thing detonated like a grenade and a large chunk of plastic (from the batter) struck them in the head, gushing blood and permanently dented their skull. Needless to say I see someone fooling with HHO I always cringe.

    Needless to say that the person who was testing the battery was at fault the correct procedure is to disconnect the battery and leave it a full 24 hours before testing it (more than enough time for any dangerous built up of hydrogen to leak away).

    1. sorry if im being pedantic but there is no such thing as HHO the gas is an oxygen and hydrogen mixture or you can call it oxyhydrogen or even knallgas . if you wanna go very technical 2H2 & O2 this HHO nonsense just has to stop

      1. I think it’s what you might call a colloquial nickname. It has the basic proportion of the mixture correct with out getting too deep. It’s not like the people playing with this have strong science background or education. I don’t think you can stop a nickname, and really why would you try?

    2. Just about of a correction. The mixture of hydrogen and oxygen is far more dangerous than hydrogen by itself. Hydrogen is fairly safe until it is exposed to oxygen. Think back to the Hindenburg, it burned and didn’t explode, because it was a big bag of hydrogen. With this mixture a tiny balloon filled with it will make a very loud explosion. It makes very good (bit uncontrollable) rocket fuel.

    3. Or open it up and vent it out with blower… spark likely happened inside battery because of low fluid. Besides I have a hard time believing enough hydrogen could be trapped Inside lead acid battery to blow up. Hydrogen is the least buoyant element, escaping up and dissipating very quickly.

  2. So many applications, when separated. I think together, V explosive, but some say, overall, it implodes. Anyone elaborate? Perhaps like a thermonuclear, heat, expands, finishes reaction, contracts to form water?

  3. Perfect for making a torch for glass blowing etc if someone doesn’t want to store compressed gasses or wants a cheaper alternative. But yeah, I’ve mostly seen carbon rods used for this.

  4. I recently learned that my city has sound sensors to triangulate gunshots.

    I wonder if those “bottle rockets” he made would set those off and get me a very awkward visit.

    1. Not generally. Different class of explosion from ‘nirmal’ gunpowder than used in class c pyrotechniques. No alarm is triggered. These actually can, however, be misused to hear nearby conversations. This has occurred, but since bad guys were caught, noone complained… almost setting a precedent.

  5. This is a very dangerous setup. I know because I’ve done it. You are creating Hydrogen at one electrode and oxygen at the other but they mix together and make the perfect explosive combination of gasses. Any spark or ignition source will lead to an explosion resulting in water being produced. This is the type of explosive that would drive a piston engine converted over to run hydrogen. I made a setup to hydrolyse water into a test tube many years ago like this and when I spark ignited it I got a big surprise. Fortunately the test tube shot off its rubber stopper and didn’t explode. With quantities like this I shutter to think what could happen.

  6. If you want to generate separate hydrogen and oxygen just collect the gas coming off each electrode separately. The problem you’ll see is that water by itself is not very conductive so the further away the electrodes are, the less current you can put into the system the slower it goes. So you generally add something that ionizes to increase conductivity but you need to be careful what you add since things like salt will react to make chlorine gas and sodium hydroxide. Sulfuric acid is a common choice since it won’t react and this is why common old school car batteries generate hydrogen and oxygen when they are fully charged and voltage rises. Be careful with this and read up on it before you do it.

  7. Folks who make hydrogen separators for autos specify a certain SS… perhaps a low chromium version? I don’t recall which one it was. They offgass the O2. The hydrogen does not add so much energy, but promotes better gas combustion.

  8. Not a chemist here… but I understand that as a consequence of using stainless steel, the reaction at the anode also produces hexavalent chromium… which is toxic and carcinogenic, and bad for the eyes, skin, and lungs.

    Might be worth confirming or debunking this info before replicating the build.

  9. Bad title. Should be “Highly explosive hydrogen + oxygen generator made easy.”

    “We just couldn’t think of a good reason we wanted explosive gas for the holidays.”

    Exactly. What’s the point, especially since he’s already using potassium hydroxide anyway? Just add aluminum foil. Presto, JUST H2 without the poisonous chromium compound issue.

    A friend and I did that in high school using a gallon glass jug, rubber stoppers, glass tubing through the stoppers, surgical tubing snaked through a water filled condensation trough (the reaction is highly exothermic and produces steam which needs to be condensed), and a water capture reservoir bottle after the trough (pressure from the H2 jug pushed it out of the tubing into there).

    We filled latex party balloons with attached, taped shut sandwich bags (cheapest/lightest type, not ziplock) containing a postcard questionnaire (where’d you find this, when, what attracted your attention to it, etc.) and released them in our home state of Illinois. We got a number of them back, most from a state or three away, but one was found on the New Jersey shore, so it likely made it to the Atlantic and was washed ashore.

    We were VERY static electricity conscious and O2 H2 mix avoiding. The H2 film leaking through a latex balloon can be set off by a spark. Plus, we let the air from the jug be entirely replaced by H2 when before filling a balloon when starting the reaction. Eye and hand protection against the highly caustic potassium hydroxide was also used. A splatter in the eye would be very bad…

    On ham field day, we filled a surplus 8 foot weather balloon to 4 foot diameter to lift a 1/4 wavelength 80m thin gauge wire vertical antenna, but operated from my friend’s suburban home. We did all of this H2 generation in the their garage.

  10. I saw this video on my TV with my wife in the room. As soon as it came on, the first thing I said was, ill bet he’s going to try to light this on fire. She didn’t respond nor made any type of facial expression showing she was interested in any way. Guess what happened, I was right and she still continued not to care and asked if we could turn on something else.

  11. When drilling the washers, use pliers or a jig – not fingers! – to hold the washers.

    Fill a plastic trash bag with the gas mix, then light it from a distance. Dimple one end of the trash bag to make a shaped charge and use a detonator at the other end – do this far from civilization.

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