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Hydrogen-based Rotary Engine? 349

Posted by michael
from the partially-hydrogenated dept.
Seabird99 writes: "I came across this article at one of my car related forums and thought that I'd pass it on here. I have always been intrigued by "alternative" technologies where they relate to artificial locomotion." For some reason Slashdot gets a lot of submissions of wacko energy concepts - power from nothing, power from sand, power from a black box, engines that get 500 miles to the gallon... Perhaps this is more of the same, but at least it's an interesting write-up.
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Hydrogen-based Rotary Engine?

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  • Next Problem (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JJ (29711) on Friday October 12, 2001 @09:10AM (#2419278) Homepage Journal
    And now . . . someone has to come up with a way to generate hydrogen en masse and deliver it to your nearest filling station. Not to mention store it and dispense it there.
    • Re:Next Problem (Score:2, Insightful)

      by tomknight (190939)
      Now, I could be talking bollocks here, as I'm no physicist, but would it be harder to distibute and store hydrogen than LPG?

      Tom.

      • by AlpineR (32307) <wagnerr@umich.edu> on Friday October 12, 2001 @10:15AM (#2419576) Homepage
        LPG stands for Liquified Petroleum Gas. It's a mixture of propane and butane. The advantage of these gases is that it takes only a moderate pressure at ambient temperatures to convert them to liquids. Liquid fuel is great because it's compact and easy to transport.

        Hydrogen, on the other hand, has a boiling point of 20 K at atmospheric pressure (a bone chilling -423 degrees F)! So tanks would need some serious insulation in addition to handling high pressure. Due to its smaller molecules, it also leaks easier than LNG.

        The best way to store hydrogen is probably in a hydrogen-rich compound like methanol, which is liquid at ambient conditions. My research group, among many others, is studying ways to efficiently convert methanol to hydrogen + carbon dioxide + water at the point of use. This would allow us to fuel our cars, RV's, or cell phones with convenient methanol and then run hydrogen fuel cells.

        Don't worry about the carbon dioxide from that reaction. The methanol would presumably come from biomass or nuclear/solar-powered synthesis that consumes carbon dioxide. The carbon is just a carrier for the hydrogen, and there is no net CO2 pollution.

        AlpineR

        • Methanol might not be the best way to store hydrogen...

          A properly designed hydrogen=powered engine would be able to burn slightly "dirty" fuel - such as hydrogen containing a few percent methane.

          Adding methane "gels" the hydrogen at low temperature, making it easier to liquefy, store and transport.

          This mixture woud still have the advantage of having vapors that are lighter than air, and thus rise in the event of a spill, rather than pooling in low spots and creating an explosion hazard.

          Most leaks in a tank come from the seals and joints of the tank, but hydrogen leaks mainly by diffuing throught the tank walls. At high temperatures, this is significant, but at low (~50K) temps, it's hardly a show-stopper.

          I'm not bashing carbon-based fuels, just pointing out that there are many alternatives we should pursue in the quest for clean energy.
        • by squaretorus (459130) on Friday October 12, 2001 @11:19AM (#2419958) Homepage Journal
          Using methanol sounds great to me, generate it from biomass, even from side products of crops - the inedible bits from corn for example. It can be made to burn _relatively_ cleanly already - although I'm sure this can be approved over time.

          However, a lot of articles have been popping up in New Scientist essentially calling Methanol a demon fuel. It takes more energy to produce than it generates. By the time you use fertilizers, transport the stuff to the processing plant, run the plant, transport it to the pumps you've used more of the stuff than you can produce!

          This sounds like Oil industry propoganda, but its getting a lot of column inches! anyone know anything?????
          • I'd still say that Methane (CH4 (g)) is your best source of hydrogen - a lot of houses already have natural gas pumped into them, its relatively cheap, its found everywhere in nature, etc.
            Plus, It also has the highest ration of carbon-hydrogen in emperical form, as far as i know, and the C-H bonds are single covalent bonds (methane is a tetrahedron) should be relatively easy to break, as opposed to a C=C triple bond.

            Acetic acid (CH3COOH) might be also a posibility, since, by definition, its an acid and all acids give off H+ ions in water. The carboxal group at the end - i doubt you'd be able to get the hydrogen out of that, but whatever.

            Course, i could be way off base, i'm only in 3rd semester chemistry:

            while (ochem) {

            pound_forehead(book);
            fail(test);

            cry();
            }

            ~Z
            • Yes, methane is the most practical source of hydrogen. While biomass can provide methane, the bulk of methane still has to come from gas wells.

              This means that you're still talking about liberating additional CO2, which the sky is falling greenhouse effect backers hate. So the solution that's been proposed is to sequester the CO2 by injecting it back into oil and gas wells.
          • However, a lot of articles have been popping up in New Scientist essentially calling Methanol a demon fuel. It takes more energy to produce than it generates. By the time you use fertilizers, transport the stuff to the processing plant, run the plant, transport it to the pumps you've used more of the stuff than you can produce!

            This sounds like Oil industry propoganda, but its getting a lot of column inches! anyone know anything?


            For generating methanol from biomass, that might even be true. However, you have a lot of spare biomass left over from growing grops for food and fodder, so you could get *some* fuel "for free".

            If you're generating methanol by direct sythesis, a) you're much more efficient (far fewer steps, and far less waste material synthesized), and b) you're using it as a storage medium for some other energy source (like solar or nuclear), so you aren't having to expend methanol to produce methanol.
          • Looking at the production cycle from well to your tank (i.e. not the energy produced when burned), diesel is 90% efficient, gasoline 80%, methanol 70%, and H2 60%. Methanol has fewer BTUs per gallon anyway, so you have to burn more of it to release the same amount of energy.
          • Haha. Babies ultimately cost more energy than they produce, but that doesn't stop us from making them either.

            The solution is to make methanol production more efficient.

      • Re:Next Problem (Score:4, Interesting)

        by budgenator (254554) on Friday October 12, 2001 @11:46AM (#2420111) Journal
        He chose hydrogen because of its low-enviromental impact quality. The engine is inherently multi-fuel, air-LNG should work also, That is if this thing works period. Hydrogen also has other problems its high pressure requirements is complicated by Hydrogen embrittlement.

        Hydrogen, is also a metal, and a very active metal. It tend to form an alloy with the metal containing it which is more brittle than it previously was. Its small mollecular size also allows it to penetrate deep into the containers metal. This leads to sudden, catastrophic system failures, in lay terms it tends to blow up. I believe that NASA plates (or at least did) plate the insides of the fuel cells with gold to keep the hydrogen out of the container and from causing Hydrogen embrittlement.
        As far as using nitros-ammonia system, not with my family you don't, actualy the same goes for H2-O2 to. LPNG is about as dangerous a gas as I care to have in my car. LPNG rarly blows up has some limited distro channels in place, and a fair amount of experience behind it. Once last year in my town, a car blew it LPNG tank while refueling, nobody hurt but the car and the gas comapnies reputation.
    • Re:Next Problem (Score:2, Insightful)

      by AndroidCat (229562)
      Yeah, that's the problem with hydrogen: You can't just dig a hydrogen well, you've got to make it.

      We need hydrogen (or fuel cells, or whatever) and a good primary source of energy like fusion power (still a sliding 10-20 years away), otherwise we'll still be burning dead dinosaurs to make the hydrogen.

      The technical problems of storage and dispensing will be solved when we're willing to spend as much on it as we do on the petrolium industry.
      • Re:Next Problem (Score:4, Insightful)

        by kramer (19951) on Friday October 12, 2001 @09:36AM (#2419367) Homepage
        Yeah, that's the problem with hydrogen: You can't just dig a hydrogen well, you've got to make it.

        You can't just dig a gasoline well either, what's your point? Even natural gas requires refining to remove impurities and other trace gases. With very few exceptions, you're going to have to do some work to get the energy in a form that's usable to you.
        • Re:Next Problem (Score:2, Insightful)

          by AndroidCat (229562)
          Details, details! Cracking oil into gasoline is a trivial chemical engineering problem. :^)

          Making hydrogen is a physics problem: Energy out = energy in - losses. (By using fossil fuels, we are cheating the physics problem by using stored solar power, but it'll run out someday.)
        • Re:Next Problem (Score:2, Informative)

          by martyn s (444964)
          The difference is, with hydrogen, the only thing you can get out of it is what you put into it to actually make it. With gasoline, you're tapping into a source of energy which can yield more than you put in. Unless you can find pockets of pure hydrogen, or unless there's a substance which takes very little energy to free the hydrogen in it, you will only be getting what you put in. Of course, there is no such substance, because if it took less energy to free the hydrogen, then that means oxygen has a stronger pull on it than this other molecule. And since oxygen is so prevalent, there isn't much chance of the hydrogen hiding. Not that it's impossible at all, after all beneath the surface there isn't any atmospheric oxygen, but I haven't heard of any such thing.
          • THere isn't any atmospheric hydrogen on earth, but (IIRC) it's abundant in the atmosphere of gas giants. Saturn and Jupiter have plenty of molecular hydrogen waiting to be taken; the problem is just getting there and mining it :-)


            (Where's Cloud City when you need it? Quick, somebody call Lando)

          • Unless you can find pockets of pure hydrogen


            What an annoying problem. The most common element in the universe, as well as the simplest, and we can't find any here all by itself. Grrr....

        • Re:Next Problem (Score:3, Informative)

          by plover (150551)
          Yes, a "gasoline well" doesn't exist. But the raw crude from an oil well comes complete with enough internal potential energy to crack a usable amount of it into gasoline. The refiner simply burns part of his raw product to produce the heat required to crack the rest of it.

          A bottle of water doesn't have enough energy present to split it into hydrogen. You can say "yes, if it's at 30,000 feet or 99 degrees C" or whatever, but that bottle of water required EXTERNAL energy to raise it to that potential. And that external energy is the entire point. It had to come from somewhere, it's not free.

          Until someone invents a way to "crack" water (with some off-the-wall fusion theory or whatever) there will always be a need for an external energy source to split it. Whether it comes from solar panels on your garage roof or a coal-fired plant in Montana over electric lines doesn't change the fact that EXTERNAL energy was required to make it useful.

          John

          • Re:Next Problem (Score:2, Insightful)

            by kevin_butler (147276)
            A bottle of water doesn't have enough energy present to split it into hydrogen. You can say "yes, if it's at 30,000 feet or 99 degrees C" or
            whatever, but that bottle of water required EXTERNAL energy to raise it to that potential. And that external energy is the entire point. It had to come from somewhere, it's not free.


            Note that the low pressure (30K feet)/high temperature (99 degrees C) are to boil water, which changes state from liquid to gas. It does not break the molecular bonds to separate into hydrogen & oxygen. The gas is still water molecules - H2O, not H2 and O2 molecules.

            But the main point is correct - it takes an energy input to get the hydrogen that you then use in whatever reaction you're using to create your new energy. Hydrogen is a transmission and storage medium, not an energy source. Note that some companies are getting the hydrogen from gasoline or methanol, using the previously-stored solar energy.

            kb
      • Re:Next Problem (Score:2, Insightful)

        by sshore (50665)

        [..] otherwise we'll still be burning dead dinosaurs to make the hydrogen.

        This isn't as bad as it sounds. Power plants can operate at much higher temperatures than automobile engines, and can therefore achieve much better efficiency. Not only that, but the combustion is more complete, and much more elaborate pollution-control measures can be used.

        In short, if you make a power plant that would produced energy to drive a thousand cars, it would burn less fuel than those thousand cars would burn individually.

    • Addressed in article (Score:3, Informative)

      by SiliconJesus (1407)
      The solar-voltaic energy stored in the garage would enable a small electrolysis machine to seperate the water into its base components (hydrogen and oxygen) for the car's fuel. Presumably this could be echoed on the commercial side, having large `plants` that would essnetially break water into its base components. Couple this with his other invention (the de-salinizer) could turn the oceans into giant fuel fields, that would be replenishing ((2)H2 + 02 = (2)H20). Infinate energy. Viola!
      As envisioned by McMaster, Cicak, Guy, and others working on the MRE, the engine is the centerpiece of a revolution that reaches well beyond automotive technology to challenge basic assumptions about energy and the environment. McMaster calculates that 1,200 square feet of solar panels on the roof of a garage receiving 2,200 hours of sunshine a year could, with the help of an electrolysis device no bigger than a washing machine, produce enough hydrogen and oxygen to drive an MRE-powered car 200 miles a day. The oxygen would be bottled in scuba-like tanks that would snap into place under the hood. The hydrogen, more volatile and more dangerous, would be piped around the car's chassis through 180 feet of tubing, divided into 3-foot sections, each sealed off from the next by a set of valves.
      • by aallan (68633)

        McMaster calculates that 1,200 square feet of solar panels on the roof of a garage receiving 2,200 hours of sunshine a year could, with the help of an electrolysis device no bigger than a washing machine, produce enough hydrogen and oxygen to drive an MRE-powered car 200 miles a day.

        Right, 1200 sq. ft. is 34 ft. on side (10.5m for people using sensible units). Thats alot of solar panels, leaving aside how much that many panels would cost, that a very big garage roof you've got there!

        2200 hours of sunshine per year is 6 hours per day, unless you're living somewhere (very) sunny its unlikely your going to get this each and every day. So, erm, what happens in winter when you get a long spell of bad weather, you stop driving?

        Finally, 200 miles? I drive over a thousand one day last week. Most weekends I do trips that average more than 200 miles one way. This isn't a particulary impressive total unless you use your car to commute 5 miles into work, and then go shopping at the local store.

        The oxygen would be bottled in scuba-like tanks that would snap into place under the hood. The hydrogen, more volatile and more dangerous, would be piped around the car's chassis through 180 feet of tubing, divided into 3-foot sections, each sealed off from the next by a set of valves.

        The hydrogen would be stored where? Distributed throughout the entire chassis? I really don't like that idea, that just increases the target area for collisions and does very little to increase safety. Most of the designs I've seen for this sort of thing store the H2 in cryogenic form in a (very) well protected tank, safety is usually increased by using some sort of honeycomb structure inside the tank. To be brutally honest, that seems far more sensible.

        Al.
    • It's a beautiful solution. You start with water and end with water. You use the sun's energy to split the water up, and recpature that energy for movement when you recombine them. That's about a simple of a circle as you can get.

      And as for the nay sayers pointing out Hydrogen's explosiveness, wasn't there a story here not too long ago about how Hydrogen ain't that bad and even has had its name cleared in the Hindenberg incident? Spill gasoline on your selve and ignite it and you have a problem. Spill hydrogen on yourself and you... oh, wait, it would float away and disperse.

      • Hydrogen IS actually VERY explosive.

        Plus, when you have a SMALL leak, and burn it, it burns with an invisible flame.

        (Plus there's all the storage "problems", migration, alloying, temperature/volume considerations)

        I just don't think that hydrogen's feasible yet.
      • The problem is that to transform water into H2 and 02 you need to spend energy. The energy you get by burning the H2 later is less (probably much less) than you spend in the first place. In raw petrol you have a lot of energy stored up so by turning it into Gas, or Deisel or Jet A or whatever you don't lose much. But water has very little energy stored in it that can be released by chemical means.

        Ethanol is probably more promissing. As long as we can grow grain or corn we can make it and burn it.
    • As the article stated, his plan is to use solar cells on the garage to electrically break up water. That's hardly a problem, though scale could be an issue. Or just use *any* conveniently available source of electricity.


      And a hydrogen engine is hardly novel; converting a gasoline engine to hydrogen is fairly trivial. Maybe he has a better design than other hydrogen engines; maybe not.,


      The problem that has plagued hydrogen engines for a very long time is the issue of carrying the hydrogen around in the car in a matter that can survive a collision. It' nasty stuff. It goes *BOOM* very easily. Solve *this* problem and there's a whole row of hydrogen engines already ready to produce . . .


      hawk

      • The problem that has plagued hydrogen engines for a very long time is the issue of carrying the hydrogen around in the car in a matter that can survive a collision. It' nasty stuff. It goes *BOOM* very easily. Solve *this* problem and there's a whole row of hydrogen engines already ready to produce . . .


        Well, okay... haven't these guys [millenniumcell.com] solved exactly that problem?

        • > Well, okay... haven't [22]these guys [millenniumcell.com] solved


          Given that you can't buy a car with that even in California, I'd have to say no :) It's either too expensive, or auto executives have yet to be convinced that it won't go Pinto in an accident . . .


          hawk

      • As the article stated, his plan is to use solar cells on the garage to electrically break up water. That's hardly a problem, though scale could be an issue. Or just use *any* conveniently available source of electricity.

        Agree. You could run the electrolysis machine off of the power grid and you'd still come out ahead since even with the distribution loss the efficiency of the power plant is probably still greater than your car. Using a free energy source like the sun is icing on the cake.

        converting a gasoline engine to hydrogen is fairly trivial

        Really? That's good, I didn't know that. What do you have to do, anyway?

        The problem that has plagued hydrogen engines for a very long time is the issue of carrying the hydrogen around in the car in a matter that can survive a collision. It' nasty stuff. It goes *BOOM* very easily.

        Gasoline isn't exactly the most stable substance in the world, either. Assuming you are in an accident and the fuel tank is ruptured, you can either have the fuel dispersing into the air or dripping onto the ground all around your car. Take your pick.
  • Wacky? (Score:5, Informative)

    by tomknight (190939) on Friday October 12, 2001 @09:13AM (#2419289) Homepage Journal
    I guess that'd explain why Mazda [mazda.co.nz] have bothered to push money into researching this....

    Here's a little more info [monito.com] if you weant to do some research.

    Tom.

  • by Green Aardvark House (523269) on Friday October 12, 2001 @09:14AM (#2419290)
    This would be a boon to consumers, since fewer moving parts (no transmission are driveshaft) would likely mean fewer repairs.

    Would automakers be for it? Most likely not. They make a substantial amount of money from repairs and maintenance. And to think of the outrage from auto-repair shops, cutting their business as well.

    It's an excellent idea - less weight, much better fuel, fewer moving parts, etc. But there's a lot of opposition ahead.
  • there was an interesting site [ucsofa.com] with something that truely looked interesting (ffrom the grainy RM streaming video hehe), but apparently he has been arrested (according to some yahoo! news article i cant find right now) for fraud or something like that :P
  • Who knows.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sentry23 (447266) on Friday October 12, 2001 @09:19AM (#2419300) Homepage
    Storage and transport of hydrogen isn't really the problem anymore. Years ago, there were already test with hydrogen tanks that contained alluminium particles, which bind the hydrogen, making it a lot safer to transport and store hydrogen. Safer actually then a tank of gasoline.
    (I wouldn't be surprised if these tanks are already widely in use now)

    The problem is ofcourse to generate large amounts of hydrogen.
    Given the succes of recent tests with fusion reactors, who knows.. we might be using hydrogen to create hydrogen from water.

    quite a big if, but who knows.
    • Aluminum powder is also EXTREMELY flammible, burns intensely hot, and a fire that's difficult to extinguish.

    • The problem is ofcourse to generate large amounts of hydrogen.

      Given the succes of recent tests with fusion reactors, who knows.


      Why wait for fusion?

      Hydrogen is just a way of transporting energy that you've generated elsewhere. Use a fission plant or a fossil fuel power plant or a solar array or a hydroelectric dam or any other conventional power plant to generate the power you produce the hydrogen with. This lets you handle pollution and energy-source switchover at a handful of power plants instead of having to re-tool a hundred million cars when you discover the Miracle Fuel (tm).
  • by sphealey (2855) on Friday October 12, 2001 @09:21AM (#2419307)
    Mazda and General Motors have been testing rotory engines on pure hydrogen since the late 1960's. I certainly remember reading about this in "Popular Science" in the very early '70's. Real cutting edge, wacko stuff...

    sPh
  • Yes, my stock 1996 Jeep Cherokee Sport runs on hydrogen. The special fuel has a little carbon bonded with it and some other stuff.

    Been purchasing at Exxon and several other outlets that specialize in this revolutionary fuel. They are trying so hard to get the word out that if you purchase more than $5.00 of the stuff you get a discount on a car wash!
  • Wacko Energy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by lobsterGun (415085)
    For some reason Slashdot gets a lot of submissions of wacko energy concepts - power from nothing, power from sand, power from a black box, engines that get 500 miles to the gallon...

    I don't think it's so odd the ./ gets these submissions. They fit right in with the 'News for Nerds' theme.

    Personally I've always associated the term 'Nerd' with all things mathematical and scientific. I think 'Geek' for all things computer and electrical (You can't even spell 'Geek' without EE.)

  • New Category? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by GeekLife.com (84577) on Friday October 12, 2001 @09:27AM (#2419325) Homepage
    For some reason Slashdot gets a lot of submissions of wacko energy concepts


    Sounds like there's a need for a specific category/icon.

  • by chuckgrosvenor (473314) on Friday October 12, 2001 @09:29AM (#2419333) Homepage
    this guy seems to have made a lot more money patenting strange and unique ways to work with a lot of different materials. (At least, it's a lot more than the people who waste their time posting to SlashDot make)..

    Revolutions in design have rarely come out of corporations... considering this site is supposed to be Linux based, I thought I would see more support for anyone trying to solve the energy crisis outside of the regular channels, since it's highly unlikely it will come from the gas companies anytime soon.
  • Rotary engines (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DrSpin (524593)
    I have a rotary engine invention too. I have discussed it with people from several likely manufacturers = the verdict is - "We don't want any new technology, even if its better than what we've got - we've spent a lot of money on cenventional engines, and we are happy with them."

    Ideas like twice the power to weight ratio and 10% of the moving parts are not of any interest to the likes of Ford, even if (as with my engine) you could stick with the existing fuels, and servicing skills.
    • Exactly ... the big companies are so deeply invested in the current technology that they don't want to change.

      IF the McMaster engine (or any other new engine design) does work out we'll probably see the existing automakers:

      A> Try to buy the designs (get the patents for ourselves)
      B> Try to copy the designs (but avoid infringing on the existing patents)
      C> Try to destroy the designs (and protect their own patents)

      It'll take someone with McMasters background and financial backing to get a new design off the ground. The average Joe doesn't stand a chance. Maybe you should contact McMaster and see what he thinks of your designs, 2 heads are better than one no?

  • Transmission (Score:2, Informative)

    by twinpot (40956)
    A concept similar to this was shown as an infinitely variable "automatic" transmission - the amount of "wobble" affected the ratio between input and output, and did away for the need to incorporate any type of wet or dry clutch.

    Another interesting transmission system, loosely based on similar principles can be found here [torotrack.co.uk]

  • by StressGuy (472374) on Friday October 12, 2001 @09:39AM (#2419377)
    Years ago, there was all this hoopla about the "Gill Carb." and the supposed conspiricy to keep it out of production. This was supposed to give a normal car over 400 mpg. Eventually, it was finally shut down when it was demonstrated that there simply is not that much thermal energy in a gallon of gas. I've been fortunate enough to see a lot of these alternative engine designs. Many of them are pretty innovative and downright ingenious. So far, though, you always seem to run into something that doesn't work as planned. Bottom line is that the 4-cycle piston engine is hard to beat in terms of practicality and Carnot efficiency. So, this guy is telling me that his motor will not require a drive train. That tells me the engine is high torque with a really flat curve, already I'm skeptical. Add in no lubrication and I must assume his rpm's are low. I won't dismiss his engine out of hand, but I'd need to see the design.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2001 @09:40AM (#2419381)

    It seems that everyone is completely missing the point of this new (and unproven as of yet) engine. The thing that makes it unique is NOT that the guy can theoretically run it on hydrogen and oxygen produced by electrolysing water. What makes it unique is the sheer simplicity of the engine.

    As geeks and programmers, we all love to see someone come up with a truly elegant solution to a programming problem. When someone takes years of kludges and condenses them down into a few lines of clear, concise code, it is not only a thing of beauty and mastery, it is something to be desired.

    What should strike people about this engine is that this somewhat eccentric but proven inventor has come up with a replacement module for that hideously kludgey block of code called the internal combustion engine. If pistons and rods and camshafts and all can be replaced with such a simple construct, isn't that a good idea? Now, of course, I'll stay in the "show me the code" mode until I actually see a working prototype, but if these guys think they can hash it out, I say more power to them.


    • Except like all 'advances' it's actually a balance advantages and disadvantages, for example rotary engines rev higher, have higher wear and higher fuel consumption.

      http://www.monito.com/wankel/advantages.html
  • by zeus_tfc (222250) on Friday October 12, 2001 @09:44AM (#2419394) Homepage Journal
    This guy seems to be just what we need, someone who is willing to concider strange and unusual ideas no matter how far out they might seem.

    He seems to have a good grasp of the issues, and makes a lot of sense. He also has quite a few things going for him, such as:

    1. Money This guy is worth a lot
    2. Reputation He as patents to his name, and has made millions with them.
    3. Infrastructure He has come up with an easy way to create and distribute the H2 and O2.
    4. Intellectual backing He has the praise of a growing number of specialists and intellectuals


    I think this needs watching.
    • We have a lot of guys like him.

      Whackos who got one thing right and went on to use the money to make other things seem right, all the while continuing to be whackos.

      He won't tell you how much he has, but he brags about how much he's given away?

      Yeah. We have far too many like him.

      --Blair
  • by nanojath (265940) on Friday October 12, 2001 @09:53AM (#2419429) Homepage Journal
    There are two distinct technologies here and their feasibility needs to be discussed separately. The first is a novel engine design for converting power into locomotion. I don't have the engineering knowledge to judge this, but there do seem to be some people who ought to know saying the concept is solid.


    But it should be noted this isn't anything new. The internal combustion engine is innefficient by nature. It takes a spherical force (an explosion), redirects that into a vector force (up and down in a straight line), redirects that into a circular force, which is redirected into another circular force, finally driving the car. Each of those redirections wastes energy. Moreover, the fact that you have carbon monoxide and other hydrocarbon emissions is a sign of innefficient combustion: complete combustion of a carbon molecule goes all the way to carbon dioxide. There are plenty of legitimate projects to find a better way. Ben Rosen, chairman of Compaq, has envisioned the automotive powertrain market becoming like microprocessors, with independent companies competing to supply the most efficient engine. His Rosen Motors produced a working prototype of a hybrid-electric motor; they've since been taken over but I forget by whom.


    Of course, a serious problem is the huge combustion engine and gasoline infrastructure. Even a much better product is not going to take over overnight. The internal combustion infrastructure would keep the economics of conventional motors attractive for decades, barring a serious kink in the gasoline supply.


    It is a myth, though, that the automotive manufacturers are blocking this kind of thing. They're all doing research of their own. There is nothing a manufacturer wants more than to obsolete their own product and give everyone a reason to buy the next big thing.


    The other technology discussed here is photovoltaic (solar-electric) conversion of water to hydrogen for combustion. I think this is far more theoretical. Not that you can't very simply and reliably bang an electric current through water and get combustible hydrogen and oxygen. But from what I know (and I do have some knowledge on this subject) I seriously doubt whether existing photovoltaic cells are efficient enough to supply the power for even a very efficient automotive engine by splitting water. It should be noted that like anything else, this conversion of electrical power into chemical power represents a loss of efficiency, so the purpose for doing this is to get the benefit of a combustible fuel.


    Direct solar cleavage of water to H and O is one of the holy grails of both hydrogen power and solar research; this photochemical process is at the heart of how plants utilize the energy of the sun and hence the source of most energy on earth including all fossil fuels. We aren't there yet. It can be done but it isn't sufficiently efficient to be practical. There are tons of novel catalytic techniques being experimented with, where rather than go through a photovoltaic cell (the conversion of sunlight to electricity of course represents another inefficiency), sunlight is used as the power source to directly, catalytically cleave water. I think within a few decades this kind of thing will start to make significant inroads, provided countries like Iceland and companies like Daimler Chrysler continue to pursue hydrogen research and a hydrogen energy economy.


    I don't see anything in the article, however, that suggest this motor could only run on hydrogen. So it may be a valid concept that it much closer to commercial reality.

    • Let's take things one at a time

      But it should be noted this isn't anything new. The internal combustion engine is innefficient by nature. It takes a spherical force (an explosion), redirects that into a vector force (up and down in a straight line), redirects that into a circular force, which is redirected into another circular force, finally driving the car. Each of those redirections wastes energy.

      Close but not quite. The problem is not with INTERNAL combustion engines in particular. All the engines being discussed here (except for fuel cells) are internal combustion engines. They change chemical energy to mechanical energy by burning their fuel directly. This is as opposed to EXTERNAL combustion engines which burn their fuel and use it to heat a working fluid usually steam which then is converted to mechanical energy by a thermodynamic process usually expansion of the heated working fluid against a piston. Steam engines are the usual example.

      What makes the rotary concept interesting to engineers is the fact that the piston never has to change the direction of acceleration as much as it does in reciprocating engines. All else being equal: displacement, fuel, materials, etc. the way to get more power out of an engine is to make it turn faster. Because the pistons in reciprocating engines have to change their direction by 180 degrees at the top and bottom of a stroke there are mechanical limits on how high they can rev. Using exotic materials and small displacements Formula 1 engines can rev to about 18000rpm. The limits to revving these engines are actually the valves, but this technology would make a poor engine for a street car because the small displacement which is necessary to reduce the piston mass as well as being a result of F1 rules makes for very little torque at low revs. Think Honda S2000 (9000rpm redline 2.4 liter) versus Corvette (6500rpm redline 5.3 liter).

      Anyway that's whats troubling about McMaster's claims. He says he can get rid of the transmission which is what allows you to rev the engine to a useful point in the power band at low speeds. So his rotary must produce a lot of torque which is not usually a characteristic of automotive rotaries, again compare the high revving but relatively slow off the line RX-7 to the big Detroit iron Vettes, Vipers and Mustangs.

      Moreover, the fact that you have carbon monoxide and other hydrocarbon emissions is a sign of innefficient combustion: complete combustion of a carbon molecule goes all the way to carbon dioxide.

      No, because of entropy combustion processes will produce a wide spectrum of byproducts. The more complex the thing you burn the more complex your end results. You can tune the spectrum, which is what most ULEV engines do, by carefully controlling the amount of fuel and temperature of combustion but you can never eliminate all byproducts. Hydrogen and oxygen combine to water alone only because hydroxide is unstable at the temperatures and pressures engines operate at, unlike carbon monoxide, and therefore if you add extra hydorgen the hydroxide will favourably combine into water too. Hydrogen burning internal combustion engines will also necessarily produce NHx and NOx (Nitrogen Hydrogen and Nitrogen Oxygen) compounds if they are obtaining their oxidant from the atmosphere but again thanks to favourable conditions we can limit the production of these by carefully controlling the temperature of combustion. Maybe that's why McMaster wants to use an oxygen cannister, that way he doesn't have to worry about nitrogen in his reaction.

      The other technology discussed here is photovoltaic (solar-electric) conversion of water to hydrogen for combustion. I think this is far more theoretical. Not that you can't very simply and reliably bang an electric current through water and get combustible hydrogen and oxygen. But from what I know (and I do have some knowledge on this subject) I seriously doubt whether existing photovoltaic cells are efficient enough to supply the power for even a very efficient automotive engine by splitting water. It should be noted that like anything else, this conversion of electrical power into chemical power represents a loss of efficiency, so the purpose for doing this is to get the benefit of a combustible fuel.

      This may be inefficient but you can localize the inefficiency and optimise for it since electrolysis doesn't have to be done at the car. Although that raises the problems of hydrogen storage due to the low density of hydrogen. We already do this with refining plants for gasoline and other petroleum based products.

  • McMaster Motor site (Score:5, Informative)

    by kryzx (178628) on Friday October 12, 2001 @09:54AM (#2419430) Homepage Journal
    Here's the McMaster Motor site [mcmastermotor.com] complete with a little animation [mcmastermotor.com] of the engine.

    Looking at it helps me understand the way it works. I don't know if this will ever come to fruition, but I sure hope it does. Even if it doesn't, he's a revolutionary thinker with a significant record of success, and deserves our praise and respect for that.

  • Further Information (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dschuetz (10924) <slash@NosPAM.david.dasnet.org> on Friday October 12, 2001 @09:54AM (#2419432) Homepage
    Okay, so nobody's bothered to check up on google, yet. His web site [mcmastermotor.com] includes a lot of more detailed information. Check it out, then let's discuss what's there, not just what's in the article.

    Yes, the guy's a little, er, fringey -- one of his other projects is an antigravity machine. I'm not saying such a machine is impossible, just that I'd not expect anyone who's not, say, Stephen Hawking, to come up with one.

    That bit of weirdness aside, what do people think about the engine itself?

    First, the fuel. The article implies that it uses Hydrogen. We've discussed to death the problems with using straight hydrogen as a fuel, which ultimately (putting aside safety and infrastructure issues) comes down to energy density -- pound for pound (or liter for liter), Hydrogen gas just doesn't pack as much punch, specatcular disasters caught on tape notwithstanding, as gasoline. However, the page talks about using a mixture of Nitrous Oxide and Ammonia, ignited with a glowplug, not straight hydrogen. It does speak of a catalyzed reaction being researched to derive the fuels from solar power, air, and water.

    Questions: Is it likely that such a catalytic reaction exists? If not, will it take more fossil- or nuclear-fuel energy to create, using other reactons, the needed amounts of nitrous and ammonia? Would that added cost be worth it to reduce fossil-fuel emissions from cars? (let's ignore issues of infrastructure for now...)

    Next, there's the design of the engine itself. Basically, it appears that it's an angled plate in a cylinder, with the reactive explosion happening first on one side (causing the plate to rotate around the axis it's mounted on), then on the other. Nifty idea, simpler looking than the Wankel rotary engine, and MUCH simpler than the internal combustion engine.

    Questions: Can such an engine really operate, with any fuel? Could you really run it at many different speeds, and if so, how would you manage that? (I'm not personally convinced that you could do without a transmission). Would the "chambers" formed by the rotating plate provide any compression for the fuel (a major requirement for traditional engines)?

    Let's not dismiss this entirely, out of hand, as a wacko idea. Look at the web pages in detail, ignore his strong claims and "past performance", and just focus on the ideas presented. I'm intrigued, but don't know enough about chemistry or mechanical engineering to pass any kind of judgement (and I suspect most of the people here don't qualify, either.) Those who do qualify...what do you think?

    david.
    • Aviation types (of which I, as a pilot, am one) have an unreasoning, almost supersticious fear of hydrogen dating back to the Hindenberg disaster. Unreasoning because it is uncritical ... the hindenberg was painted with a metallic grey/silver compound which, it turns out, was basically rocket fuel. Yes, the derigable was painted with rocket fuel, which was ignited by a spark (probably a result of a static electrical discharg). The rocket fuel "exploded", while the hydrogen burned more slowly.

      Indeed, your statement:

      Hydrogen gas just doesn't pack as much punch, specatcular disasters caught on tape notwithstanding, as gasoline

      catches a part of this truth, though more in passing, namely that a tank of hydrogen is less explosive than a tank of gasoline. Meaning, as you say, that there is less energy / volume in hydrogen gas than there is in petroleum liquid (gasoline). Two approaches to this problem are, as implied in this article and the designer's web page, a more effecient engine or, alternatively, an innovative use of chemistry to allow a hydrogen-rich compound to exist as a more dense liquid/solid at room temperature without binding the hydrogen so tightly as to make it useless as a source of energy.

      Hydrogen is safer to store, transport, and use than gasoline, by virtue of the very fact that it packs less energy per unit than gasoline. Safety fears are really just that, fears, based on a widely debunked perception that dramatic explosions such as the hindenberg were a result of hydrogen, when in fact it was a result of painting the damn ship with a compound now used as rocket fuel, a compound much more combustible than hydrogen by orders of magnitude. That debunking aside, there remains the perception that hydrogen is this dangerously explosive gas, when in fact it burns too slowly to even explode with the same intensity that a 1972 Ford Pinto's gas tank would when rear-ended.
  • by cao37 (201415)
    If/when this idea pans out and a working prototype is produced, all the companies that profit from the "noisy, dirty, inefficient contraption" that the internal combustion engine is will buy up all the rights to it and shelve the idea for all eternity. It seems utterly absurd that no truly novel engine advancements have reached us in the recent past. Many of them certainly are impractical. But with all the people doing research all over the world, some must have come up with something. And then enter in the companies who make the poor grad student inventor rich as long as (s)he keeps it quiet. Voila! No innovation.
  • Quite a Range! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Bilbo (7015)
    Well, this guy goes all the way from real machines making real products (tempered, formed glass), making real money (ie., successful in the real world), to "antigravity machines" which he says will "prove some of Newtons laws to be wrong."

    So, is the guy a real inventor, or a hopeless crackpot dreamer, or somewhere inbetween?

  • Quasi-Turbine (Score:2, Informative)

    by Swego (527958)
    Have a look at this engine called Quasi-Turbine. www.quasiturbine.com, site's in french but has few pics and flics of the engine.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    One poster mentioned aluminum particles..wrong, it is stored ny binding it to hydrides.Problem is simply this;a car would use such large amounts of H2 that it would be difficult to store that quantity in a car and still have reasonable power to weight ratios. In the case of hydrides I worked at Texas Instruments on Project Illinois which was a HBr-H2 fuel cell stack, which used photelectric polysilicon to drive the reaction. We used H2 bound to hydrides; but then it was a fixed installation. I'm not really sure I'd be keen on having to have a 1000lbs of h2-hydride under my feet,and if I ddid that the it would get me any substantial distance, as I beleive the efficency is lower than that for gas. Nice try,but it won't work. BTW Project Illinois was killed by some oil companies, (Gulf was one) which didn't like the idea of a HBR fuel cell. The idea there was to have a large stack shared between 4 houses,and the consumers would sell electricity back tothe power companies. Sadly, the photoelectric section never exceeded 12-14%, effectively relegating the project to the bone heap of great ideas that were not efficient enough to be realized. We were able to get to the 10KW stack size however.
  • For those interested here [quasiturbine.com] (english ver [quasiturbine.com]) is an interesting engine I saw on tv a year or two ago. Unlike the story above they have working protypes, most that I've seen (on the site and tv) are just the engine but they also have tried using it in things (chainsaw for one).

    -Torawk
  • They can be more efficient than piston engines, and unfortunately research on rotary diesels seems to have stalled years ago, but there's many advantages over pistons for engines that aren't required to change RPM often, such as generators.

    I used to have an Arctic Cat snowmobile with a Wankel engine when I was much younger. We couldn't find anybody to service it when it started to die, but it was fun to take it apart, it's extremely different from the tiny chainsaw two-strokes and four-stroke lawnmower engines I had torn down before.
  • by bgarcia (33222) on Friday October 12, 2001 @10:35AM (#2419694) Homepage Journal
    "So," he reasons, "putting the sun inside our engine makes a whole lot of sense."
    It should provide more oomph than putting a tiger in my tank.
  • by Leven Valera (127099) on Friday October 12, 2001 @11:06AM (#2419865) Homepage Journal
    From the article:

    As soon as he bought his first house, McMaster sprang for a metal-cutting lathe, which he used to build his first rotary engine model in 1944. Though German engineer Felix Wankel and other automakers had been tinkering with rotary designs for decades -- they promised more power relative to weight than their piston-powered counterparts -- technical problems dogged their efforts. In particular, the combustion chambers were hard to seal, and their irregular shape produced excess heat and made them difficult to lubricate. McMaster tried to tackle these issues by changing the shape of the engine, thus altering the shape of the combustion chambers.

    Unable to better the internal combustion engine's compression ratio of 8 to 1, McMaster shelved the project and set about making his fortune in a less opaque technology. In 1948 he started his own company, Permaglass, and perfected the process of bending and tempering glass. McMaster's inventiveness dovetailed with the growth of the postwar consumer economy, and Permaglass tapped into the expanding automotive and electronics markets. In 1969, McMaster merged Permaglass with Detroit-based Guardian Industries, forming what is today the third-largest glass company in the world. Two years later he started another company, Glasstech, which in the next 20 years would garner more than 700 glass-bending and -tempering patents. Today 80 percent of the world's automotive glass runs through Glasstech machines. In 1989, McMaster sold the company for $227 million.


    He revolutionized glass. Why couldn't he apply the same non-linear thinking to his first project, add modern materials, and make it work?
  • ... I always felt that a closed-cycle gas turbine (Rover experimented with one in the 50s) combined with CVT (Continuously Variable transmission - eg DAF variomatic, Uno Selecta) would be a good way forward.

    Gas turbines are effecient (insert something clever to do with thermodynamics here)and can run on anything from coal-dust to hydrogen. The problem is - IIRC - that they only really work well within a narrow range of speed so coupling them to either conventional (stick-shift) or auto transmissions never really worked. Coupling to CVT should allow the engine to always spin at an efficient speed. Piston engined cars with CVT get good gas mileage - but people don't like the fact that the engine note stays the same as they accelerate.

    It would run good on hydrogen (should be very little H2O2 in the exhaust burning like that), but I still don't have a solution to producing and storing H2.
  • Even after reading the article, is that we'll never hear anything about this again. Dude does have impressive credentials though. Time will tell...
  • by Logic Bomb (122875) on Friday October 12, 2001 @11:11AM (#2419893)
    For some reason Slashdot gets a lot of submissions of wacko energy concepts - power from nothing, power from sand, power from a black box, engines that get 500 miles to the gallon...

    It's the ultimate intersection between conspiracy theories and nerd-dom. OF COURSE they come pouring in. ;-)

  • Announcer: (Eric Idle) Are you embarrassed easily? I am. But it's nothing to worry about, it's all part of growing up and being British. This course is designed to eliminate embarrassment, to enable you to talk freely about rude objects, to look at awkward and embarrassing things and to point at people's privates. The course has been designed by Dr. Carl Gruber of the 'Institute of Going a Bit Red' in Helsinki. Here he himself introduces the course.

    Dr Gruber: (Michael Palin) Hello my name is Carl Gruber. Thank you for inviting me into your home. My method is the result of six years work here at the institute in which subjects were exposed to simulated embarrassment predicaments over a prolonged fart, period, time (sound of him farting). Sorry. Lesson one, Words. Do any of these words (farts) embarrass you?

    Assistant: (John Cleese) Shoe, megaphone, grunties.

    Dr Gruber: Now lets go on to something ruder.

    Assistant: Wankle rotary engine.

    ...


    My apologies to Monty Python
  • by cr0sh (43134) on Friday October 12, 2001 @02:42PM (#2421253) Homepage
    I have read a lot of posts here regarding this engine, and I am not absolutely certain that everybody understands how this engine is supposed to work. To be honest, I am not completely certain on how it works, but from looking at the animations and descriptions, I want to attempt to explain it, in the interest of furthering discussion.

    I have to admit, the fascinating thing is the fact that it is so simple - so simple that it looks like it could almost be homebrewed in a garage, provided the builder has sufficient machining skills and tools (ie, a metal lathe and mill would be an absolute necessity, as well as a wire-feed welder, among other tools).

    Anyway, here is my explanation:

    1. The engine is composed primarily of 6 parts: A shaft (1) which is fitted through a sphere (2) and two opposing, on either sides of the sphere, conical ends (3,4), a metal vane (5) which is slotted between the cones, and thus doesn't move - parallel to the shaft/sphere assembly, and perpendicular to the metal vane. Finally, there is the wobbly plate (6), which is fitted around the sphere, and has flattened ends that are up against the metal vane. This plate bisects the sphere, forming two independent combustion chambers. However, it is not attached to the sphere, it does not rotate, and it is not attached to the vane. It merely "slides" against these parts.

    2. Now, imagine the metal vane lying at an angle. At the point where one end is touching the cone, and the vane, there is a fuel inlet and a glow plug. Fuel is admitted, and the glow-plug ignites the fuel.

    3. As the fuel combusts, it expands, pushing against the plate and the vane, as it races around the chamber, which looks like a expanding wrapped wedge around the sphere. This expansion causes the plate the nutate (wobble) - but not rotate - around ("around" is not a good word, as it implies that the plate is rotating - I must stress that it does not rotate) the sphere. This opens up the chamber, and as the plate slides around the sphere (*), it rotates the sphere 180 degrees, which is connected to the shaft, which turns the shaft 180 degrees.

    4. Once the combustion is started, of course the fuel inlet is closed. When the combustion is completed, the plate is now lying at the opposite angle. An exhaust port is opened (I would imagine the opening and closing of exhaust and inlet ports to be accomplished by solenoid valves of some sort), and the inlet port on the other side is opened to cause the other side to fire, to rotate the shaft 180 degrees more, while simultaneously pushing the exhaust out (by action of the plate) on the opposite side.

    5. The cycle repeats.

    (*) - Notice how many parts are sliding against each other? I can't understand how this thing is supposed to run dry - ie, no lubricant - unless the fuel is to provide the lubrication of some sort. All that friction will get it damn hot if it isn't lubricated and cooled in some manner.

    Furthermore, I am not certain how the plate, rubbing up and acting on the sphere (nutating "around") spins the sphere, unless is it by some strange vector motions being imparted by friction.

    The interesting thing about this, though - is if that is the case, if the motor shaft is somehow stalled for whatever reason, the engine shouldn't die - it should only become hotter than normal, which may or may not be a good feature.

    ---

    I hope this explanation helps - I hope it is right, I am pretty certain it is. Please discuss below, and comment on it - I would be pleased to know what others think...
  • This isn't a new engine geometry. Most of the water meters [badgermeter.com] (note, large PDF file) in the world work that way. The nutating-disk geometry has been used for water meters for 95 years. It's a positive-displacement technology with continuous flow, which is why it makes a good liquid metering device.

    Engine designers keep trying to use various pump geometries [animatedsoftware.com] as engines, but the problems are different. Modern engine design is about combustion management, not just fluid flow.

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