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Burning water not so hot after all

8am, 16th September 2007 - Geek, Rant, News

Some random Cancer researcher discovers a way to make salty water "burn" by firing radio waves at it. He shows his mates from the Chemistry department and they all get quoted by a reporter as saying that "we want to know whether the energy released will be enough to power a car". The article is copied around everywhere (I have no idea which one was the original.) The world goes crazy.

Think about it for a minute. This is just another perpetual motion machine disguised as a chance discovery by scientists in an unrelated field. People think they've found a way to violate the laws of thermodynamics all the time. Some of them labour under the delusion for quite some time, others realise their mistake but see the potential for a scam and others quietly go back to their research and hope no one noticed their mistake.

If you thought you had just discovered a new, totally clean, excessively abundant energy source, why would you invite a chemist to see it ? Why weren't any physicists invited to see this amazing burning water ? Where are the venture capitalists ? Where is the patent office ?

If any of those people were to become involved in this, they would ask the obvious question: where does the energy come from ? Water has very little energy stored in a way that can be released. It has quite a lot of entropy. Firing radio waves at water causes the hydrogen-oxygen bonds to weaken but requires energy. If you were to measure it, my money would be on the amount of energy being put in to the system in the form of radio waves being slightly greater than the amount of energy extracted from the system in the form of heat. There would also be some unmeasured heat loss and other energy loss in the form of sound and light.

There are two further possibilities. One is that these guys have discovered a new, lower energy, higher entropy form of water that up until now had never been discovered. Maybe there's an extra neutron in there now and they've discovered a cheap way of making Deuterium (heavy water). Maybe there's something weird going on with positrons. Maybe they've successfully achieved cold fusion. Although at 3000 degrees it wouldn't be considered cold any more.

Maybe there's a reason why physics should be left to the physicists. The answers are not in yet but my money is most definitely on this being recorded as a fascinating curiosity, but not a new fuel source.

P.S. To the guy who said that water is the most abundant resource on earth, if I remember my High School Physics correctly, the most abundant compound on Earth by weight is Silicon Tetra-Oxide. This means that although around 29% of the Earth is Oxygen, a fairly large proportion of that is not water. In fact, I just looked it up and apparently around 0.02% of the Earth by weight is water.[1]

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