Burning Water

Photo from www.joe-ks.com

Just this minute, I received an email from someone claiming they had discovered how to burn water.

No matter what experimental conditions they set up this is physically impossible – fundamentally standard combustion involves the oxidation of some material into the oxidized form of that material and water. The reaction 2H2 + O2 –> 2H2O puts it at its simplest. Energy is released in this reaction. The reverse process is possible, it can be done by adding a small amount of ionic material to the water to make it a salt solution and passing through it an electric current. That splits the water molecules, releasing hydrogen gas and oxygen in a process known as electrolysis. But, this is not combustion, energy must be fed into the system (electrical in this case) to split the water molecules, the ionic salt particles simply act as carriers of the current.

The notion that somehow you could overcome the bonding between hydrogen and oxygen atoms in H2O might be overcome in a combustible manner rears its ugly head on a frequent basis. But, as you can see it’s just not tenable. If you were stupid enough to connect a car battery’s terminals to a bowl of salt water, you could ignite the resulting hydrogen bubbling from the mixture, but that could be no more describes as “burning water” as baking a cake by mixing and freezing the ingredients in a cake tin.

The idea that burning water might be possible is yet another example of the kind of thinking that repeatedly suggests perpetual motion might be possible, it’s desperate grasping, it’s almost a cry for help: “We have messed up the world, but I can fix it, if you listen to me!!!” That kind of thing!

And, while we’re at it, there’s a College in the UK that offers absolutely no science courses, but does offer dowsing, and advanced dowsing! It’s the Women’s Institute Denman College, apparently.

This post, was originally published in the old Sciencebase blog – SciObs – on December 8, 2004, but I’ve resurrected it and edited it up in the light of events that took place in 2007. You can read about the posts that emerged here:

How not to grab the blogosphere – this one is very closely related to this old post.

Free cure-alls – not just cure-alls for disease but for all the problems that ail the world. Yeah, right!

4 thoughts on “Burning Water”

  1. Why are people so keen to believe superstitious pseudoscience. The first item I saw on “Utube” (you meant Youtube I take it) was about burning salt water to cure cancer and make fuel. It is just NOT happening…

  2. I just stumbled on your e-mag – which generally deals fairly – but in this article, you mix in fairies.
    Do yourself and your readers something for Xmas, and look at “Burning salt water” on Utube, and then lets do the equation on the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Certainly attend to conservation of energy, noting that there would be 1Kw + of RF energy exciting molecular dissassociation – and a totally inefficient power conversion to drive the steam engine – BUT IT IS HAPPENING.
    So be analytical and tell us why this works , don’t destroy science with historical opinions.

  3. I think it is a general trend throughout society and not simply confined to the WI. There are valid objections to letting “science” operate without supervision, but the natural=good, synthetic=bad brigade seem to be beating us in terms of media credibility. Haven’t they heard of strychnine (deadly poison), cochineal (carcinogenic natural food colouring), botulism, and nettles?


  4. The Women’s Institute did a lot of good in the early days with educational opportunities for women, but now seems to pander to the general chemophobia. It certainly does not seem to go a bundle on logic, either. When they joined in with WWF, their notes to members had a list of actions.
    Somewhere near the top: “Write to your MP!”
    Somewhere much further down: “Read this leaflet”


    They are still supposed to be an educational charity, but it is looking more like a vehicle for disseminating urban myth, and worse, up for purchase by any vested interest which can argue it is ‘for women’s wellbeing’.

    Very sad.

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