Water-fueled car: too good to be true?

Amid speculation, Japan’s Genepax fights criticism and soft-pedals its breakthrough water-based fuel cell claims. A car fueled solely by water, with zero carbon emissions?

If you think it sounds like it’s too good to be true, you’re not alone.

After last week’s introduction of its new fuel cell Water Energy System (WES), Japan-based Genepax Co. appears to be soft-pedaling its claims of a breakthrough fuel cell that uses water and air.

Cleantech Group caught up with the company this week, and learned it is facing “criticism and non-supporters,” and that as more coverage appears highlighting the technology, the more it runs into “non-supporters criticizing us.”

“We understand these criticisms since we cannot [reveal] the core part of this invention,” said Jun Onishi, company spokesperson.

Onishi went on to explain that the company is currently working with a “legal third party” to gather “factual data of [the] generator” and anticipates announcing the results soon.

Genepax, with great fanfare, showed media last week a small vehicle with an energy generator that the company claimed extracts hydrogen from water poured into the car’s tank. The generator was said to release electrons that produce electric power to run the car.

Onishi did not give a timeframe for when the public will have more data points regarding the technology, but did state the company expects information to be updated “within the next weeks.”

According to Genepax, the system generates power by supplying water and air to the fuel and air electrodes, and because the new system does not use methanol as fuel, this new system does not emit carbon.

According to the company, any kind of water can be used as an acceptable form of fuel for the system—including rain, river, sea or even tea water.

Genepax said the design of its system is similar to the basic power generation of a traditional fuel cell, except Genepax’s system uses a membrane electrode assembly (MEA), which contains a material capable of breaking down water into hydrogen and oxygen through chemical reaction.

The company was reluctant to reveal details about its system, but maintains that it is “a well-known process to produce hydrogen from water to the MEA.”

With the new process, the company said the cell only requires water and air, eliminating the need for hydrogen components such as a reformer and high-pressure tank.

The company also said that since the MEA doesn’t require catalysts, the amount of rare metals such as platinum is almost the same as existing systems.

Genepax was unable to say how long this system would last, as it has been collecting data from its prototype for about a year and it plans to continue gathering information.

One system runs approximately ¥2,000,000 (or about $18,700—not including the car), but the company claims that if it can get it into mass production that could be cut to ¥500,000 or less (or just under $5,000).

Onishi told Cleantech Group that the company has secured partners to assist in mass production of the product, but was reluctant to name names or a timeframe.

The news comes at a time when news regarding fuel cell research dollars and technology improvements is a plenty.

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