When I am not writing the next Peter Savage novel, I am usually working with a talented group of individuals to bring forward new products and processes for the energy sector. Specifically, hydrogen energy. So, I am afforded an excellent opportunity to see a lot of scams–as in maybe one every month or two–based on energy technology.
Usually, these scams involve some type of perpetual motion machine, or a derivative thereof. For the purpose of this blog, I’m going to define “perpetual motion machine” broadly to include any device that purports to deliver more useful energy than the machine consumes.
“Say what?” you ask. Fair enough–let’s break it down to the basics. Most machines do something. A car, train, plane, ship, or bicycle transport people and goods from here to there. A generator produces electricity; so does a battery. All these machine consume energy in order to function. Yes, a battery too consumes energy to reach a state of charge; that is, a state in which the battery is able to release stored electrical power.
This probably makes sense; certainly this is a principle most everyone is familiar with. Everything in the world of science–the world we all live in–is good until someone comes along and says, “You know, I just invented this bicycle that has a fan connected to the wheel. As you ride and the wheel turns, so does the fan. The fan blows air, and in front of the fan I’ve invented this sail to catch the air blown by the fan. That makes the bicycle move forward, and you never have to peddle again once you get the bike moving. Isn’t this wonderful!”
“Rubbish!” you say. And you’d be absolutely right. Trouble is, modern cons aren’t so obvious in their deception. It is also a sad fact that there are many people who simply want to believe a good pitch, even though deep down they may suspect it’s too good to be true. Flash a smile, dress sharply, rattle off a bunch of jargon, and be evasive when answering difficult questions, and you have a good shot at pulling in “investment” money to get your company’s invention developed and into manufacturing. Or so the pitch goes.
Most of the time, I see claims for vehicle propulsion systems designed for cars and small trucks that supposedly will use surplus energy from the engine to break water into hydrogen and oxygen, which is then combusted in the engine to propel the vehicle and break down more water, and … you get the idea. One of the most infamous examples of this con was carried out by Stan Meyers. He demonstrated a dune buggy retrofitted with his invention, and garnered some news coverage at the time. He was a fraud. There was another example of this con in Japan a few years back, and other people are still trying to perpetrate the same untruth.
One of the more amusing examples I came across just this past week is a machine that a company in Las Vegas is promoting. The machine, it is claimed, will extract hydrogen and oxygen from water without consuming anything more than a tiny amount of electric power. At the same time, the machine also produces electric power–ten times (or more) than the process consumes. But wait, there’s more … it also generates heat! If only the machine would also generate an abundance of light and you could switch between heat and cool modes, maybe they’d have something (WARNING: sarcasm).
One of the most fundamental laws of science is the conservation of mass (or stuff) and energy. The great one, A. Einstein, extended this law to include his famous equation (E=mc^2) showing that mass and energy may be interconverted. The great Prof. Hawking struggled with conservation of mass and energy in his brilliant work on black holes. This work led to the mathematical discovery of Hawking radiation (if you are interested at all in black holes, learn what Hawking radiation is–fantastic stuff!).
This law of science probably sounds obvious, right? I mean, if you have 1 gallon of water you can’t fill two 1 gal jugs full. Or if you have a ten foot board you can only cut ten 1-foot lengths; not eleven, not twelve. So it is with energy. You cannot get more energy than you start with–unless you are converting mass to energy (this is what happens in nuclear processes, but not chemical process that are pervasive in our daily routines).
In the case of machines, this means the following: add up the total amount of energy going in to make the machine do it’s thing–electricity, gasoline, human power, solar radiation, whatever–sum it up, and the work done by the machine, or the alternate form of energy provided by the machine (diesel generator burns fuel to make electricity) cannot exceed the amount of energy consumed by the machine. This is fundamental, it is a truth that cannot be violated. You cannot get more than you start with. Fact … done.
Sadly, there is no shortage of conniving “entrepreneurs” who have polished their pitch, and they are looking for you. Fortunately, you don’t need a college degree or years of training to spot this scam. In fact, it is childishly simple. Here are the four rules to test any proposal that appears too good to be true:
1. Ask, what is the energy in and the energy out. If they say anything that suggests more energy is liberated by the machine than is consumed, walk away. No, run away.
2. If your question is answered with a lot of jibberish and jargon, especially if they start to lecture you on how traditional science is wrong, and an education simply gets in the way of true breakthrough discoveries, run away!
3. Ask yourself: “If this machine does even 70% of what is claimed why wouldn’t the inventor be selling it like cold water in the desert?”
4. Is there a hint of conspiracy? Typically, this takes the form of either the government or the oil companies don’t want people to have this new energy source. Really??
If we forget about science for a moment, these claims–a car that runs only on water, or a machine that produces a surplus of electricity and heat while also splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen–suffer from a killer logical flaw. If these machines really existed, why are the inventors struggling to make a living? Why have they not revolutionized the products we use and buy? And, along the way, become gazillionaires, gracing the cover of Time Magazine and leapfrogging over Bill gates on the global list of individual wealth? Everyone knows the answer to this question.
I have been deliberately obtuse on naming companies and individuals who are conducting deceptive marketing in the energy sector. If you want to know, or are looking at an investment and just aren’t sure, contact me directly (through this web site). I don’t want to see anyone cheated.