Stanley Allen Meyer's idea for fueling his dune buggy with water may have been crazy--and quite possibly may have never succeeded on a significant scale--but the strange occurrences of his life and death will ensure his cult status and inspiration for individualistic inventors and story lovers.
A recent article from the Columbus Dispatch gives a summary of Meyer's research, his claim of a dune buggy that could cross the US on 22 gallons of water, and his mysterious death nine years ago.
Meyer, his twin brother Stephen, and two Belgian investors were celebrating Meyer's creation of a dune buggy that could turn water into hydrogen fuel efficiently enough to power the vehicle in lieu of fossil fuels. It was March 20, 1998, in a Cracker Barrel in Grove City, Ohio. After a sip of cranberry juice, Meyer clutched his throat, ran outside, vomited profusely, and died. According to his brother, his last words were: "They poisoned me."
Stephen was confused at the sudden death of his 56-year-old brother. But when he told the Belgian investors the next day that his brother had died, their complete silence and lack of sympathy aroused his suspicions. Local police investigated the death for three years, but in the end, the coroner's report listed the cause of death as a brain aneurysm.
After nine years, why is Meyer's story resurfacing now? According to the Dispatch, Meyer's more than 20 patents on his water-fuel technology will be expiring by the end of the year. In this time of leaving no rock unturned in the quest for alternative fuels, curious researchers may be interested in looking into Meyer's idea. Once and for all, the controversial science will be either confirmed, or discounted as science fiction.
Images from Meyer's documentaryMany times in his life, Meyer was called a fraud and suffered humiliating defeats. He was sued numerous times by unpleased investors, but otherwise ignored by most of his local community. Meyer is not completely forgotten, however. Besides his self-created documentary in 1980, he was featured in a BBC documentary in 1995, and is part of a book by Kentucky Water Fuel Museum owner James Robey called Water Car published in 2006.
In the BBC documentary, called It Runs on Water and narrated by science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, Meyer demonstrated his "water fuel cell" in a car. He said that his 1.6 liter Volkswagon Dune Buggy could cross the US on 22 gallons of water. This is because the car could supposedly run perpetually without fuel since the car's battery could be continuously recharged. He never demonstrated this claim, though, and lawsuits followed.
Meyer's water fuel cellThe idea behind Meyer's innovation is the simple process of electrolysis. By passing an electrical current through water, the bonded hydrogen and oxygen can be separated and burned to power a car engine. Electrolysis has been known since at least the 1800s, and is used today to create a small amount of hydrogen in power plants, to produce certain elements, and to produce the oxygen breathed by astronauts in space.
High-temperature electrolysis (HTE) is even currently being investigated for hydrogen car fuel, although scientists explain that HTE is much less efficient than other methods for producing hydrogen.
That's where Meyer's claims become dubious to experts. According to Michael Faraday's First Law of Electrolysis in 1832, the amount of elements separated by an electrical current is proportional to the amount of charge applied. This amount of electrical energy is very large, and as a law of physics, it can't be changed.
Meyer's work, however, claims an ultra-high conversion efficiency-in essence, defying the law of conservation of energy.
Yet, a few of his inventions did work. For example, Charles Hughes, who gave Meyer use of his garage for private work space in the late ‘70s, said that Meyer repaid him by making him things, some of which worked and some didn't. One invention that worked was rigging up Hughes' tractor to run on well water for 15 minutes. Hughes said that, when he smelled the exhaust, there were no fumes-only pure clean air.
Like all science, Meyer's claims can't be believed until thoroughly tested and validated, if anyone ever takes that initiative (and finds funding). Even if his ideas went a bit too far, his innovations can be considered one of the earliest investigations into an improved hydrogen fuel. From reading about his buyout offers and threats to stop his work by foreign governments, it's clear that at least some people believed in his work.
More information on Meyer's research, lawsuits, interviews, and patents can be found on Wikipedia's Water Fuel Cell page, as well as many more controversial sites throughout the Web.