Does it hold water?

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Vietnamese scientist claims discovery of new, cheap catalyst for use in water-fuelled generator, but peers are not convinced yet

Scientists watch as a 50W lamp turns on after an assistant of scientist Nguyen Chanh Khe pour water and a "mysterious" catalyst into a jug connected to a generator at a workshop at the Saigon Hi-Tech Park on March 9.

The jury is still out on it, and most his peers are skeptical, but a Vietnamese scientist claims to have discovered a new catalyst for use in water splitting that could revolutionize the hydrogen economy a system that can deliver energy using hydrogen.

However, the scientist says he is confident that he can design a prototype for a water fuelled generation using his technique for use in remote areas in the country.

On March 9, Dr. Nguyen Chanh Khe and his colleagues introduced their water fuelled generator that uses nanotechnology at a workshop with scientists at the Saigon Hi-Tech Park (SHTP).

Khe is deputy director of the Research and Development Center at the SHTP.

At the workshop, Khe's assistant mixed water with a mysterious grey powder in a vessel connected to a generator. A 50W lamp connected to the generator turned on two minutes after the water came to a boil.

Using hydrogen as fuel to generate electricity is not a new scientific development. What matters is how hydrogen is split from water.

According to Khe, the main principle for his generator's operation relies on a catalyst, but very few scientists have managed to create an effective catalyst that has high electrochemical stability.

However, he refused to reveal the name of the catalyst, saying it was a "˜technological secret".

"The main fuel of the generator is water that interacts with a catalyst "” a kind of nanomaterial, through endogenous reactions to split the hydrogen before it is burned to generate energy to charge the battery of the generator," Khe explained.

"The nanomaterial is produced from rice, tapioca flour and other chemicals," he said.

In an interview with the Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on March 5, Dr. Khe said the nanomaterial was actually discovered by two Russian scientists, Andrei Konstantinovich Geim and Konstatin Sergeevich Novoselov, who were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010.

"However, they could synthesize only 1mg, while we could synthesize 100 grams," Khe said. "After reacting with hydrogen, the nanomaterial becomes non-toxic waste and will be collected by our generator agents for recycling.

"This process requires no exterior source of energy because nanotechnology has huge endogenous energy.

"Besides water and the catalyst, the machine is equipped with a battery that is we have produced using cheap materials that are totally environmentally friendly."

Since the generator only releases water or vapor, it does not pollute the environment and cause noise, he said, adding that various kinds of water can be used to run it, including sea water and rain water.

The generator has a life expectancy of between five and six years, and can be recycled by having its compartments replaced, he added.

One of the machines has a 2,000W capacity, which is enough to provide electricity for a household, according to Khe.

He said he would release the basic design for the water-fuelled generator in the next three months to provide electricity for remote areas and islands.

Up in the air

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Khe's "invention" has left local scientists wondering about the feasibility of using a catalyst to split hydrogen from water.

Many said the whole process of splitting hydrogen from water depends on the "mysterious" catalyst, which they do not know would be costly for families or not.

Dr. Hoang Dung, chief of HCMC National University's Science and Technology Department, said Khe should clarify the operation of the generator before other scientists since many countries in the world have come up with the idea of water-fuelled generators but no practical results have been achieved.

Trinh Quang Dung of the HCMC Physics Institute also said water-fuelled generators are only at the research stage.

"There is a long way to go from a scientific idea to reality," he said.

According to Prof. Nguyen Dang Hung, board chairman of Hung Viet Technology International, said that if the agent used to split hydrogen from water is a reducing agent, the water-run generator will not be considered an invention by Khe, because this process was invented in the world a long time ago.

However, if the agent is a catalyst, the invention of Dr. Khe stands a chance to get the Nobel prize, Hung said.

Khe claims he has spent billions of dong, even sold his house, to work on the water-fuelled generator project since the HCMC Department of Science and Technology as well as the Ministry of Science and Technology have refused to fund the project.

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