Browns gas for ICE - not totally without merit

Dear Cecil, I have something stuck in my craw (not claw, CRAW!). Years ago you debunked the notion of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen into brown’s gas using a cars electrical system, only to reburn it for better fuel economy. I totally understand your ‘you don’t get something for nothing’ take on this. However there is another factor - timing. Sure you could light a fireplace log with a few boxes of matches, but it’d be a whole lot easier and faster if you created kindling first. Browns gas is a very fast very hot burning mixture and its intention is to get the petroleum gasoline burning as quick and thorough as possible in the few milliseconds of combustion, not to add more fuel to the fire so to speak. Call it kindling or a catalyst or accelerator perhaps. If the browns gas works as planned then the benefit is increased fuel economy due to more thorough combustion. However with the advent of electric cars this may be a moot point very soon, as the internal combustion engine (ICE) may go the way of the dinosaur.

I remember that Cecil article and the following conversation we had here on the dope. While at the time it was hard to find out where the claim towards higher efficiency came from, it was rooted out that the theory you propose, namely a better/quicker combustion due to the hydrogen (and O2?) is the reason. The conclusion back then was as I recall while nice in theory, I don’t believe any evidence that it made any different at all was presented. And even with the best fuel savings device you can buy on the internet for your car, such as the 200 mph carburetor, it ain’t worth nothing without proof/evidence.

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FWIW, here’s a link to Cecil’s original column, which is from 2008.

I think everyone missed the point of Brown’s gas. It doesn’t have to improve the efficiency of the engine (or even improve the energy rating of gasoline) to get the desired effect. If you can dilute gas and still get an engine that runs the same, then you’ve improved the gas efficiency of the engine. Granted, you haven’t improved the fuel efficiency; you’re still using the same amount of fuel. But, there’s less gasoline in that fuel mixture. So you’re getting more miles per gallon of gas.

Gearheads do mess around with water injection into the intake manifold and messing around with the compression ratio, but you have really misunderstood that this has to do with splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, or splitting the beer atom for that matter.

You just blew out the logic processing unit on my Electronic Monk.


Stick to astrophysics. Snark is not your thing.

Well, formal semantics is clearly not “your thing”.

The use of electrolytically-produced oxyhydrogen to improve the “gas efficiency” of an internal combustion engine has never been demonstrated in an objective laboratory experiment; instead, we have anecdotal claims and spammy websites selling “Brown’s Gas” as a cure for all that ails you in addition to massive increases in fuel efficiency inexplicable to anyone knowledgeable about physical chemistry and combustion physics, or indeed, basic thermodynamics.

It is certainly possible to improve the thermodynamic efficiency of a process by increasing the temperature range, pressure range, or volumetric efficiency of the process or recovering waste heat through regeneration, but “Brown’s Gas” doesn’t appear to do that in any explicable way. I see one site that claims of how it breaks the H2 and O2 into “mon-atomic molecules” [sic], which setting aside that the cleaved oxygen is already monatomic, still doesn’t explain how more energy is gained from the resulting combustion than was put into the electrolysis operation.

I look forward to a more extensive dissertation on the thermochemistry of this amazing device and how it modifies the Otto cycle to extract miraculous amounts of otherwise wasted energy into useful work.


I think you’ve mistaken my argument, but thanks for more snark. It was very helpful.

Here’s a snark-free point-by-point breakdown.

  • If you’re burning less gasoline, because you’re now burning hydrogen alongside the gasoline, it’s true that you’d be burning less gasoline for a given amount of power produced. You are correct.

  • Your diluent is Brown’s gas. Which is being processed on the fly from electrolyzing water, using the car’s electrical system.

  • As you know, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. It takes power to make that gas. That power is coming from the engine, from spinning the alternator.

  • Which means the engine has to run harder to produce the power to break up the water, which means you’re spending more gasoline than you would have.

  • Regular thermodynamics ensues. You get a fraction of the power you put in back out again. Since you’re spending more gasoline to make this gas, including this gas better make up the efficiency losses. Unfortunately, the good science I’ve seen does not seem to back up this point.

If the goal was, as the OP puts it, to improve combustion by adding extra heat to the system, just add the heat directly with more sparkplugs, it’s less wasteful than the thermodynamic pushme-pullyu of electrolyzing water and then recombusting it.

If the goal was to burn less gasoline, making hydrogen gas in situ is ultimately wasteful and, ironically, burns more gasoline. If you’re carrying pre-made Brown’s gas, you’re just borrowing from Peter to pay Paul; the energy tax was paid beforehand.

If you want to improve gas mileage and you’re interested in how gasoline is combusted, consider the SkyActive-X engine, which “diesels” gasoline to produce a more uniform flame front and gain efficiency in the process.

Thank you. That was very informative.


Stick to the topic please, no sniping at one another.


No one answered :frowning:

It’s not inconcievable that a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen, introduced together with petroleum, might somehow affect combustion in a way that yields better efficiency overall - thermodynamics would only absolutely forbid it if everything else was already working at maximum efficiency. I doubt it is.

I’m not suggesting that does actually happen; I actually think it’s unlikely simply because it introduces new energy conversions which are new places for inefficiency to happen, but it’s not inconcievable as long as there are still extant unsolved inefficiencies in the existing process.
Changing what’s happening inside the engine can have surprising effects on efficiency - For example, just changing the shape of the piston face can make a difference to efficiency of combustion.

It is well known that injecting N₂O (or pure oxygen, if you have a zeolite-based oxygen concentrator) boosts your power by letting you burn more fuel faster. Not sure to what extent hydrogen is used, but there is a 100% chance someone is driving around with 10000 psi hydrogen tanks and experimenting with injection systems.

Yeah, I mean, that would be the easy way to prove this, of course; just inject the gases, show the improvement, then make the argument for how the gases can be generated onboard in real time.

Failure of that simpler proof to be forthcoming is a hefty suggestions that these specific claims can’t be supported.

But I think the point still stands; it’s only safe to say that thermodynamics forbids a change yielding efficiency improvement, if thermodynamics are the only major inefficiencies in the system

More importantly: repeatably experimentally prove the effectiveness and greater-than-unity energy yield of the system used to generate the gases onboard in real time. (Which is also the point at which you earn the Nobel Prize for physics for uncovering a loophole in the laws of thermodynamics.)

I think you’re missing the point. Loopholes in thermodynamics are only necessary when the system is already completely optimised.
For any suboptimal system, improvements in efficiency may be possible by making changes, and those changes might appear to be counterproductive at first.

Or to put it another way: greater-than-unity isn’t a necessary goal when optimising a much-less-than-unity system.

As I already said, I think it’s unlikely, but it’s silly to invoke thermodynamics when that may not be the limit being addressed.