Run Your Car on Hydrogen From Aluminum Soda Cans and Lye





Introduction: Run Your Car on Hydrogen From Aluminum Soda Cans and Lye

About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...

James Burgett of computer recycling fame shows me his test setup at
ACCRC for running his Lincoln on aluminum soda cans.

They threw this rig together quickly to test the concept.
The concept works.

Here's how it works.

Soda cans are dumped into a tank of Lye (sodium hydroxide and water).
The sodium hydroxide peels off the aluminum oxide surface from the aluminum allowing water to come into contact with aluminum metal. The aluminum immediately oxidizes, ripping the water's oxygen atoms away to make aluminum oxide. That releases the hydrogen which bubbles out to be burned in the Lincoln's engine.
Here's the reaction: H2O + Al -> AlO2 + H2 + heat

Step 1: Lye Tank and Water Bubbler

Here's James with the lye tank. The aluminum cans go in here.
His left hand is on the hydrogen vent hose. The gas that bubbles out of it is hot and steamy and has a fair amount of powdery white aluminum oxide in it. So next it goes into a pipe to the bottom of the white bubbler tank, where it bubbles through water. That makes it cool and clean.
Just like in a hookah or bong.

Step 2: Storage Bag

From the water bubbler bong the hydrogen goes into this black garbage bag for storage.
The reaction can take place at high pressures, so in future the lye tank and other parts of the gas generator will be pressure vessels leading into a high pressure storage tank.

Step 3: Engine Air Intake Duct

From the storage bag the hydrogen goes to the car's air intake.

James has gotten the car to run on hydrogen concentrations between 5% and 70%, so
the mix is pretty forgiving. Here it's controlled by a tuna can resting on top of the aluminum duct tee.

In the future setup it'll be replaced by a proper butterfly valve to set the mixture to some optimum.

Step 4: Soda Cans and Lye in Action

Here's what it looks like when cans dissolve in lye.

The white powdery stuff is mostly aluminum oxide with a bit of sodium hydroxide.
The water has to be replenished often as it gets cracked away to oxidize the aluminum and release hydrogen.

The lacquer and labels on the cans are a bit of a nuisance, they block the lye from getting to the outside of the cans. Shredded cans might be better.

If you want to make your own sodium hydroxide, you can leach it out of ashes.



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    Do the aluminum cans eventually dissolve completely? And how often do you have to "refill" with water, lye, or cans?

    5 replies

    Yes. They will. They will actually cause the oxygen molecule to bond with the aluminum, as the hydrogen gas is released. The waste product that is produced in the process is called aluminum oxide, or alumina. It is the result of the aluminum and oxygen interacting. Alumina is used for many different industrial uses including brake pads, sand paper, or even body armor. So, it will dissolve into a powered substance (once all water is removed through either the process of creating the hydrogen, or from draining it from the tank that is utilized. The caustic material will, of course, still be mixed with the alumina at that point. I used such a system on a 1988 Honda Accord with a carb and an automatic transmission and achieved 50 mpg on the combination of gasoline and hydrogen, several years ago. I've recently begun to work on these projects, again, and I'm incorporating this same chemical generator into my truck, as well as an HHO unit. Unfortunately, I now have to spend additional time and money dealing with tricking the computer, as it is fuel injected.

    Oxigen it is not a molecule. it is an atom. Molecules are 2 or more atoms interacting with the propper valence

    mtabernig: actually, Oxygen is usually found as a diatomic gas, O2 .. molecular oxygen .. hence the confusion by many discussing chemical reactions which first require O2 to split into two individual O atoms first.

    The cans would dissolve but leave plastic sleeves behind.

    It is all going to depend upon the size of your generator's holding capacity. With a 2.5 gallon tank, I was able to produce hydrogen for roughly 1 hour and fifteen minutes before the water was depleted. At that point, there was still some residual aluminum remaining in the generator. It is also going to depend upon other variables. If you add more caustic material, it will generally react faster and also expend the fuel (water) faster. If you are able to remove the plastic lining and paint from the aluminum, the reaction will, again, begin faster and also expend the fuel faster. There are many variables and it is all relative to those factors.

    I'm not trying to be negative, but this is a terrible waste. I appreciate the science behind this but it would be much better in overall energy savings to recycle the cans. That way the aluminum would be re-used and save the intensive amounts of energy that is used to produce new aluminum. Hydrogen powered cars are also completely uneccesary. I would suggest BioDiesel which is what I use, or if you prefer a gasoline style engine and have a truck you should look into The Mother Earth News wood gas generator. Both are much less offensive uses of energy. This in my eyes, is like burning gold.

    13 replies

    Actually. using an electrolyzer to produce hydrogen and oxygen is the best method! Theres no mess other than a quick wash out of the unit once every other week and the gas mileage gains are great! My 93 4x4 subaru 2.2L went from 17.3 in town to 25.4...ON THE HIGHWAY I WENT FROM 21.4 to (50.91 MPG) thats right 50.91....Doesn't seem like a waste to me!I paid the unit I built off on my first trip!!!

    NEW 063.jpg2008 pictures 024.jpg

    If you didn't waterproof the cylinders and exhaust system, your car is going to be ruined. Burning hydrogen and oxygen creates water, which can rust them out.


    you make a pound of water for every pound of gasoline you burn.

    how di you separate the gases? Maintaining the oxygen mixed with the hydrogen you have the making of a bomb!!!!!! All you need is a tiny spark and Kaboom!!!

    were did you get the electrical power to produce the oxygen and the hydrogen?

    If you use the electrical system of your car you are fooling yourselves. Takes more energy to brake the water molecule apart than the energy produced .

    You must work in the fuel industry somewhere.
    There are always going to be these (insert favorite derogatory slang here) 'people' that want to slam on any possible new technology and new applications of little known existing technology. Either because they have a monetary stake in doing so or are skeptical to the point of mental problems or just think they know everything there is to know.

    Have you ever seen water dripping out of an exhaust system at a stoplight? If not,you are not very obsevent !! One of the signs of near perfect combostion in an engine is water out of the exhaust!! Besides,well anytime you are on an intake stroke you are pulling in air! Air from the real world always has some moisture in it anyway!! How in the hell do you waterproof your cilinders? You are impractable!! And I do not think I would take advice from you! It really sucks when everyone is an expert!!! Especialy when they will confuse people that will not do research for themselves!

    Haven't you ever seen a rusted out exhaust system? If not, you are not very observant!

    Any exhaust system will fail over time!! I was a mechanic for years,and have seen many cases of bad exhaust pipes! The point I am trying to make is that water is a byproduct of combustion!! Go ask your mechanic to waterproof your cylinders and see what he tells you! I might be missing something here? If I were told to waterproof your cylinders I might put a snorkel on your intake manifold? The military and some off road guys do it all the time to waterproof there cylinders..

    Hi Albee - can you post some details about your electrolyzer on here? I'd love to know more. Almost all of my mileage in on the highway!



    Can you post where to get the instructions on how to make this and where to get any special materials. This looks like an easier and cheaper way to make than some of the other methods I have seen. Thanks

    Check out my dry cell powerpoint, I'm not trying to get views I just think it would help, it has some good information on electrolizers and where to get plans.

    Where can i get plans to build this electrolyzer? Thanks Eth