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

Picture of Run Your Car on Hydrogen From Aluminum Soda Cans and Lye

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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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.


kjjohn (author)2010-05-05

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

Aquarius (author)kjjohn2010-09-28

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.

mtabernig. (author)Aquarius2016-08-24

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

JeffC54 (author)mtabernig.2017-11-19

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.

jamesb37 (author)kjjohn2015-03-29

The cans would dissolve but leave plastic sleeves behind.

Aquarius (author)kjjohn2010-09-28

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.

JeremyA (author)2008-05-13

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.

albee (author)JeremyA2008-09-15

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!!!

Mr.Stein (author)albee2012-02-07

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.

Kirk (author)Mr.Stein2014-07-06

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

mtabernig. (author)Kirk2016-08-24

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!!!

mtabernig. (author)Mr.Stein2016-08-24

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 .

LunaEros (author)Mr.Stein2013-08-06

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.

medicineman45 (author)Mr.Stein2012-04-22

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!

Mr.Stein (author)medicineman452012-05-12

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

medicineman45 (author)Mr.Stein2012-05-31

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..

rogermyers (author)albee2011-06-05

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!



HandymanL (author)albee2010-06-10

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 (author)HandymanL2011-02-03

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.

8258groby (author)albee2008-09-16

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

Primeonly27 (author)JeremyA2012-02-28

Dito! After looking into my project that is similar to this. It is far cheaper and safer just to go buy 3000L of H2 gas from the welding shop for $50 get a cng composite tank and fill it.


rogermyers (author)JeremyA2011-06-05

Hi JeremyA

Have you considered how much diesel fuel is used by farmers in the harvesting of whatever oil you plan on using for your bio-diesel? Although how about using electrolysis to produce hydrogen and oxygen, which can be injected into the fuel mixture of a regular car?


JeremyA (author)rogermyers2011-06-05

nothing is free Roger. However the amount of diesel used to produce the feedstock for the oil is very little. A diesel engine running at low RPM is very fuel efficient. The total energy demands versus energy output of BioDiesel is something on the order of 3 units out/1 unit in. It is a energy gain. The nice thing about BioDiesel now, vs. when I first got into it, is that it is not just heresay anymore. It's all documented. Do some searches on biodiesel and you will see it is the way to go. I have also witnessed systems similar to albee's set up below in real life and they are spectacular. They are a great addition to any engine and wish they would take off more.

Insaneisfun (author)JeremyA2008-05-28

If you would look in to the number concerning what you said you would see your folly.

JeremyA (author)Insaneisfun2008-06-06

That is kind of a vague response. What number concerning what part of what I said. I know exactly what I am talking about, so I don't see my "folly". Besides who says folly? Are you from the USA? Have you ever been with the opposite sex? Your comment about recycling the cans putting the stored energy to waste is ridiculous too. With how many uses we have for aluminum we should not be lightly destroying it for fuel purposes. The harvesting and processing of aluminum takes tons of electricity. Recycling it for re-use in other aluminum goods saves as much as 75% of the electricity usage, which many times is produced using coal fired powerplants. The overall energy used to create the aluminum can in the first place vs. the amount of energy put out to the wheels of the car is so inefficient, you might as well just create a coal powered car. Do some more research.

AleksA6 (author)2016-02-06

i like the cap hahaha

LionMain (author)2016-01-12

Hydrogen Fuel Cells for vehicles tried by major auto company and after much spent was not feasible for a ton of reasons even I did mot see. Recycling, manufacturing, supply of key metals, size needed, weight, hazards on road like placards for accidents and cleanup costs. Car was sharp, but will not work for the masses.

MichaelW176 (author)2015-11-10

Pardon me if this is naive, but why couldn't the aluminum in water be used to generate hydrogen which then is burned to heat a house?

TonyN2 (author)2015-05-31

Is this a serious forum, or just screwing around?

m0j0 (author)2008-02-13

does your motor now run without gasoline, or is this just an enhancement of the gasoline combustion process?

arduinoe (author)m0j02009-05-31

its mainly just an enhancement , but try sticking that thing on your car !!!

jamesb37 (author)arduinoe2015-03-29

enhance what? This was my parts car for another Lincoln It had no gas tank or gas line. Ran only on hydrogen.

SunnyP3 (author)jamesb372015-05-05

I want to know that running an engine on hydrogen which is extracted from water is possible in today's date?

jamesb37 (author)SunnyP32015-05-05

As a proof of concept, yes. As something you'd want to try to drive around? Only in a Zombie apocalypse. Problems: 1) Hydrogen is has a very low octane rating and makes a lot of noise and heat and not a lot of kinetic energy, 2) crappy energy density without pressure vessels or cryonics (those who think you can electrolize on the fly can bite me). Unless you cheat and burn hidden energy like I'm doing in this trick with the aluminium. 3) look up "hydrogen embrittlement" before you do this to any car that you aren't willing to destroy. 4) Be aware that you add extra explody and the unique hazard of turning yourself in to soap speread over a wide area with this fielld of research. It's amusing, but honestly I don't think this is the wave of the future.

SunnyP3 (author)jamesb372015-05-05

i think this is the future because as you see. energy crisis will be there so this is somethig from which we can produce energy

jamesb37 (author)SunnyP32015-05-06

But it isn't really. There is no hydrogen utilization strategy where the production of the hydrogen does not require more energy than you could possibly get out of it, hydrogen is not a power source, it is a power storage medium and not a very good one, very low energy density. It requires very high pressures and very low temps. you might want to look into the "Fischer Tropsch" process, or "blue diesel" to make it into something a little more storable.

jamesb37 (author)m0j02015-03-29

The galsone system was totally disconected. No tank or fuel line.

SunnyP3 (author)jamesb372015-05-04

Hello the car which was running on hydrogen from aluminum is 100%
running on hydrogen and if yes then for how much CC how much
hydrogen/liter is required ?

jamesb37 (author)SunnyP32015-05-05

We filled a ten gallon, inflatable bag with gas at just over sea level pressure, the 462 cubic inch engine emptied it in a matter of seconds. (author)2011-02-03

I might of missed it but what is your lye water ratio, do you use a small amount of it, or like 20, 1lb jars of it.

jamesb37 (author)jj.inc2015-03-29

This was tricky. The process is exothermic and get more efficent as it gets hotter and as the chemical density increases. So the longer it went, the better it got. "too much" was easily applicable. 25 gal of water, six jars of lye, and a bunch of cans, heat sinks, aluminium scrap etc. The amount of surface area on the aluminium was also a major factor.

jamesb37 (author)2015-03-29

Minor and very late corrections to this post, The tuna can was to allow the system to vent in case of a backfire, we used the existing carb for throttle control and when you leaach wood ash you get potasium hydroxide, not sodium. the confusion is common as both are commonly called "lye and in this and most other cases can be readily substituted.

blackghost (author)2014-06-24

Hey, this is very interesting and simple
Only improvement I would suggest is exchanging the cans for the deposit and buying aluminium scrap. At current metal prices , you would get a lot more aluminium that way

chevy1234 (author)2014-02-10

Great instructable to get the basic out there for people to see. It's hard to understand how there can be negativity toward hydrogen diyers, it is far beyond economical and environmentally friendly compared to just about everything out there in the alternative energy collaboration. I have a well, so water doesn't cost me anything, I use solar and wind to power and charge battery's. Making distilled water in very similar to hydrogen production, so how is it some people say it is not worth it. As far as protecting your engine you need to realize that: using gasoline or number #2 fuel oil/ diesel is the reason for the 5000 kilometer oil changes, the oil dirties from carbon deposits left in the combustion chamber, hydrogen is one of the cleanest fuel's you can burn in a combustion engine much like alcohol. There is no carbon foot print. It has to be that some people just don't quite understand the process, or they believe the bad press from the oil cartels about this perfect alternative to the carbon fossil fuels. Keep the ideas coming, it is the back yard mechanic and scientist that will ultimately save our planet for all living things and our future generations. look forward to more of the keen ideas from the youth of today. I'm not so young but it is a fantastic thing to see the youth taking responsible moves forward on our past mistakes.

Hello Hydrogen (author)2012-04-25

I literally created an account to say this to everyone interested in electrolysis, so for your own benefit please read this.

I made an electrolysis unit and ran a Bunsen burner with it using no electrolyte additives. The device ran on distilled water and used only 150 watts of brute force 12VDC (No Pulse). Inner/Outer tube cell design.

In 2005 i became interested in electrolysis for the purpose of liberating hydrogen from water and using it as fuel. I have since learned that there are many pros and cons (Professional's and Con-artists) in fact there are even some professional con artists selling devices on ebay that are very dangerous and poorly made using materials they found to be the cheapest for construction of their device. However, the real teachers would include STANLEY ALLEN MEYER, Daniel Dingel, and Bob Boyce. Google those names!!!!

First and foremost NEVER USE GLASS as a container for your electrolysis apparatus because when you end up in a hospital from a flashback rupturing your cell, glass is hard to see in X-Rays.

If you want to know the truth about Hydrogen instead of mere opinions from self educated individuals leaving comments (including myself) then visit YouTube and see the "University of Berkeley Chem 1A" series of videos. Here is a link to where they start;

I used to make videos showing my progress with hydrogen projects but stopped making videos due to so many people having mixed feelings about the concept being a waste of time because it is not efficient. It is not a waste of time at all in my opinion. My videos are titled "Hello Hydrogen part 1,2,3,ect"
on youtube. I dont care about how many views the videos get and i am only sharing these videos in an effort to make people aware of safety issues.

If you are serious about building an electrolysis device then visit to find literally thousands of builders and see there variations.

Stan Meyer gave me the inspiration to run a vehicle on water after seeing his video titled; "Equinox - It runs on water".

R.I.P. Stanley Allen Meyer
"Founder of the Water Fuel Cell"

Stainless Steel 316 and 304 are inert to hydrogen, oxygen, and the combination of the two being water. Electrodes should be made from this material to prevent decomposition of your electrodes.

The nasty stuff you see in the bottom for your cell after use is not healthy, keep it off you skin and away from ground water. Your getting it from impurities in your water, use distilled water only.

Never compress Hydrogen and Oxygen together, its a recipe for disaster. I personally have ran my cell to 80 PSI during a cell pressure test, later I came to find out I was lucky I didnt lose my life in the process. Hydrogen and Oxygen will self implode at a certain pressure and also at a certain temperature and that is without any spark or flame. Keep it safe test your cell PSI with ambient air and a compressor not Hydrogen and Oxygen.

Buy a real flashback arrestor that is safe for the use of hydrogen and oxygen DO NOT use a fish tank air line check valve as i have seen some try to do...

Do not bother building a lawton box.... If you insist on pulsing then buy a pulse generator. HP Agilent makes a good vintage pulse gen (HP 8131A is what I got) that sells for around $300 on ebay these days, they where $42,000 in 1982.

Do not get discouraged when you hear a college grad chemistry major try to tell you about the second law of thermodynamics, they didnt take into consideration that the water is holding the energy like a relay. It takes energy to break the covalent bond of water but you liberate energy in the process. They also didnt take into consideration that resonance can also play its role in electrolysis. It is believed that High Frequency Pulses of High Voltage DC can create very efficient electrolysis. The frequency of resonance is different for each cell and each cell condition such as cell construction, cell surface area, water temp, water composition, ect. So basically its a science still being understood just like everything else.

If you were to P in an electrolysis device then turn it on you would create many gases aside from Hydrogen and Oxygen. During combustion one of the byproducts would be water vapor, that water vapor can be condensed back into water. Pure water. Water that is so pure it has 0 parts per million total dissolved solids. In fact the water needs nutrients added to it to keep it from leaching nutrients from the body when it is used as drinking water.

Nasa has an electrolysis system on the space station ran by solar power to provide oxygen for breathing, it gets its water delivered from earth but can even run on water taken from urine!


Below is an article on it found at the following website;

The International Space Station (ISS) was designed for long-term spaceflight and has been in orbit since 1998. So how is oxygen made aboard the ISS? It's handled in one of three ways, using oxygen generators, pressurized oxygen tanks or solid fuel oxygen generators (also called oxygen candles).

The primary method is accomplished by the oxygen generators: the Russian-made Elektron and the U.S. Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS). The Elektron is located in the service module (Zvezda) and the ECLSS is located in the Destiny laboratory module. These devices make oxygen from water by a process called electrolysis, during which an electric current passes through water from one positively-charged electrode called an anode to another negatively-charged electrode called a cathode. There's a small concentration of salt in the water to conduct electricity because water itself is a poor electrical conductor. In the process, water gets split into hydrogen gas and oxygen gas. Here's how the chemistry of the process works:

* At the cathode, a type of reaction called reduction occurs. Electrons (e-) from the cathode combine with the water (H2O) to make hydrogen gas (H2) and hydroxide ions (OH-): 2H2O (l) + 2e- ->H2 (g) + 2 OH- (aq).
* At the anode, a type of reaction called oxidation occurs. Electrons get removed from water and flow into the anode. Removing the electrons from water yields oxygen gas (O2) and hydrogen ions (H+): 2H2O (l) -> O2 (g) + 4 e- + 4 H+

The electricity is generated by the station's solar panels and supplied to the oxygen generators through the station's power grid. The water gets delivered to the station from Earth by Progress supply ships and the space shuttle. Water also gets reclaimed by condensers that remove water vapor from the cabin air (astronauts exhale water vapor). Finally, water can be recycled from the astronauts' urine by the ECLSS unit. The hydrogen gas made in the electrolysis process gets vented into space and the oxygen gas is circulated into the cabin air.


In my opinion, I do not care if it takes a 10,000 watt electrolysis device to get an small 4 stroke engine running, because the sun and the wind and the water are still free. For now at least...

If you found this comment helpful or interesting please feel free to copy paste it anywhere you like.

by Richard Collins

smelter (author)2011-04-19

Since the nay-sayers object to the amout of power used to produce new aluminum, let me say this;
I am very green conscious, I run 7 large solar panels and a 450 watt wind generator. These charge a bank of golf card batteries which run a 5000 watt Inverter from which I get 120Volts a.c.
I can use this to get 12 VDC to run the hydrogen device to provide fuel for my main vehicle engine or my 120VAC propane fired generator.
So my aluminum use is free except for the deposit I could get by selling the cans. I get those for free along the highway anyway.
An often overlooked source of aluminum is old window and door frames, eavestrough, enhine blocks, manifolds etc. and I really watch where the hydro electric company is working, the high voltage power lines are often aluminum and they always have scraps and chunks that I can talk them out of...
Most of this stuff winds up in the landfill anyway.

smelter (author)2011-04-18

Ok lets run this through the mill--- I collect and melt down aluminum cans into small ingots for later use to make antique car and boat parts. So, the paint, excess oxides etc are already gone. I could pour the aluminum into a mold to make grids or whatever to run into the lye solution like nuclear fuel rods. The excess heat could be used to preheat aluminum scrap for melting. Perhaps the hydrogen could be used to augment the propane usd in my home made air blast smelter. I have ordered a unit to put in my 1 ton chev diesel truck...

ade hendra (author)2010-05-31


type THE END (author)2009-08-27

If u had fuel injection you cloud add it to the intake valve for air

JOEDUPONT (author)2009-08-25

I would think that you could spray the solution on the aluminum until the pressure built up and then cut the spray or dip it. I think the key is to use hydrogen to burn.. say hot oil vapors. that way you need only a fraction of the h2 to upgrade used smoking cooking oil smoke.

About This Instructable




Bio: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output ... More »
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