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Scrap Heap Challenges

Some of you who have tripped over this blog may have realised that I have others blogs, on various topics, and touching on my own personal brand of “engineering”.

I am a mechanical engineer by training (if that is the right word), having served and apprenticeship and attended college for umpty-tump years.

My main field of interest is making things from junk that do a useful job, the idea being that these “things” can be made by anyone, using anything to hand, to improve the life of someone. I am an avid viewer of the UK TV programme, Scrap Heap Challenge, in which (for those of you who have not seen it) two teams are set a challenge to build a vehicle or other engine purely from what they can find in a scrap heap. There is a time limit and at the end, the two engines are pitted against each other to see which is more efficient – lovely!

Presently, I am working on a couple of projects. I do not claim that the systems I am working on are my ‘inventions’, I am just trying to devise a way of making them available to a larger community:

  • a water purification system that can be used simply in the hot bits of Africa (i.e. Kenya), but that does not cost lots of dollars to make or use. I want something that someone can pour dirty water into one end and get drinking water out of the other end – simple!
  • a methane collector that will give a rural community a form of power, either directly for cooking, or as a fuel to drive an engine. This can, in turn drive a generator, water pump, etc. If adopted for cooking, it will replace wood and charcoal, meaning that trees do not need to be cut down, meaning that soil erosion may be reduced, meaning crops stand a better chance of producing food. A by-product of a methane collector is that it produces pure fertilizer.

In the US of A, there is a bunch of crazy [?] people who say they can split the H and O elements of H2O, producing a gas they call HHO. They further state that if this gas is introduced into the air intake of a car (petrol or diesel), fuel consumption will be improved – considerably – and in the case of diesel engines, power output will also be increased. And of course, harmful exhaust emissions will be dramatically reduced.

OK, so it’s the old “car running on water” urban myth again, or is it? I needed to know, so I conducted a few experiments and this is what I found.

Yes, following the procedure, a gas can be collected from water. I am not a chemist, so I cannot say what the gas is, but I can say that it is inflammable. This is a good start. I can surmise that, as water is a hydrogen/oxygen mix, the gas is also a hydrogen/oxygen mix.

So, why isn’t everyone converting their cars to this form of propulsion?

Cheap bio-diesel in the form of filtered, used cooking oil can be used in certain makes of diesel engine without any expensive or complicated processing. It has to be mixed with “real” diesel and the proportions are dictated by the climate – cooking oil emulsifies at quite a high temperature and can goo up the works.

I have tried 25% to 30% bio-diesel mix in my vehicle (in summer), and the only side-effect is that people I pass suddenly have the urge to go and buy fish and chips. This could be a bad thing in a country where the Whitehall Nannies are obsessed with obesity. (Incidentally, did any of them take a close look at our erstwhile deputy leader, to mention but two?)

Of course, you can go out and buy a gizmo that processes cooking oil, adds other chemicals and produces a perfectly good alternative to pump diesel. I believe it costs about £2,500, but the end product is a litre of diesel for about 50p. Another of course; you can only use this bio-diesel for your own personal use and only 3,000 litres a year at that. The government is losing out on 85p a litre in revenue, so I can imagine that they are not terribly happy, despite their insistence on being “green”.

Anyway, back to HHO. Does it work? I don’t know, and although I have seen hundreds of testimonies (mainly from the US of A) to the effect that it does, and read papers from universities in the USA and Australia that state that, [in theory] it works, I will not believe it until I have seen it for myself.

If it does, and if I can find a “Scrap Heap Challenge” way of making this gadget, I will let you all know, at the risk of bankrupting the government – oh, I forgot, they are doing that already – without my help.

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  1. August 24, 2008 at 11:31

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  2. Stegg
    August 26, 2008 at 08:53

    Thanks Josh.

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