On The Production of Hydrogen Gas By The Electrolysis of Water



Michael S. Johnston

Copyright 2000




I have, for the past year and a half, been involved in a personal research project which was initially aimed solely at improving my own understanding of the process by which hydrogen gas may be produced, from water, by electrolysis, for use as a fuel. This project was undertaken simply because it caught my interest and has been conducted and financed totally by me. Therefore the data that I intend to present in this series of papers, which is the result of this research, is not the exclusive property (intellectual or otherwise) of anyone but myself and, as such, I have decided to publish and distribute it freely in the hope that it may, in some small way, prove beneficial to others.


I am not a credentialed scientist nor do I hold any kind of degree which might lend any immediate perception of implied validity to the data which I intend to present here and yet, I believe that said data is of such a fundamentally accurate nature and can so easily be confirmed from the proper application of facts which are accepted and commonly available from the body of existent literature pertaining to this subject, that it will be able to stand on it's own against whatever test may be employed to validate it.


The main obstacle to the use of hydrogen (from water) as a fuel has always been the large expenditure of energy and associated costs that have been perceived to be required to produce it and are required when the total process of electrolysis is not properly understood. But I intend to show here how that hurdle can be overcome. The purpose of this paper then is to prove, by the use of known laws and principles, within the accepted paradigm of scientific knowledge, that the production of hydrogen gas, by the electrolysis of water, is a viable source of cheap and, under the right conditions, "free" energy.


First let's consider what electrolysis is; "Electrolysis is the process of using electrical energy to produce chemical change"(1)(paraphrased,p;279). Seems simple enough doesn't it? The chemical formula which is usually used to illustrate the electrolysis of water is;


2H2O----------------->2H2(g) + O2(g) -135 kcal



This is, of course, the simplified version of the formula which doesn't show the fact that there was an electrolyte present in the water which was electrolyzed or what energy was contributed to the overall reaction by the electrolyte and also dosen't illustrate properly Faraday's law of electrolysis, which states (in his own words);"Electrochemical decomposition is well known to depend essentially upon the current (amperage, mj) of electricity. I have shown in certain cases (375) the decomposition is proportionate to the quantity of electricity passing, whatever may be it's intensity (voltage,mj) or it's source, and that the same is probably true for all cases (377) even when the utmost generality is taken on the one hand, and great precision of expression on the other (505)." (2)(. Series V, Paragraph 510)


From another source Faraday's two laws of electrolysis are stated in the following way;

"Faraday established by experiment the following two laws of electrolysis:

First Law: The mass of a substance separated in electrolysis is proportional to the quantity of electricity that passes."

"Second Law: The mass of a substance deposited is proportional to the chemical equivalent of the ion, that is, to the atomic mass of the ion divided by it's valence."

(4)(Section 28-12, Page 309)


The fact that the electric current which enters the cell is not "used" in the sense that it is not necessary to convert that current into a release of heat, light or chemical energy to achieve the production of h2(g), along with the fact that no electricity actually passes through the cell are of utmost importance. Or perhaps it would be better to say that how it is used and how it passes (enters) one side of the cell and exits the other are of utmost importance. Yet it is the most misunderstood piece of accepted scientific knowledge that I have ever encountered. It is this very reason that compels me to give such a long and detailed presentation in order to validate a few simple facts which, when understood by the reader, will seem so obvious so as to hardly deserve this necessary level of notoriety.


Perhaps this is because the inherent misconception in the above formula is taught so early in a student's academic career. So it is just accepted it as fact without question. Or maybe it is because, since chemistry loves equilibrium in it's formulas, that the one that illustrates the combination of H2 and O2 gasses by combustion is usually presented as being the "other half" of a complete, balanced chemical reaction which seems to show that just as much energy is required to produce a given quantity of H2 gas by electrolysis as is released by the subsequent combustion of those same gasses together. The set of two "half reactions" are usually presented together like this:


2H2O(l)------------------>2H2(g) + O2(g) -135 kcal



And then;


2H2(g) + O2(g)-------------------->2H2O(l) +135 kcal



Are these two reactions individually accurate? Yes. Are these two reactions completely, utterly, misleading when presented together? Yes. Ah, a paradox. How can something be at the same time both the truth and a lie? Consider: "I did NOT have sex with that woman" - Bill Clinton. That statement was true in the context that HE meant it and yet, without understanding that context, the listener might easily take it to mean something entirely different. The same is true of the above set of equations. They are very literally a "half-truth". They seem to show that during electrolysis you must "use up" as much electricity to produce hydrogen gas as you can later get back out of the hydrogen gas by combustion (with the oxygen gas from the anode). "Use up" in the previous sentence to be taken as meaning the kind of "used up" you have when you operate something like an electric resistance heater, where x amount of energy in the form of electric current enters the device and some is converted into heat/work energy and the rest exits as electricity, which then either does more work or returns to it's source.


This state of affairs is most agreeable to scientists because it satisfies both "The Law of Conservation of Energy", which states;"Energy is given to a body when work is done upon it. In this process there is merely a transfer of energy from one body to another. In such transfer no energy is created or destroyed; it merely changes from one form to another." (4)(Section 8-4, p.76) And Carnot's First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, which state; First Law "When heat is transformed into any other form of energy the total amount of energy is constant." and the Second Law; "A heat engine cannot cannot transfer heat from a body to another at higher temperature unless external energy is applied to the engine." (4)(Section 22-11, Summary, p.231)


From these laws a more general concept has arisen, that being ;"You can't get any more energy out of something than what you put into it"(which is erroneous as stated, it should say; "You can't get any more energy out of something than is AVAILABLE"). I don't intend to dispute the above laws and fully believe them to be accurate, as they are intended to be understood and applied, and I will wait till later to more fully develop the part of the paper which specifically addresses particular points which relate to those laws. At this point though, to insure that everyone reading this can easily understand what I am talking about, it will be necessary for me to present a brief review of the fundamentals of electrochemistry as they relate to this topic (I have kids from K-12 schools visiting my website).


Let me start with a look at Faraday's equipment. I will spend as much time explaining each component as is pertinent to the purposes of this paper. As his source of electricity Faraday usually used Voltaic cells (primary wet cells). These are batteries which operate on the oxidation/reduction principle to convert the energy of chemical combination/metallic decomposition directly into electrical energy.

Figure :1