This might be of interest to a few of you. I had
a vision of the trimaran in Waterworld when I read this article.
[Nov 29, 2003]
A 69-year-old, 10th-grade Canadian drop-out and his 58-year-old
Norwegian cousin, who himself left school in the eighth grade,
have just been granted two U.S. patents on a process that produces
hydrogen by throwing discarded aluminum cans or foil into water
laced with Drano.
Not only is their discovery likely to force scientists to rewrite
basic chemistry texts but it also might open up an easy way
of producing the nonpolluting gas – the so-called "energy
of the future" – from trashed aluminum.
Ease of production is vital because while hydrogen is found
widely in nature in water, freeing up the gas is generally expensive
The new procedure is so easy that "you can do it in your
sink if you just don’t let kids play with the sodium hydroxide
(a basic component of Drano) when you are done," said George
Jenkins, a University of New Brunswick forestry professor who
has been working with the cousins to develop the technology.
The genesis for the discovery, said Jim Andersen, a mill owner
from New Denmark, New Brunswick, was the two cousins’
long-term interest in inventing things – and a book.
After reading "The Coming Energy Revolution," which
describes the role of hydrogen as a future energy source, "We
decided to look at it ourselves," said Andersen, who has
worked in the forest industry most of his life.
So Erling Reidar Andersen, his Norwegian cousin, started to
fool with various mixtures based on what he knew about diving
suits that produced hydrogen as a by-product of heat. He called
excitedly one night to announce that he had come up with what
he thought was a novel way of making hydrogen in pots on his
Later, the two Andersens were at the University of New Brunswick
talking to Jenkins about another of their projects and mentioned
what they had found.
"My reaction to that was that everyone knows metal in
water can produce hydrogen, but the reactions stop," Jenkins
said. "And I showed them by putting a copper penny in a
glass of water. They said, ‘But our reaction doesn’t
What the two school-drop-out inventors had discovered was that
instead of sodium hydroxide breaking down and creating the aluminum
equivalent of rust to snuff out the reaction – a process
described in most basic chemistry books – the corrosive
chemical was actually a catalyst. That is, it didn’t break
down, and the reaction continued as long as more water and aluminum
Further experiments found that in the right mixture, aluminum
cans are completely dissolved in as little as five minutes.
Everyone involved takes great pains to point out that this
energy-generating reaction is in no way akin to a famous bogus
table-top energy source – cold fusion.
"What you are essentially doing is liberating energy which
was put into the aluminum when it was made," Jenkins said.
"It’s not the same as getting something for nothing
from cold fusion."
Outsiders who have looked at the patent agree and say what
the amateur inventors found has real promise.
"It is perfectly reasonable and doesn’t violate
any fundamental laws of chemical reactions. That is to say,
it is not, say, a priori bogus, but (the) future will say how
well it works," University of Toronto chemistry professor
Ulrich Fekl said.