Advocating hydrogen since 1976

One Scientific Founder Michael Redwine built the first prototype that would eventually become our catalytic hydrogen production system in the mid-1970s, while working as the head of research and development at a medical manufacturing company in rural Nebraska. The idea for the device came from an unlikely source of inspiration: the Biblical story of the prophet Elijah, which Michael was studying at the time.

According to the story, Elijah performed a miracle before the Israelites by calling upon God to send fire from the sky to consume a sacrifice placed on an altar drenched with water. Being both a man of God and a man of science, Michael reasoned that a bolt of lightning had struck the wet altar and that it could only have created a fire intense enough to completely burn everything it touched if the water itself had contributed as fuel.

Finding the Key

With scientists across the U.S. scrambling for a solution to the OPEC oil crisis facing the Western world at that time, Michael was intrigued by the possibility of using pure water as a sole source of fuel. He knew the answer dealt with harnessing the power of hydrogen—the unique element that makes up two-thirds of every water molecule. The “easiest,” most reliable way to separate hydrogen from oxygen in water molecules at that time was via a chemical reaction called electrolysis. The problem Michael faced was that generating the amount of heat required to trigger electrolysis necessitated the use of an outside energy source.

Michael was convinced that all the components needed to trigger catalysis and create powerful energy had been contained in Elijah’s altar almost 3,000 years ago. The key to solving the problem, he hypothesized, was determining the right catalyst chemistry.

Redwine's Folly

Michael built an apparatus to test his idea and, in early 1976, began experimenting with different catalyst configurations. As months and months went by without results, friends and coworkers of Michael’s jokingly hung a sign on the apparatus, calling it “Redwine’s Folly.” But persistence paid off. In the same way that Elijah’s miracle on Mount Carmel proved the presence and power of God to the doubting Israelites, when one of Michael’s experiments finally produced a small flame, it proved his hypothesis correct—and opened the door for the boundless possibilities of truly clean, renewable fuel. So why did it take so long for the technology to be fully developed?

Safety Dance

As proven by that first small flame, Michael’s apparatus was producing a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen gas. Hydrogen gas on its own is flammable, but the presence of oxygen amplifies that flammability— to a dangerous degree. This became apparent after a subsequent test of the apparatus produced a thrust so powerful the flame singed a coworker’s eyebrows from over 30 feet away and knocked the device off its work bench.

Fortunately no one was seriously harmed, but Michael realized he needed to find a way to efficiently separate the hydrogen and oxygen streams as they exited the apparatus so that the hydrogen could be safely controlled. Unfortunately, at that time selective gas separation technologies were prohibitively expensive and had limited applications. Michael decided to postpone further development until he could conduct experiments without putting human beings in danger.

It would be many years before new discoveries were made and technology became sophisticated enough to present a viable solution to separate the gas mixture. As Michael ventured into other fields, his miraculous apparatus and the brilliant idea behind it fell to the wayside—until now.

 
 Early prototype demonstration of hydrogen and oxygen gas mix ignition.

Early prototype demonstration of hydrogen and oxygen gas mix ignition.