In October, Fukai Environmental Research Institute announced that it has developed a new low-cost technology capable of generating hydrogen energy. Fukai claims it is possible to generate the amount of hydrogen required to generate 1 kilowatt of electricity for a cost of approximately 18 cents, the world’s lowest cost for hydrogen-power generation.

Hydrogen fuel cells offer the unique benefit of combining cost-efficient power generation with eco-friendliness, the only emission being water. Over the past decade, these fuel cells have become cost-competitive with many traditional forms of power generation. Because they have no moving parts, are zero-emission, and are less hazardous than lead-acid batteries and propane tanks, hydrogen fuel cells are particularly suited to indoor environments, such as convention centers, malls, industrial plants and warehouses for forklifts and other materials-handling equipment.

For fuel cells to operate and produce electricity, a continuous supply of hydrogen is necessary. Unless a fuel cell user has a plant that produces hydrogen as a byproduct, it can be expensive. At least half of the world’s usable hydrogen is produced by the process of steam reforming; steam reacts with expensive fossil fuels such as natural gas, methanol or petroleum to produce hydrogen gas.

The new technology purports to generate hydrogen by adding aluminum or magnesium to what is known as “functional water” in the boiling state. The reason for the high rate of hydrogen production lies in Fukai’s proprietary functional water that is in a state ready to generate hydrogen. By reacting with these elements, it begins to generate large amounts of hydrogen.

“If we make the most of this technology, in the future it will be possible to run automobiles using water only, no need to use gasoline or electricity,” Toshiharu Fukai, the method’s developer, said. “In the future, water is bound to become a vital energy resource replacing petroleum-derived fuel. We are also pushing forward with technology that will allow us to generate hydrogen with zero cost. If we succeed in this development, even ordinary households will be able to produce hydrogen. Hydrogen-based power generation at home will no longer be a dream.”

Furthermore, Fukai claimed that the functional water can be produced by simply letting city water pass through a “functional water generation unit,” which contains natural minerals. This also eliminates the need for additional energy costs.

The scientific community has not yet weighed in on this development, but the claims of cars running on water continue to capture our imagination. Technology may one day make it possible.