Burn water!

A college dropout from a south Indian village, has produced a form of crude, low-sulphur 'petroleum' by mixing water and some herbs, shown that it can run engines in science labs and vehicles on the road and is now awaiting further research and a patent on what could be India's wonder fuel

By N Raghuram
Published: Thursday 15 August 1996

-- (Credit: Rustam Vania)petrol from water? That too in India, a country surrounded by water on all three sides! Imagine the entire world's petro-dollar industry becoming petro-rupee? No jokes. No magic. A young Indian farmer showed how to do it, leaving awestruck the top scientists of some of the most respectable institutions in the country.

On July 16, 1996, a group of unusual visitors came to meet some of the top officials of the Union ministry's department of science and technology (dst). The group included the inventor Kannan (not his real name), a small farmer from a remote village in south India. In a public demonstration the next day, Kannan showed the officials how the fuel is made. He added some leaves he had brought with him to a bowl of hot water, along with a few salts and a few drops of what he called an 'essence'. The potion was then allowed to cool and gradually the water and oil phases separated. He decanted the oil phase through a cloth and offered both the product and the cloth for examination. The product smelt and burnt like petroleum. When the cloth was exposed to flame, it burnt typically like a wick soaked in kerosene. The dst officials sent a sample for detailed chemical examination and assured Kannan their support in developing and standardising the technology and protecting his intellectual property through a patent.

"You can't exactly call it a demonstration because the scientific aspects of the process as well as the product, are still not very clear. He did show us how he does it and as a scientist, I would neither believe it nor disbelieve it till I know the full details. But I would say that what he showed was very interesting and significant and I have no reason to assume that he was doing any magic or fraud. We are examining it systematically now and would certainly take it up further, based on the outcome," says V S Rama Murthy, secretary, dst. Murthy first heard of this six months ago when scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology (iit), Madras, examined the fuel combustion characteristics of this product on different engines and certified it to be quite satisfactory.

Kannan's curiosity was triggered off by an accidental observation over a decade ago. As a school kid of the ninth standard, he went for an excursion where he saw a plant with lush green leaves catch fire from a cooking place which was at a reasonable distance. Surprised that green leaves could catch fire from such a distance, he presumed that the plant had something that made it catch fire more easily than other plants. But there were no more plants of that species in that area.

Kannan kept searching for this plant relentlessly and found it after about three years. In the meantime, he had studied some chemistry and started experimenting on it. He found that the plant had some hydrocarbon compounds which could be brought into solution under certain conditions. This yielded a process which he currently uses to generate petroleum. He now has a crude processing plant in his village, designed with the help of some local engineers, in which he produces about 10 litres of crude per day. Apparently, the process yields zero sulphur crude which, when allowed to 'mature' over three days, yields petrol, diesel and kerosene upon distillation. His friends and others have been using his produce for running their vehicles for quite sometime.

According to some dst officials, he approached several agencies including Madras Refineries, Bajaj Auto and others to pick up his invention for further development, but to no avail. All he wanted was a suitable reward and credit for his invention, as well as royalty for its commercialisation. According to Rama Murthy, he has already applied for a patent with the help of some friends and well-wishers but possibilities do exist for further development, which are being examined now. "If his claims are found to be true and established scientifically, I would say that the invention has the elements of a great achievement, says Murthy."

But for all his worth, Kannan remains a symbol of what happens to innovators like him in our country. He is still that poor farmer, a college dropout. His pathbreaking innovation has not left him showering in glory. Instead, there have been attempts to steal his invention from him. There has been one attempt on his life already. And the reason Down To Earth has not used his real name is to afford him that security which the state should be providing him.

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