While creating a hot flame using ordinary water may seem like something out of a science fiction movie, it is not only possible, but may soon be available to all, thanks to the genius work of a team of researchers that are working in collaboration as part of the European Union-funded SafeFlame consortium.
The group that comprises of scientists from numerous institutions scattered all across Europe, was trying to come up with an alternative to the commonly used welding and brazing torches that use an oxygen-acetylene mix. The pressurized tanks that contain the acetylene gas are so dangerous that they are banned in areas where an accidental gas leakage could be deadly. In addition, the glare from the hot flame can result in eye damage, which is why welders are always seen sporting safety goggles. That's not all. Because the temperature of the flame cannot be controlled, extra care has to be taken when working with sensitive metals like aluminum. And then there is the inconvenience and cost of storing and lugging the tanks around.
The SafeFlame torch that is currently being tested by professionals all across Europe, takes care of all the issues with one simple solution - It uses water and electricity to create the flame instead of the flammable gas. The portable device has a built-in battery or wall powered electrolyzer which when to exposed water, electrolyzes or separates the hydrogen and oxygen molecules. The two are then recombined at the tip of the torch's nozzle resulting in a hydrogen-based flame that is slightly cooler, cleaner and much safer than the traditional oxy-acetylene one. The user can also alter the intensity of the heat, by adjusting the amount of power delivered to the electrolyzer. This makes SafeFlame much more versatile to use than the torches that are currently on the market. Also, since the flame is produced outside the device, the torch never gets hot making it a lot easier to handle. The icing on the cake? There is no cylinder to store or lug around!
The best part is that this is just the initial prototype and the technology can only get better - Future versions could be solar-powered which means that users will need only sunlight and water to get the flame going.
Though the developers have not specified the cost, they estimate that SafeFlame will be about 20 times cheaper than the torches currently on the market. That's because there will no longer be the expense of buying and storing tanks and also because the researchers are working on making SafeFlame cheaper by finding alternatives to the platinum and other precious metal catalysts that it and other electrolyzers currently use. The ultimate goal is to make this portable torch affordable to anyone that needs or wants it.
Resources: Gizmag.com, euronews.com,dvice.com