Claims of 200% energy return with its seawater to hydrogen ‘technology’ prove false
Over the past few years, a company based out of Florida, Joi Scientific, has been gaining millions in investment and headlines. Recently, the company admitted to investors that its technology doesn’t work at all.
I [Mike Barnard} have a personal hand in this. Earlier this year, Joi Scientific was brought to my attention by CleanTechnica. A quick review found numerous red flags that suggested that the company wasn’t what it claimed. My guidance at the time was to not publish more on it, or at least nothing which provided flattering perspectives on its technology.
CBC in Canada had already published one article on Joi Scientific, questioning the multimillion dollar investment from New Brunswick Power and its head Gaetan Thomas, President & CEO, BScEngEE, D.Sc., ICD.D, P.Eng. I reached out to the journalist and was interviewed for a follow-on piece: Science behind NB Power’s hydrogen venture too good to be true, critic says. That critic would be me.
And now, the inevitable has happened. As CBC reported this week, Joi Scientific has admitted that its technology doesn’t work in any way, shape, or form as promised, but in fact has perhaps a 10th of the efficiency that it claimed. Its CEO Traver H. Kennedy told shareholders on a call:
“We’ve come to learn that the power measurements coming into our circuitry and going all the way back to the wall fundamentally show our current Hydrogen 2.0 technology has poor system efficiencies.”
Given that the company claimed getting twice the power out as it put in, this isn’t surprising. Also unsurprising is that he told investors that the company had no money left.
As part of my standard process that I provide as a service for clients and for publication, I assessed the public claims, claimed patents, scientific papers, and the backgrounds of the principals. This helps provide a well-rounded view of a technology and its proponents, enabling good investment decisions. Outside of the memorable case of the second (or possibly third) generation con man I discovered this year, the approach also helped me identify that a wind generation technology innovator’s previous claim to fame was making artificial noses, not a conspicuously relevant or adjacent market. It certainly didn’t pass my sniff test.
In the case of Joi Scientific, I reviewed the 11 patents that it had filed under the names of its two senior executives, Traver H. Kennedy and Robert L. Koeneman. Kennedy is Joi Scientific’s CEO while Koeneman is co-founder, President and Senior VP Technology.
The patents were illuminating, and reflected the public claims in its promotional videos.
In the exemplary systems, for one watt of input energy, two watts of energy in the form of hydrogen gas is achieved (a level of 200 percent).”
This was the first interesting point I stumbled across, and represented one of two or three Nobel Prize-worthy achievements, if they had been true, violating as they do both the first and second laws of thermodynamics.
I reached out to one of my long-term collaborators, Tim Weis, with whom I’d shared earlier iterations of this story, for comment. He’s currently Industrial Professor, Mechanical Engineering / Executive Director, Electricity, Centre for Applied Business Research in Energy and the Environment (CABREE), and has been a Director of the Pembina Institute and an advisor on energy to the Alberta Notley government.
“There may still be a significant role for hydrogen in a low-carbon economy, but the public needs to remember that in absence of a hydrogen mine, it is an energy-storage medium, not a source. If I were to say I was going to use Duracell batteries as a power supply, it would raise a red flag pretty quickly. If there’s a silver lining to this story, it’s that it has made a useful example for my engineering students as to why we study the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.”
The 200% claim wasn’t the only remarkable one. In another patent of the 11, in case the 200% claim had been merely an extended typo, they claimed the following:
“the production rate of the generated hydrogen 112′ increases significantly from a 0.7/0.8 Coefficient of Performance (COP) to greater than four times the COP (>400%).”
What’s a coefficient of performance? It’s actually something that is used in heating and cooling systems. You know what beats a CoP of 1? Systems like geothermal heat pumps which gain energy from an external source, using electricity to route a heat transfer fluid through a warmer or colder medium. That’s not what Joi Scientific is claiming, however. The company is claiming that it is putting electricity into a device which splits sea water into hydrogen and oxygen and gaining so much excess energy as to achieve 400% efficiency results.
That’s pretty remarkable. But that’s still not all.
Next Joi Scientific claimed hyper-efficient use of hydrogen as an energy source. It claimed that the company was able to use the resulting hydrogen in either a combustion or fuel cell model to generate enough energy to keep the process going indefinitely. Hydrogen in combustion or fuel cells is ~60% efficient at best. To gain net hydrogen for use elsewhere, this implies that they would have to achieve around 170% energy efficiency to be able to create hydrogen continuously. If Joi Scientific has managed to get well above 60% with hydrogen fueling its process, it would have won another Nobel Prize for that. Of course, it didn’t.
Another red flag was the lack of any actual output numbers beyond what was claimed in the patents. Nothing. No technical input/output results. No reports. No white papers. No scientific papers. No peer-reviewed results. No third-party results. Nothing.
Joi Scientific was also claiming technical breakthroughs using pulsed electricity in its electrolysis. This sounds impressive and all, but prior art on using pulsed electricity in hydrogen electrolysis goes back to 1994. Anyone familiar with the field looking at its patents and claims would immediately start questioning the company’s results on this claim alone. PEM electrolysis is currently around 80% efficient with a projected hypothetical peak of 86%, yet it was claiming 200%. Frankly, anything about 86% would have made anyone familiar with the field question the company’s results, and even 86% is questionable as industrial processes are rarely as perfect as optimal lab hypothetical processes.
Another piece of context is that free energy from water claims have been extant since the 1970s. A former Joi Scientific employee, anonymized with the pseudonym “Alex” by the CBC, pointed out that the Joi Scientific patents were remarkably similar to Stanley Meyer patents from 1990. Meyer’s water-powered cars still show up on YouTube and the like, shared by the credulous, despite him having been convicted of fraud in 1996. As the former employee said to CBC:
“Not only was it “not possible,” but Alex said the company’s technology “really wasn’t even able to be demonstrated. It never matched up with what they were trying to claim.”
His assertion was that Joi Scientific was achieving 20% efficiency, not 200%, that whatever it showed to NB Power and its PhD assessor — yes, an actually credentialed third-party chemical engineer looked at this mess and gave it the green light — was not actually working and that the company knew it. Of course, the third-party assessor was in addition to NB Power’s CEO and President’s credentials which should have indicated a background sufficient to catch these not very subtle clues. After all, the string of letters after his name include BScEngEE, D.Sc., ICD.D, P.Eng. Yes, electrical engineer, doctor of science, a professional engineer and a designation from the institute of corporate directors.
Of course, there’s more. It is insufficient that Joi Scientific claimed to be able to get around the first and second laws of thermodynamics and to have an incredibly efficient fuel cell, as the claims it made about what was happening were also remarkable.
“Molecular rotation, during the rise and collapse of the magnetic field order within the chamber, generates additional forces in the form of vector and velocity values. These rotations cause respective nano-scale distances to increase and decrease between atoms. Rotational effects during the on and off portions of the impulse cycle reduce the strength of the atomic bonds to aid in the separation of the atoms making up each molecule’s composition.”
For context, centripetal forces are absurd orders of magnitude less powerful than atomic forces. As I said to the CBC, it’s the equivalent of claiming an eight-year old can throw a baseball to the Moon.
As for the principals, Kennedy and Koeneman, suffice it to say that neither has any electronics, hydrogen fuel cell, electrolysis, chemistry, physics or electrical generation background. One has a music degree, the other is a software developer way back. There is nothing in either of the principals’ backgrounds that suggested that they might be able to create a breakthrough technology in this space. Their names are on the patents, but it’s unlikely that they wrote them or even understood what they were putting their names on.
New Brunswick Power and Gaetan Thomas aren’t the only embarrassed investors this week, I’m sure. Back in October 2018, Tampa’s MarineMax signed a deal to use Joi Scientific’s product on MarineMax-powered boats. As David Hahn, a professor and department chair of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Florida, said at the time,
“Run your boat just on seawater? Yeah that ain’t happening. If you do that, you just won the Nobel Prize for physics and world peace.”
Of course, New Brunswick Power was already a year or so into its sojourn with Joi Scientific at that point, so the opinions of Hahn and me were already too late.
Joi Scientific wasn’t the only ‘dubious’ energy technology I spotted and assessed this year. A west coast US company was brought to my attention by a client, and as part of my services I assessed them and found them to be an out-and-out con, with a principal who was literally the son and nephew of two of the United States’ most notorious con artists. Their claims were even harder to imagine people accepting, yet that firm had found multiple people, including many with very good credentials, to accept and promote them. Needless to say, my client didn’t give them any money.
So there we are. New Brunswick Power and through them the rate payers of the province of New Brunswick are out at minimum $13 million spent on an obviously non-viable technology. Their due diligence failed. New Brunswick’s time and energy has been wasted on nonsense instead of on viable wind and solar projects. NP Power’s CEO and President is facing stiff questions from his Board and from the elected officials of the province. And it all could have been avoided if they’d actually engaged even moderately skeptical and informed energy analysts such as Tim Weis, David Hahn, or me.