Video: “The Doc” Builds A Homemade Hydrogen Fuel Cell For His Mustang


While major automakers have finally started responding to calls for alternative fuel vehicles, do-it-yourselfers have been coming up with home brewed solutions to our oil addiction for decades. Chris “the Doc” Ingrassia, host of the Operation Mustang YouTube channel, has concocted his own solution in the form of a hydrogen fuel cell for, of all things, a Ford Mustang. But does it work?

The Doc claims he was inspired to build this fuel cell by a trip to Bed Bath and Beyond after seeing some of this spun aluminum flour containers. Now the idea behind these homemade fuel cells is simple; using distilled water, baking soda, and a process called electrolysis, you can create hydrogen gas to replace a portion of the gasoline that goes into your engine.

However, this process injects water into your engine, so the Doc had to use the largely aluminum V6 found in early 1980s Mustangs for his project. Aluminum, when covered in a thin layer of aluminum oxide, will not rust. However, if you scrape away the aluminum oxide coating, aluminum will rust just as bad as bare iron. Aside from that, this woefully underpowered engine has almost no positive traits, though the extra water emissions will not ruin the innards of this engine…not even the tailpipes, which as supposedly aluminized as well. The Doc claims this contraption improves fuel economy by 20% to 25%.

Whether that is true or not, we can’t say, because we haven’t seen any proof. The theory is sound, and the claims not all that outrageous, but if 25% better fuel economy was really possible, why aren’t major automakers doing it? Mythbusters has “busted” a pure hydrogen fuel cell conversion, but this 75/25 gas/hydrogen mixture seems like it might have more validity to it. We’ve come across this sort of contraption before, and the owners seemed satisfied with the results. So we’ll chalk this one up as a “Maybe” with the asterisk that you’ll probably rust out your engine and exhaust system unless it is made of aluminum and coated with aluminum oxide. There will also probably be some noticiable power loss as well…and those old V6 Mustangs don’t have much power left to lose.

Still, the idea of driving around a classic Mustang with a hydrogen fuel cell is seemingly ever more like, as all-aluminum engines are becoming more common. The next level of classic car modification is going to be alternative fuels if you ask us, and building an all-aluminum V8 out of aftermarket parts is expensive, but certainly possible. This seems like a step in the right direction, or at the very least, demonstrates some interest in the idea of alt-fuel muscle cars…even if it’s an ‘83 Mustang V6.

But what do you think? Is this project just another urban myth, or do these hydrogen contraptions really work?

Source: Operation Mustang

About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.
  • Tim Cleland

    Not counting trucks, aren’t all modern car engines aluminum now? Even truck engines have aluminum (or plastic) intake manifolds and aluminum heads to lower the weight. It’s only the block that is iron/steel.

  • TemK

    If I remember correctly from my materials science courses in the 90’s, the type of corrosion found on ferrous metals and alloys is called rust. Aluminum is a non-ferrous ( no iron) metal, that’s why it’s also not magnetic by the way.
    With hydrogen, or ethanol even, corrosion can occur on steel/iron if not coated or paired with other metal types correctly. Look up electromotive potential, iirc. It’s a bit technical but it explains Ina molecular level why putting steel or tin nails into aluminum almost always cause those nails to rust through quickly and fail. It’s the same materials issue that pops up on boats at sea or salty lakes. The electrons are torn away from one material faster than can be replaced at a certain location, removing a bond, allowing oxygen to jump in and oxidize, or rust/corrode. These materials issues have been known and dealt with for decades and longer. It seems that it’s just expensive to have to reengineer and manufacture or modify existing engines on a large scale to integrate fuel types that they were not originally designed to utilize without some frustratingly big failures. Going electric for electric motors with generators and batteries seems like a better strategy.

  • A hydrogen combustion engine is not the same thing as a hydrogen fuel cell.

  • Jake Clarke

    As protomech says, it’s NOT a fuel cell;
    You would think that the editors would know the difference…
    A fuel cell converts the fuel into electricity.

    Save some embarrassment and change the title…!

  • T Adkins

    the water it makes will help a bit with compression and cooling the engine, but it should not get the 20% improvement. As it is with splitting hydrogen from water it is a 4 times the energy-in process to get the 1 unit energy-out. The electric source for the electrolysis is the car where u burn gas to get energy at about a 25% efficiency to turn the alternator which is about 50% efficiency to generate the electricity to power this process. Just the 50% loss from the alternator makes the whole thing go from a 4 gallons to get 1 gallon gasoline equivalence to an 8 gallon to get 1 gallon.

    With the electrolysis he is doing he is making oxygen and hydrogen and that is getting taken up into the engine, when the mixture is ignited it should make more water vapor and allow for cooler exhaust, the problem with hydrogen is that by weight it has a lot of energy but much less by volume. Any benefit the car is getting is more likely due to a sloppy version of a water injected engine (like those use in ww2 aviation engines)

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