The Effects of Burning Hydrocarbon Fuels
For the Last 100 Years


Broadcast engineer Dennis Barr has an interesting theory that connects rising sea level, stratospheric ozone depletion, and the use of "clean burning" hydrogen as a replacement for gasoline.  He theorizes that it is the burning of hydrocarbons, not global warming, that has made the sea level rise in the last 100 years, because, as he explains below, the burning of hydrocarbon (fossil) fuels produces water that didn't previously exist.

He also shows that the change from gasoline to hydrogen as our primary automotive fuel would be an environmental catastrophe, because it would permanently remove oxygen from the atmosphere.

August 17, 2004

Thoughts detailing the effects of burning hydrocarbon fuels for the last 100 years:

I awoke one Wednesday night in late July with a start and these thoughts were racing through my mind.

It had to do with the atmosphere and what was happening.

The triggering thought came from an 'Extreme Engineering' episode on Discovery Channel.  This particular episode was dealing with the rising of the ocean water levels and how the city of Venice, Italy was being inundated with floods due to ocean levels that have been rising.  The claim in the show was that the ocean levels have risen a foot in the last 100 years.

What occurred to me is not that we are experiencing 'global warming' and that the rise in water level is due to ice melting.

First of all, the ice pack of the Arctic Ocean is supported by water already because it's floating.

The significant volume producer of water level change would be a meltdown of the Antarctic ice cap.  This has not happened to the degree necessary to raise the ocean level a foot.  Most of the ice breakaway from the Antarctic shelf is already floating and it will not introduce a sea level increase.

I am advocating that the level of the ocean is not being increased by already existing water that is currently in the hydrosphere, but rather by 'new' water that had never existed before being introduced into the atmosphere.

The question is where is this 'new' water originating?

The answer is in the burning of hydrocarbon fuels.  This provides a key to several puzzles.

One needs to look at the major combustion components of the burning of hydrocarbon based fuels to understand.

The first major part everyone thinks of is carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.  However, the second part, the most important part, is water.  Hardly anyone thinks of water.


Probably because water is not considered to be any kind of pollutant and in most instances, it is not.

One has to turn to the study of water cycles and carbon cycles to understand the importance of burning hydrocarbons.

Let's first discuss the carbon cycle.  Carbon gets burned (oxidized) with oxygen that is resident in the atmosphere and forms compounds mostly consisting of carbon dioxide with some carbon monoxide being generated.  The carbon monoxide will generally complete its oxidation to become carbon dioxide.

The carbon dioxide then floats through the atmosphere to eventually come in contact and be absorbed by plants where it is then utilized by plants as a source of carbon for food production in the plants system. The plants don't need the excess oxygen that was with the carbon, so oxygen is released from its bond with carbon back into the atmosphere for us to breathe or to burn again in some nice warm fire.

The water cycle is one of ocean water being warmed by the sun, evaporating and transported through the atmosphere via winds to ultimately become rain or snow, fall from the sky and flow in rivers and streams to lakes, ultimately returning to the ocean.

The essential difference between the two processes is this:  At no time does water ever stop being water.  It is never broken down into hydrogen and oxygen.

Now I make a leap into my thoughts.

The study is of what happens when gasoline is burned.

A little background is in order.  Gasoline, when being examined by the fuel and oil folks, is known as iso-octane.  Diesel is called cetane, but we are not concerned with that at the moment.

I found a location on the web called 'Ask a Scientist' using google entering 'gasoline combustion products' and have copied the text to this location.

 >    name         R. G.
 >    status       other

 > Question -   What is the typical volumetric ratio of gasoline to
 > combustion products?  i.e. how much "gas" do you get for a unit volume of
 > liquid gasoline by burning it?

Gasoline is a mixture of many hydrocarbons; for the purposes of this answer
I will estimate that it consists of isooctane, which has the composition
C8H18.  Each molecule of isooctane that burns completely produces 8
molecules of CO2 and 9 molecules of H2O.

        C8H18 + 12.5 O2 --> 8 CO2 + 9 H2O

All that we need to know to answer your question is the volume of one mole
(a standard number of molecules) of liquid isooctane, and the volume of the
combustion products resulting from the isooctane.  One mole of iso-octane has
a volume of 165 mL, or 0.165 liters.  As a pretty good approximation, a mole
of any gas at room temperature and atmospheric pressure occupies 24.4

So, if you assume that all of the combustion products will be in vapor form,
this amounts to 17 moles of gas, or 381 liters.  If you assume that the CO2
is in vapor form and the water is liquid, that's 8 moles of gas at 180
liters, plus 9 moles of liquid water at 18 mL/mole, or 0.16 liters.

These numbers are a little deceptive for two reasons.  The first is that
12.5 moles of oxygen (280 liters) are being consumed in the combustion. The
second is that the combustion products are released at higher than room
temperature, because heat is produced in the combustion.  This boosts the
amount of push that powers the engine.  If heat weren't produced, the
combustion would overall not result in any volume increase at all - in fact,
gas volume would decrease.  You would be converting 280 liters oxygen + .16
liters isooctane to 180 liters carbon dioxide + 0.16 liters water, for an
overall volume LOSS of 100 liters per mole.  In other words, burning 1 unit
volume of isooctane will cause a net reduction in gas volume of 1125 unit
volumes.  So, the power for an internal combustion comes not from producing
more molecules of gas, but from the heat of combustion.

Richard E. Barrans Jr., Ph.D.
Assistant Director, PG Research Foundation
Darien, IL USA

The volume of one mole of isooctane is 165 ml and it forms 160 ml of liquid water when burned.  This is about a 1 to 1 ratio in liquid form.  Please notice in the equation that one more water molecle is made than carbon dioxide.

Using this as an approximation, this means that for each gallon of gasoline burned, it has now produced lots of carbon dioxide and also about one gallon of water.

The carbon dioxide is no problem, it is plant food.  However, the water is here to stay. This means that for the 100 years past, every bit of hydrocarbon burnt (more importantly, oxidized) has produced lots of plant food and water.  The billions of barrels of oil burned have produced billions of barrels of new water — water that never existed before.

More importantly than that, where did the oxygen come from that is now in the form of water?

Our atmosphere.

With burning carbon, the supply of oxygen is seemingly unlimited by virtue of recycling.  Plants are breaking the bond between carbon and oxygen through photosynthesis.

When hydrogen is oxidized, this is no longer the case.  The oxygen, which is sourced from the atmosphere, is permanently bound to the hydrogen.  It is no longer available to be used in any more reactions, including supporting life.

This is one really major point.  When we burn hydrogen, the oxygen goes with it.

When we burn carbon, the oxygen comes back again via recycling.

This not only answers why the ocean level is rising, but it also answers another question.

Where is the Ozone layer going?

It isn't being depleted by Freon and stray chlorine radicals.  The oxygen in the atmosphere is being used to form water, so there isn't as much oxygen (O2) available as there used to be for the Ozone (O3) layer to protect us.

So far, we have burned enough hydrogen to raise the entire surface of the ocean one foot.  Fortunately, it is H2O and not CO2, so only one oxygen atom is used for each molecule of water, but still, a bunch of oxygen has been bound permanently away from the atmosphere and the carbon cycle.

I now see the worst thing we can do is to continue working on 'pollution free' cars that burn hydrogen exclusively.  This idea could literally deplete the remainder of oxygen from the planet's atmosphere and destroy life as we know it.  It will certainly continue to strip the ozone layer to feed engines burning hydrocarbons.

From this vantage point, carbon is not the enemy, it is our friend.  This is because CO2 is recycled due to photosynthesis.  It would behoove us to produce carbon-burning vessels and systems at do not strip the oxygen from the atmosphere, but will be replenished because of photosynthesis.  It also provides food to eat, besides.

Contrary to popular opinion, hydrogen is a real foe.  Once formed, the water molecule is never broken apart and atmospheric oxygen is permanently bound away from any further reactions.

It would make lots of sense to find a way to break apart the water bond to reclaim lost oxygen from the atmosphere.  The sticky problem is what to do with the hydrogen once separated from the oxygen.

In summary, I am proposing that ocean water levels have been rising due to the burning of fuels that create water that has never before existed.  This 'new' water is created with hydrocarbon fuels combining with atmospheric oxygen, thus creating water and depleting oxygen permanently.  This is reducing available oxygen for ozone production, thus the reduction of the ozone layer.

This is a hypothesis which presents an excellent opportunity as a research project for someone.  I have run some rough numbers and they are startlingly supporting in the little research that I have done.

I would be very interested to hear and particularly, in hearing if this makes sense.  It makes too much sense to me.

Most Sincerely
Dennis Barr
August, 2004


Very interesting assertions.

One would need to look at the specific hydrocarbon composition of gasoline, its density, molecular weights, etc. to come up with an exact result, but ... one gallon of gasoline going to one gallon of water seems improbable at best. Of course, he's right about CO2 being recycled by plants, but in addition, I just happen to be giving my senior seminar this coming Friday on the oxygen-evolving complex of Photosystem II in plant chloroplasts. As the name suggests, this enzyme in plants is what causes plants to give off oxygen. How do they do it? By oxidizing water! I can give you all the gory details if you should ever wish to see them, but basically, plants take up water (which comes from rain, which comes from the oceans) and make oxygen. So, the water is not actually just all staying in the ocean.

Plants take water, and convert it to oxygen, so unless we destroy most of the plants (and algae and cyanobacteria) from off the earth, we probably won't run out of oxygen.

      -- L.P., Prairieville, TX

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