Sat down at an Ohio Cracker Barrel restaurant with his brother and two potential investors in his revolutionary water-powered engine, Stanley Meyer took a slug of cranberry juice and immediately rose to his feet, his hands clutching his neck.
The 57-year-old inventor rushed out into the parking lot vomiting violently, collapsed to the floor and gasped: “They poisoned me.”
The day was 21 March 1998 and it took three months for the police investigation, led by detective Steve Robinette, to determine Meyer’s death was the result of a cerebral aneurysm, the toxicology test carried out by the Franklin County coroner indicating no significant results.
But his brother Stephen, who was at the table along with the two Belgian investors interested in buying into Meyer’s concept for “free energy”, was far from convinced by the coroner’s findings.
The only drugs detected in Meyer’s body were pain relievers, lidocaine and phenytoin, used for seizure treatment which he was taking due to previous episodes of hypertension... possibly caused by the attention his revolutionary research was attracting from a host of mysterious strangers who allegedly included corporate and government espionage agents.
The day after his tragic death his brother contacted the Belgians to inform them of the terrible outcome of the previous day’s events but was stunned when they displayed no surprise. “I told them that Stan had died and they never said a word,” his brother recalled. “Absolutely nothing, no condolences, no questions.”
While the Grove City, Ohio, police investigation included recorded interviews with more than a dozen witnesses, those of the two Belgians, Phillippe Vandemoortele and Marc Vancraeyenest, were missing. According to Robinette it was possible they were not recorded and without proof of foul play, the investigation ended in accordance with the coroner’s report.
But, while there is no concrete evidence to suggest there was anything untoward about Meyer’s death, there is little doubt it was a cruel twist of fate that effectively robbed the world of an incredibly cheap potential source of energy.
Although most reports on the case refer to the Belgians as being investors, strangely Meyer's autopsy report refers to them as “NATO officials”… while a further twist to the meal that day was that the participants chose cranberry juice to toast the development of a research centre Vandemoortele was planning to establish after finalising the purchase of a plot of land in Grove City.
And, one factor that becomes immediately apparent if you research possible causes of poisoning is that ethylene glycol, better known as radiator fluid, is one of the least detectable methods of carrying this out.
The fluid is colourless, odourless and slightly sweet to the taste and is capable of killing a person in about an hour and would go undetected by a routine autopsy... a lethal dose of the liquid being as little as 100 ml for a 70 kg adult.
It’s all pure supposition now… but what if Meyer’s juice had been spiked with ethylene glycol?
Being colourless, odourless and sweet, cranberry juice would have been an excellent method to disguise it. When ingested early symptoms of ethylene glycol poisoning include intoxication, vomiting, abdominal pain and shortness of breath. These are followed by a headache, seizures and decreased consciousness, followed by kidney failure and brain damage.
Given that Meyer seems to have suffered many of these symptoms and that the cause of death was eventually determined to be a cerebral aneurysm it would not require a huge stretch of the imagination to conclude that the Franklin County coroner’s routine autopsy simply failed to detect the presence of ethylene glycol.
Where that radiator fluid could have come from is anybody’s guess, but if it had been found to be present in Meyer’s cranberry juice there could have been only one conclusion… someone had poisoned him!
But why would anyone want to do that? Perhaps the answer to that question could have something to do with the implications Meyer’s ground-breaking research could have had on the oil industry?
Born on 24 August 1940, Meyer was a prolific inventor instrumental in almost 200,000 patent applications during his lifetime that included revolutionary ideas for everything from electronic banking to heart monitors. By 1989 he had been granted so many patents the US patent office had put him on a fast-track programme, reducing scrutiny on his applications to save resources.
He worked at the Batelle Foundation, a research organisation developing technology to benefit humanity, where most of his patents were created but he was also involved in the Gemini space programme with NASA, with one of his most significant developments in aerospace technology being the energy feeding system on Concept EBED, part of the Star Wars project.
But by far his most revolutionary concept was to develop an engine that would allow a vehicle to travel for 180 kilometres powered by nothing more than four litres of water… a dream that began around 1975 when the effects of the Middle East embargo sent oil prices skyrocketing and fuelled economic turmoil across the United States.
Before long Meyer had come up with the concept for a fuel cell designed to run solely on water that worked by splitting its atoms into their most basic forms, two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, thus the chemical name H2O. The hydrogen was then burned to create energy, while the oxygen and remaining water would be expelled through the exhaust, which wouldn’t emit any harmful emissions compared to gasoline-powered cars.
After a few months of development, Meyer built a dune buggy powered by his revolutionary engine which he claimed required less energy to perform electrolysis than the minimum amount predicted by conventional science. The buggy was painted with the words “water powered car” and a call to Meyer’s Christian faith.
He took the vehicle on a cross-country tour, going from college to college demonstrating the technology and looking for professors willing to validate his achievements… many respected physicists signed off on the fuel cell’s legitimacy.
Those who saw the car were generally amazed at how innovative and revolutionary the concept was, most agreeing it turned water into hydrogen fuel through electrolysis. Although both hydrogen-powered engines and devices capable of breaking down water molecules into their constituent parts had been around for decades before Meyer’s fuel cell entered the scene, his technology was revolutionary because it combined them to produce an incredibly cheap and effective source of power.
But soon legal issues started to develop, with allegations from lawyers that the water-powered car was fraudulent and illegitimate. And, in 1996, Meyer was sued by two investors who had bought dealerships which granted them the right to do business in water fuel cell technology.
As part of the suit the fuel cell was scheduled for examination by expert witness Michael Laughton, professor of electrical engineering at Queen Mary University of London and a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, but Meyer was alleged to have refused to submit it to the Fayette County judge for inspection.
However, after it had been examined later by three other experts the court found there "was nothing revolutionary about the cell at all and that it was simply using conventional electrolysis"… ordering Meyer to refund the two investors their US$25,000 payments.
But Meyer and his brother believed it was all part of a conspiracy to keep the technology under wraps because the fuel cell, if legitimate, could destroy the oil industry. Meyer believed efforts to dismiss the device were funded by the oil industry and perhaps even the United States government, claiming he had been threatened on numerous occasions by representatives from companies all over the world. He also claimed he had been offered vast sums of money to hide all evidence of his technology… but he refused.
Meyer’s brother definitely suspected foul play and claimed the dune buggy and all his brother’s experimental equipment were stolen a week after his death… although the buggy is believed to have been located again soon afterwards, but the circumstances and its condition remain unclear.
Reports from 2014, 16 years after Meyer’s death, indicate the vehicle had turned up in Canada in the possession of the Holbrook family, believed to be former associates of the inventor, but no further information has surfaced since.
Most of Meyer’s patents have now expired, with his inventions being in the public domain and available for all to use without restriction or royalty payment. Although nobody has since unveiled a water-powered engine, Meyer’s work does live on with car makers such as Toyota and Honda developing models powered by hydrogen fuel cells drawing on his research, while electric vehicles, which Meyer's dune buggy would have been classified as, now represent the way forward in automotive technology due to government regulation and financial incentives.
Today, with the global transportation sector blamed for about a quarter of all direct carbon dioxide emissions, there is a worldwide shift away from traditional petrol engines towards green forms of energy, with hydrogen-powered electric vehicles a huge part of that.
Hydrogen-powered vehicles represent a type of electric car that uses fuel cells to power the motor instead of relying primarily on a lithium-ion battery pack. As with other electric vehicles they don’t generate harmful emissions, the hydrogen from the car’s onboard fuel tanks combining with oxygen inside the fuel-cell stack to generate electricity via a process called reverse electrolysis. The electrons are removed from the hydrogen gas, sent through the circuit to power the motor, and combine with oxygen on the other side of the circuit to form water vapour, which is vented via the car’s exhaust.
Like lithium-ion cells in a traditional electric-vehicle battery, hydrogen cars have multiple fuel cells working at once to generate power. Electricity generated from the hydrogen fuel cells can take two paths, depending on the situation. The energy either powers the electric motor directly or charges a small lithium-ion battery that helps power the motor and can store energy for later use.
But, unlike Meyer’s water fuel cell, the current breed of cars have multiple gas tanks on board and, since hydrogen can be highly flammable, those fuel tanks are thick-walled, pressurised and expensive to install.
While today’s hydrogen vehicles have a lot in common with battery-powered cars such as the Ford Mustang Mach-E and the Tesla Model 3, the differences come down to fuel and availability.
Although not as ubiquitous as petrol stations, there are thousands of recharging locations across the US for electric vehicles but the prevalence of hydrogen refuelling stations is extremely limited. The cost of refuelling is also a stumbling block due to the cost of producing hydrogen gas, although the refuelling process is much faster than for lithium-ion vehicles and excess energy can be stored in the cell, allowing the vehicle to recharge while driving.
There is no doubt there has been an incredible expansion in research programmes, strategic alliances and partnerships among vehicle manufacturers, equipment suppliers and fuel cell-related companies, with a vast escalation in battery-technology patents.
More than 30,000 patent families have been published in the past 20 years and hydrogen-based fuel cell technologies are a key part of that, with Japanese operators such as Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Mitsubishi fundamental to the growth.
But the trend has been global with other players such as General Motors, Ford, Daimler, Volkswagen, Bosch, BMW, Hyundai, Samsung and LG all heavily involved in research into hydrogen fuel cells, while Chinese newcomers are investing heavily in the technology.
There is now little doubt this represents the way forward in automotive technology but it is the same conglomerates that dominate the market as was the case with petrol engines, with the new breed of vehicles just as expensive to operate as their predecessors due to the cost of producing the hydrogen fuel cells and lithium-ion batteries.
Drivers cannot simply fill up their vehicles with a few litres of water and travel for hundreds of kilometres as Meyer had hoped… that dream is just not a sustainable economic model for the world’s car makers. It’s been 24 years since Meyer’s death, his patents have lapsed and the industry has found a way to utilise research he pioneered while keeping industry profits rolling through green technology that remains in the hands of the industry giants.
The last thing the automotive industry wants is a vehicle that runs on water, was Meyer’s demise a warning to prospective innovators to forget about the notion of “free energy” in favour of green technology that keeps the power in the hands of the automotive giants? Perhaps good old radiator fluid holds the answer to that little mystery?
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