What ever became of combustible water?

February 23, 2004

SANA’A, YEMEN – Canadians may fuss and fume from time to time over roads and traffic, but they know nothing — I mean nothing — about how truly horrendous the driving experience can be.

Don’t believe me? Come to Sana’a. In developing countries, if you don’t die from smoking, you go in a traffic accident.

Yemen’s cars seem to be mostly old white Toyotas held together with binder twine. Some drivers seem barely out of diapers, and even goats would have trouble navigating some of the rough mountain passes. It’s best not to open your eyes more than you have to.

During gridlock here in Sana’a, everyone leans on their horn until the guy in front of you turns six shades of blue and sticks his hand out the window, thumb touching his fingers. Freely translated, this means “%4&*!@#,” or, in other words, “please wait.”

And wait you do. In 30 years, Sana’a has grown from 50,000 people to about a million.

I worked for some time as a reporter in St. Thomas, living on Highway 4, a 15-minute bike ride, with the wind at my back, from the beach. It was a fine place to watch the sun rise.

It was 15 years ago this month that I started the newspaper game. And my first reporting assignment, green as Kermit, was to trot off and see a local inventor named Gary Sutherland.

A chemical engineer, Gary already held many patents. But one incredible day, he believed he’d discovered how to burn water as fuel.

Gary had patiently tried to find a safe chemical that would break water into its base elements of oxygen and hydrogen, both of which are combustible. Going through the periodic table, one day he finally found the magic combination.

“I phoned (wife) Mary and cried like a baby,” he told me. “I found it. I found it.”

Gary, who lived in a stately home on that road to the beach, tried to convince folks he was of sound mind. He looked for ways to market his product, Aquaburn.

It put him on the speaking circuit. And it convinced me that this journalism thing would be a blast. My first story: Water burns. My next: global hunger is solved. Ah, the Pulitzer.

Think of the impact. That hungry furnace? Just add water. Poor fuel mileage on that SUV? Who cares? Add water. And so long Saudi Arabia: Canada, owner of a fifth of the earth’s fresh water, becomes the planet’s new fuel mecca.

We’d have everyone over the barrel. And we could fill it with our deep surplus of you-know-what.

So, since good dreams never die, after fully ingesting that ample dose of Sana’a smoke, I thought of Gary Sutherland. I had kept in touch with him and his wife for some time but then he died, taking his secret, whatever it was, with him. Where are you, Gary? We need you more than ever.

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February 23, 2004 • Posted in ,
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