Guest post by Dr. Klaus K.E. Kaiser
Some media are abuzz with the latest invention, Switchable Water, and other “switchable” things. If you believe the stories, these switchables will solve all kinds of problems, reduce energy requirements for a variety of technologies and so forth. It sounds like a real panacea; some even claim that it will force a rewrite of chemistry textbooks.
Laws of Nature
Chemistry and physics are specific fields of the natural sciences which are governed by inextricable laws of nature. One of those laws says that you cannot create energy out of nothing. Therefore, if you want to elevate the energy content of a mixture of substances, for example by separating it into pure components of the mixture, you require energy. The exact form of energy you add is not important; it could be mechanical energy, or electrical energy, or thermal energy (heat). In some cases any one of these will do the trick. The important part of it is, though, that you need the same amount of energy to make it happen, regardless of the form you use.
So, when someone comes along with an idea which claims that it reduces the energy requirement for any process be very careful. More likely than not, it is a modern version of the Perpetuum mobile, i.e. the perpetual motion machine which is outlawed by Mother Nature.
Ideas involving one or another method to create a sort of Perpetuum mobile have been around for millennia. Just look at the drawing by Villard de Honnecourt (13th century).
As far as I am concerned, these new “switchables” may well exist, but the claims as to their reduction of energy requirements for chemical or physical processes which involve very distinct changes in energy are bunk. Perhaps the term “Witchable” would be more appropriate to describe the claimed energy savings.