What if I told you that we could get emission-free, clean-energy cars using one of the most abundant substances in the world? In China, one company claims to have produced just that: The first water-fueled car.

Youngman Automobile and its president Pang Qingnian told local media last week that their vehicles can turn water into hydrogen in real time, generating energy the car can use to run. The company based in Nanyang, Henan province held an event inviting media and local government officials who praised the company’s achievements.

The news created great excitement on social media, but the publicity stunt didn’t go as planned. That’s because the underlying science wasn’t exactly sound.

Soon after initial reports, experts pointed out that fueling cars by water would be very hard to achieve.

"That's not possible," Guan Bin, an associate professor at the Institute of Internal Combustion Engines at Shanghai Jiaotong University, told CCTV.

State-owned media CCTV said that Youngman’s Pang Qingnian repeatedly avoided giving technical details about the car, saying it involved trade secrets. (Picture: CCTV)

Water-fueled cars have been a topic of discussion among engineers and conspiracy theorists alike for decades. To get the hydrogen needed to fuel a car, the equipment would have to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. However, splitting water molecules is hard -- they are very stable, which is why there’s so much water on Earth in the first place.

Hydrogen is also extremely flammable. Even more than 80 years after the Hindenburg zeppelin explosion, the images are still etched into our collective minds.

This isn’t the first time Youngman Automobile has claimed it cracked the secret to using water as fuel. In 2017, the company introduced the “first hydrogen-fueled truck that can run 500 kilometers just on water.”

Pang made even more outrageous claims, according to local media: He said any type of water could be used to fuel the vehicles, including sewage, and it would be discharged as potable water.

Youngman also received a fair amount of investment from the local government and a purchase agreement for hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

In order to cut down pollution rates, China has been supporting its new energy vehicles (NEVs) with subsidies for a decade. However, in March this year, the county introduced tougher rules for subsidies to improve industry standards.

The subsidies have made China the biggest NEV market in the world. The subsidy programs have helped jumpstart Tesla-wannabes such as Nio, XPeng and WM Motors. But it has also attracted criticism with high-level subsidy frauds filling headlines.

Youngman Auto Group and its subsidiaries have been involved in several loan dispute cases, including a subsidy scam in 2017, Sixth Tone reported. Pang has been blacklisted as a dishonest individual for defaulting on some of these loans.

Facing criticism, Pang told media last Friday that water-fueled cars is not what he meant.

Peng’s associates said that he regularly mixes up “water” with “hydrogen.” Happens all the time, right? (CCTV)

“We actually produced the car and it is running,” Pang told Xinhua news last week. “We want to launch on the market next year.”

Hubei University of Technology, which is cooperating on the project, said that the technology was misinterpreted. Instead, Youngman is working on a technology that already exists.

Unlike water-fueled cars, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have been around for some time, including consumer cars from Toyota, Honda and Hyundai. These, however, do not get their hydrogen purely from water. They also use other chemicals, including methane and natural gas.

Although hydrogen-powered cars have been gaining ground during the past five years, high prices and limited hydrogen fueling stations mean you probably won’t be buying one soon.