John Kanzius happened upon the discovery accidentally when he tried to desalinate seawater with a radio-frequency generator he developed to treat cancer. He discovered that as long as the salt water was exposed to the radio frequencies it would burn.
The discovery has scientists excited by the prospect of using salt water, the most abundant resource on earth, as a fuel.
Rustum Roy, a Penn State University chemist, has held demonstrations at his State College lab to confirm his own observations.
The radio frequencies act to weaken the bonds between the elements that make up salt water, releasing the hydrogen, Roy said. Once ignited, the hydrogen will burn as long as it is exposed to the frequencies, he said.
The discovery is "the most remarkable in water science in 100 years," Roy said.
"This is the most abundant element in the world. It is everywhere," Roy said. "Seeing it burn gives me the chills."
Roy will meet this week with officials from the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense to try to obtain research funding.
The scientists want to find out whether the energy output from the burning hydrogen - which reached a heat of more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit - would be enough to power a car or other heavy machinery.
"We will get our ideas together and check this out and see where it leads," Roy said. "The potential is huge."