By Colm Ryan
Recently, an acquaintance mentioned to me that he had information about a product, that, once fitted to your car, could increase the car’s fuel efficiency by 30%. No sooner were the words out of his mouth, than my baloney alarms were tinkling gently.
To support his case, he showed me a photograph that looked like something out of a Maplin hobbyist set, complete with an A4 page of benefits. No sources. No studies. That alarm in my head was now ringing urgently.
I had just one question. “So, if this invention is so great, how come engineers in the automotive industry are not all over it?”. The answer that came back was predictable. “Because the automotive industry has done a deal with the oil companies to keep the price of oil high”. The alarm system had now transformed itself into a blaring “Get Out Of The Building As It Will Self Destruct In 30 Seconds”, klaxon.
This is classic “prisoner’s dilemma” territory. Just imagine if this were true: that the car companies had conspired with the oil companies to suppress the use of this “revolutionary” technology. In this scenario, just one car company deciding not to co-operate with the oil companies could expect to win a huge amount of market share very quickly. Thirty percent improvement in fuel efficiency would be an enormous advantage over the competition; translating into millions of additional vehicle sales. The only way you could imagine this kind of advantage being suppressed would be for the oil companies to compensate the car companies handsomely. And when I mean handsomely, I’m talking billions, perhaps tens of billions of dollars. Even worse, they would have to work with ALL the major car companies – paying them all billions – to avoid even one car company going it alone. It would quickly become a bidding war among all the car companies.
By this logic, thousands of employees, across both industries, would be keeping quiet in order to suppress a wonder-technology that would drive sales into the stratosphere. It gets worse. Any auditor worth their salt would quickly notice a glaring hole in the accounts of both the oil companies and the car companies, which would both now be funnelling huge amounts of cash between them for nefarious purposes. Auditing firms thrive or die on their reputation. Just ask Arthur Andersen. Their silence, if granted, would be very expensive indeed.
And what about the government and its pesky regulators? Well, my acquaintance obviously knows something the rest of us don’t know, and he’s not particularly well connected to the industry, so it would stretch credulity to believe that government regulators and antitrust investigators wouldn’t be smelling a rat either. If they’re keeping silent too, then this is now getting very expensive for the oil companies, who apparently have everything to gain, and nothing to lose, by keeping oil prices high.
I even doubt if the oil companies would have anything to lose. We live in a time when a number of huge economies around the world are flexing an unprecedented level of economic muscle. Many people in these countries would love to have a car, or a bigger car, and high oil prices are preventing them from doing this. Lower oil prices would translate into more car purchases in these regions which should mean even more demand for oil. Obviously, the economists in these oil companies only got as far as primary grade in school if they believe that suppressing demand is the way to go.
And what, you may ask, is this wonder technology that gives cars a 30% increase in fuel efficiency? Distilled Water. Yep. That’s the technology that THEY don’t want you to know about.
The theory is, by running an electric current through water, you can create hydrogen gas and oxygen gas, which when mixed together with a bit of heat, can create energy. Amazing. Except for this pesky thing called the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Without going into any great detail, it states that, to get energy from water, you have to put more energy into it in the first place. Always. No exceptions. Ever. As it’s one of the most tested principles in physics, there’s a Nobel Prize awaiting you if you can disprove it. Fuel cells will actually REDUCE fuel efficiency if they need to separate the hydrogen from oxygen in water during a journey. Maybe my acquaintance forgot to mention a minus sign.
I am also reliably informed that most modern engine management systems are designed to work with a particular mix of fuel and air. The system is continuously reconfiguring itself to optimise these proportions. Any modification to the inputs will be seen as undesirable – potentially implying a fuel leak – so reduced engine performance can be expected if you are intent on adding a device to your engine.
It’s an extraordinary claim. It’s too good to be true. It would require a cast of millions to accomplish. It ignores physics and basic game theory. It’s ignorant of how modern cars actually work. If these difficulties can be surmounted, I guess my acquaintance is onto a revolutionary discovery.