They never met a fuel catalyst they didn't like

Another of you annoying readers writes:

Dan, I would love to hear your thoughts on the merits of the "Vapor Fuel Technologies" fuel-saving tech discussed here.

I think of EETimes as a fairly reputable website, but discussion of fuel-saving gadgets seem a bit out of EETimes' area of expertise. In the article, no claim is made regarding burning fuel more completely; it seems the claim is that since combustion event occurs over a shorter period of time, that this somehow more efficient. Still, something about the claim of 30 percent better mileage just strikes me as unlikely.

Strange that the Vapor Fuel Technologies website mentions independent tests by some group called California Environmental Engineering (CEE), but they do not actually provide any formal documentation of the test procedure and results.


Yep, here we go again.

But this time I found a rabbit-hole that went a lot further than I thought it would.

The Vapor Fuel Techologies (yes, I know...) site raised its first red flag when it proudly mentioned that the company has some patents, as if that has something to do with the usefulness of the thing patented. (All a patent actually means is that the Patent Office doesn't think your idea is excessively similar to someone else's - and modern overworked Patent Offices don't even manage to do that very well. They don't check, and never have checked, to see whether a patented thing actually works, unless it's very obviously a perpetual-motion machine.)

OK, so off we go to the "Product" page to find what this awesome patented thing is meant to be, and we discover that VFT are making pretty claims not very different from those made for various fuel vaporisation, or atomisation, gadgets.

Their central claim is a bit different, though. They say that heating the air that's heading to the combustion chamber causes it to expand, so that less fuel-air mixture goes into the cylinder, and you use less fuel.

Well, OK, that may be true if you can get your engine-management computer to cope with it, but the fuel-injection system in a modern car is perfectly capable of doing the same thing all by itself, whenever you're asking for less than full power. Putting a ceiling value on the mass of air that can go in to the cylinder will, at best, just give you a car that now uses less fuel at wide open throttle (WOT), because you've reduced the "wideness" of that throttle. Now, when you put your foot to the floor, it has the same effect that putting your foot four-fifths of the way to the floor did before. A similar effect occurs when you drive on a hot day; the air is less dense and the maximum power your engine can make is, therefore, slightly lower than it'd be on a cold day.

This does not strike me as something worth paying money for. Just let your air cleaner get filthy and it'll do the same thing for free.

(Note, now that I think of it, that there's no connection I can see between Vapor Fuel Technologies and Smokey Yunick's famous-in-certain-circles "Hot Vapor" engine.)

Also from the Product page: "...improves the combustion process by increasing flame speed and creating the conditions for a chain reaction Autoignition."

My initial reaction to that was "why the hell would you want that to happen!?", because there is no reason to actually want fuel to "autoignite" in a petrol engine. If you do manage to substantially accelerate combustion, by for instance using low-octane fuel in a high-compression engine, your engine may indeed suffer from "autoignition", also known as "knock" or "detonation". That's how diesel engines work, but it's very bad for petrol engines.

Fuel burn time in petrol engines is a compromise, as explained in detail by Tony of the eponymous Guide to Fuel Saving Gadgets on his page about turbulence gadgets. There's no reason to suppose that it's just generally good to burn the fuel faster.

Elsewhere on the Vapor Fuel site they mention that the orthodox automotive industry is exploring "HCCI and Autoignition". This is true; HCCI is "homogeneous charge compression ignition" and "autoignition", in this case, means controlled autoignition, happening when you want it to and not all willy-nilly, possibly before the piston's made it to top-dead-centre.

The idea here is to make engines with diesel-like ignition and fuel economy, but conventional-spark-ignition-like emissions (instead of the characteristic "diesel smoke" that's led to some diesel cars now carrying around a little tank full of "urea-based reductant", thus instantly spawning a million jokes from people who also make jokes whenever they see the word "methane").

The idea that you can make a normal spark-ignition engine into one of these new advanced pseudo-diesel designs by just bolting on an air heater strikes me as puerile.

It doesn't matter what I think of it, of course. You can't argue with success; if it works, it works.

But the only evidence that it does work, so far as Matt and I can see, is that single test, there on the "Independent test results" page.

This, it turns out, is where the real fun is to be found.

First, that page has an odd side-swipe at "the gasoline HCCI and Autoignition efforts currently underway by others"; those engines, the test-results page says in as many words, would find it "difficult, if not impossible", to just do an EPA highway cycle test.

I presume what they meant to say was that their competitors would have difficulty achieving their claimed mileage improvement in an EPA test, but this sort of lack of attention to detail may be in some way related to the fact that the Vapor Fuel Technologies EPA test is stated as having happened almost two years ago now, and yet... still no sign of anybody else taking advantage of this amazing 30% MPG improvement. Or even a replication of the test.

Oh, but wait a minute - where was it that this test apparently took place, again?

At "California Environmental Engineering ... an EPA recognized and California Air Resources Board (CARB) certified independent test laboratory".

That name rings a bell.

That's right, regular readers - that's the same lab that said the Moletech Fuel Saver works!

California Environmental Engineering were mentioned in that mysterious disappearing Herald piece about the Moletech gizmo, and I noticed then that CEE seemed to be a bit keen on the old fuel-saving miracle products.

But I very severely underestimated how many of these talismans and potions they've tested, invariably with positive results.

On top of the marvellous yet mysterious Moletech molecular modifier, CEE are also said to have given their stamp of approval to "Microlon" (PDF), and something called the "CHr Fuel Improvement Device" (PDF), and this (PDF) hydrogen-injection thing, and this other "HHO" gadget, and the Nanotech Fuel Corporation "Emissions Reducing Reformulator" (PDF), and the "Rentar Fuel Catalyst", and the "Fuelstar fuel combustion catalyst", and the "Green Plus (liquid!) fuel catalyst", and the "Omstar D-1280X fuel conditioner", and some other "Fuel Saver" back in 2003, and the Advanced Fuel Technologies carburetor for two-strokes back in 2000, and the "Hydro-Cell Emissions Reducer" (PDF), and the Hiclone turbulence device, and the CHEC HFI Hydrogen Fuel Injection system (PDF), and some HyPower product or other (I'm not sure which, because the PDF links on HyPower's Test Results page are broken), and this "Brown's Gas" doodad, and the SV Technology "DynoValve" crankcase-ventilation thingy, and the Petrol.Net Fuel Additive (though this time CEE's test is, amusingly, mentioned on the testimonials page...), and the Hy-Drive On-Board Electrolyzer. And it goes on, and on, and on...

And yet, not a one of 'em's being fitted to, poured into or waved over cars on the production line yet, bringing hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars per year to their brilliant inventors. All are still being sold over the counter to individual motorists, or being offered as this year's sure-fire investment opportunity.

People who design engines strike a balance between power, economy and driveability. An engine that lets a family car deliver 75 miles per gallon, but has power and torque curves that look like different areas of the Swiss Alps, is no use for normal automobiles.

Car companies have been tuning, balancing and refining their products for more than a hundred years. And racing engine designers have pushed pretty much every oddball modification to its screaming limits. But now we're expected to believe that Vapor Fuel Technologies have just, for the very first time, thought of deliberately heating the intake charge - you know, like a non-intercooled turbocharger, except without the boost - and discovered that doing that is good for what ails you.

And to support their claim, they show us a report from a "laboratory" that apparently never met a mileage improver it didn't like.

Pull the other one.

16 Responses to “They never met a fuel catalyst they didn't like”

  1. reyalp Says:

    Ah silly me for thinking I wanted an intercooler, when what I really need is an interheater! Somebody better tell those LeMans teams they are doing it wrong!

    CEE's site looks a bit dodgy, but I suspect the fuel gizmo people are misrepresenting what CEE does for them (wouldn't that be a surprise!):

    "Aftermarket Parts and Service (ADDITIVES)

    CEE is able to test products in order to allow certification by the California Air Resources Board exemption procedure and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. This process allows issuance of an Executive Order (E.O.) and provides an opportunity to sell a product legally in the State of California."

    In other words, their test doesn't have anything to do with the efficacy of the product. California has stringent emissions requirements, and most modifications to emissions related systems need to have a certification that they don't increase emissions (so for example, your after market header has to have EGR and oxygen sensor fittings, and also has to have the CARB seal of approval.) The mere presence of a non-certified modification can make it impossible to renew your registration, even if the tailpipe emissions are acceptable. Given that most of the fuel saver gizmos don't do much of anything, CARB certification is probably pretty straightforward.

    If you can find CEE actually endorsing the bogus claims, then fair enough (I confess I didn't read all the links), but I'd guess CEEs role actually boils down to certifying that the products don't do anything! Sleazy in their choice of who to do business with, but not outright fraudulent.

  2. Daniel Rutter Says:

    If you can find CEE actually endorsing the bogus claims

    Yes, that's what they do. Well, either that or an extraordinary number of people have been making fake letters allegedly from CEE saying that Device X saves fuel.

    Either all of these wacky items really do work and are billion-dollar inventions, or there's something about CEE that causes them to see things that other test labs cannot.

  3. reyalp Says:

    Ah, so they do. I just saw a couple of the manufacturers saying "Tested by CEE" without specifying what exactly was tested, but definitely puts a nail in that theory. Fraud it is then ;)

  4. Eschatonic Says:

    In England (and Wales) prior to the 2006 revision of The Fraud Act there existed a crime called 'Obtaining a Pecuniary Advantage by Deception'. This little piece of law was sometimes used in exasperation by police officers who had arrested someone for selling ecstacy pills which, on analysis, turned out to be chalk. OaPAbD carried a maximum custodial sentence of 5 years.
    Why are the state paid guardians of the consumer not using this type of legislation to protect the naive?

  5. Rob L Says:

    Shame on you dan for saying "detonation/knock" is the same as "autoignition"

    Diesels DO autoignite as part of normal operation, but they can also knock/ping/detonate which is abnormal and potentially destructive.

  6. Rob L Says:

    There's nothing fundamentally wrong with autoignition before TDC, the fuel needs to be burning before TDC to get nice high cylinder pressures for a hefty expansion stroke. Spark advance can run significantly before TDC, 30 degrees or more.

    It's also plainly ridiculous to target diesel like economy in a petrol engine, there's a significant difference in energy density between the two fuels, you simply get more bang/kg of diesel fuel. That's without even getting into the efficiency of running a much higher compression ratio in a diseasel.

    These fuel gizmos are hilariously depressing, or depressingly hilarious...

  7. TwoHedWlf Says:

    Just because I like to be pedantic sometimes... Rob, Detonation/knock is autoignition.

    But autoignition isn't necessarily detonation/knock. :P

  8. TwoHedWlf Says:

    Or, I suppose I should say detonation/knock is usually autoignition...Damnit, I just pedanticed myself!:(

  9. Rob L Says:

    Nope, two seperate issues.
    Autoignition starts the fuel/air mixture burning, important word being *burn*
    Detonation is exactly that, fuel/air mixture *explodes* =>high pressure rise rates, supersonic shockwaves in cylinders and associated nastiness.
    You can have knock without autoignition and autoignition without knock.

  10. TwoHedWlf Says:

    So, what you're saying is that detonation does not involve ignition?

  11. Rob L Says:

    Does not necessarily involve autoignition/preignition, correct. You can have knock from spark ignition, can you not?

  12. phrantic Says:

    This, gentlemen (presumably) is why Dan needs forums on his site.

  13. Tony (fuelsaving) Says:

    Actually, this isn't quite as stupid as it sounds. A significant cause of efficiency loss in gasoline (but not diesel) engines is the "pumping loss" caused by sucking intake air through a partially-closed throttle. You get a pressure drop of maybe 400 mbar (12" Hg) and the energy is just lost. If you can eliminate this, you can maybe save 5 - 10% of fuel used.

    BMW's Valvetronic engines pretty much eliminate pumping loss by fancy intake valve timing; lean-burn engines reduce it by opening the throttle (less pressure drop) and running with much more air per unit of fuel, but this does give very high NOx emissions.

    In theory I guess it is true that if you can greatly heat the intake air - maybe via a heat exchanger with the exhaust - you can also significantly cut pumping losses by making the same mass of air take up a lot more volume, so again you can open the throttle up more at part load. So maybe you really could save 5 - 10% of fuel in this way (though 30% is beyond credibility, except at idle).

    But (there is always a but)...this is only helpful at part load. As soon as you put your foot down, it's essential to get cold air again or performance will be crippled. Especially important is to get the air cold quickly, or else the "throttle response" will be terrible.

    It will be interesting to see some more details, when they appear (the cited patents only seem to cover fuel vaporisation, not air heating).

  14. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Here, by the way, is another salutary recent example of picking the lab that'll give you the results you want.

    (See also The Goodies:
    Tim: "Nine out of every ten doctors agree that people who don't eat Sunbeam sliced bread will get squashed by elephants!?"
    Graeme: "That's right. Mind you, it did take us a long time to find the right nine doctors [makes "loony" gesture]. And the elephants.")

  15. A gift for HHO Skeptics! - Page 17 - Fuel Economy, Hypermiling, EcoModding News and Forum - Says:

    […] totally real lab that "independently" tested a magical fuel vaporizer AND a magical fuel catalyst and […]

  16. ArturoGarci Says:

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