The 50% MPG Gain That Detroit Won't Touch
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. Gerald Rowley keeps his dreams in his garage. There, on a quiet street in this southeast Florida town, he stores an aging Mazda 626 sedan, cream white with a worn interior, unremarkable in nearly all respects with the exception of a precisely machined, one-gallon steel box in the trunk connected to fuel lines leading to a gasoline vaporizing device under the hood.
The steel box holds one gallon of regular unleaded gasoline. The device beneath the hood is called the VFS, Vaporizing Fuel System--not the most elegant name, but one considerably more acceptable and descriptive than the "Vapster" badge Rowley originally stuck on his invention.
I came here to drive Rowley's VFS-equipped car. For years, I had spurned the invitations of homespun inventors worldwide to travel to distant points to witness first-hand machines that could deliver 100 miles per gallon or 200 miles per gallon.
The claims sounded too incredible to believe -- ridiculous, in fact. If such devices really worked, really did what their inventors said they did, why would they still be sitting on shelves in anonymous workshops -- ignored by the driving public and all of the vehicle manufacturers who serve them? What automobile manufacturer in its right mind, especially with rising concerns about future oil availability and with gasoline prices escalating worldwide, would not jump at the opportunity to acquire a device that delivered 100 miles per gallon?
The inventors' claims didn't make sense. So, I did what any sensible, hardened journalist would do. I ignored them.
But then a good friend, Sasha Tapie, a computer geek and an absolute nut about fuel efficiency, called me boasting about yet another "fantastic" fuel-saving device "you have to see to believe."
Sasha is a master salesman. He could sell God heaven at a higher price and make the Almighty believe He got a deal.
"You just can't brush this off," said Sasha, who, as usual, had a financial interest in the project he was extolling. "You just can't walk away from this without at least driving it yourself. You are a better journalist than that."
You can sell anybody, especially a journalist, by appealing to ego. I was sold. And so here I was with Rowley, a man who grew up making race car engines, standing in front of his VFS-equipped car, ready to do something that defied common sense -- take a long ride in an old car down a Florida highway on one gallon of gas.
But, first, a primer: Rowley's patented device is nothing new. It's just the latest iteration of an idea already developed by others -- the notion that you could get more miles per gallon out of a traditional gasoline engine if you pre-heated the fuel to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit, thus turning it into a vapor before it enters the combustion chamber.
Vaporized fuel, when properly mixed with air, burns more efficiently, saves fuel and emits fewer tailpipe pollutants than traditional fuel-air mixtures in which gasoline is sprayed into a combustion chamber in tiny droplets and then mixed with air before burning.
All car companies know this. Most have sought to increase combustion efficiency by swirling gasoline in intake valves before mixing it with air and by using computers to more precisely open and close engine intake and exhaust valves to better meter fuel-air mixtures. The manufacturers' rapid-swirl, electronically controlled variable-valve lift technology has brought about substantial increases in fuel efficiency--but nothing near the reported 40 percent to 60 percent improvements in efficiency touted by inventors of the pre-heating, fuel vaporizing equipment.