Joseph Gamell of Silver Spring picks up the demonstrator model of his bladeless turbine, takes a deep breath and blows five times into a tube coming from one edge of the thick, disc-shaped device, his cheeks bulging like someone trying to inflate a stubborn balloon.
A shaft protruding from the center of the disc begins to spin quickly, but even when it finally slows minutes later, it is turning with enough force so that a visitor can't stop it by grasping it.
During the ensuing interview, Gamell's comments about his patented innovation and the systems he is seeking to replace include the following:
* "We think we're literally on the verge of building an industrial empire."
* "We can make a developing country into [a] Japan overnight."
* "The internal combustion engine is a better furnace than it is a machine."
Gamell says 50 people have believed in his invention strongly enough to have invested a minimum of between $3,300 and $10,000 each in Joseph Gamell Industries Inc.
But no agency has given the bladeless turbine an official blessing, no corporation has begged for the rights to use his technology, and experts questioned about the bladeless turbine could not say at this point whether there is more to it than some carefully directed hot air.
A turbine is a motor driven by the pressure of water, steam, air or another gas against curved blades protruding from wheels connected to a drive shaft. A windmill is the simplest example. Gamell says that turbines supply 95 percent of the world's energy.
Why has he invented a bladeless turbine? What does Gamell have against blades? He says that doing away with them would cut the cost of manufacturing turbines -- by 75 percent in the case of hydroturbines -- partly because of the difficult job of machining certain contours of blades. He also says that blades typically limit a turbine's durability and stability by causing vibration, erosion and corrosion problems.
Although his bladeless turbines have not matched the efficiency of standard turbines, he says the savings in manufacturing and maintenance costs make his invention valuable.
It consists of a flat metal disc within a thicker, plate-shaped housing. A stream of fluid or gas enters through holes in the edge of the housing and is directed through nozzles against the textured edge of the disc inside, causing it to spin an attached shaft. According to Gamell, the turbine acts both as a flywheel, storing rotational energy, and as a gyroscope.
He says that the turbine has 100 applications, some major and some minor. The front and back covers of his eight-page color promotional brochure, entitled "Gamell Turbine Technology," features a photo of the turbine with drawings of a turbine-propelled rocket, portable air compressor, turbine-powered aircraft, turboelectric flywheel vehicle, turbine hydroplane, stationary compressor, turboelectric flywheel train, cogeneration plant and advanced turbine-operated aircraft.
The Department of Energy looked at his first-generation prototype and termed it an interesting concept, according to Gamell. The lukewarm response possibly is due to its efficiency rating of about 22 percent. He claims 64.5 percent efficiency for the second prototype and says he thinks he can reach efficiency in the upper 80th-percentile range with a third-generation prototype.
Those figures compare with efficiency of between 90 and 93 percent for large power-generating hydroturbines made by Allis-Chalmers Corp., the last American producer of both large and small hydroturbines, according to one of its engineers, who did not want to be identified.
The engineer said that Gamell contacted his firm, but Allis-Chalmers decided not to test it because of financial problems and some skepticism. He indicated that, if Gamell adapted the device to hydraulics use and ran his own tests or paid for some to be run, the company might take a closer look.
Gamell says that Gardner-Denver Corp., an air-tool maker in Grand Haven, Mich., tested the second-generation turbine with an air stream. These results then were evaluated by the Franklin Research Center in Philadelphia, which was asked to determine the feasibility of using the process for hydroturbines. The center recommended continued development and further studies of other uses.
"We're not terribly excited, but then we're the kind of organization that sees a lot of these things," commented John H. Rumbarger, the center's director of mechanical and structural engineering.
Gamell plans to manufacture and license his turbines eventually. He says that his intent was not to move into the market immediately, because he knew that the process usually takes 10 to 12 years. He thought that he would be in the marketplace by 1981, however, and now expects to market the turbine by mid-1983.
He says there is interest in Zimbabwe, both in the government and industry, but not in the United States. He has visited Zimbabwe and has talked with officials about the potential of his turbine but, in contrast, has not been able to arrange a meeting with high government officials in this country.
The U. S. government has helped Gamell, however. The Technology Commercialization Program of the Department of Commerce Minority Business Development Agency paid for the Franklin Research Center evaluation, and it indirectly helped Gamell get in touch with Allis-Chalmers, according to Theodore Lettes, the program's coordinator.
Gamell says that his bladeless turbine, powered by a compressor that could burn any fuel, would allow a 3,000-pound car to get 100 miles a gallon and go from zero to 60 miles per hour in under five seconds. He said that General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. expressed no interest when he approached them.
Gamell said he may have to begin marketing the turbine as part of a toy and that one toy company has expressed some interest.
Gamell came to this area with his wife from Kalamazoo, Mich., to market his invention. He says that he holds 15 patents, including one on the turbine granted in November 1980.
He said he received a bachelor's degree in speech pathology in 1967 and a masters in teaching in 1970, both from Western Michigan University. He said that he also did postgraduate work in engineering, physics and business before serving as director of the Lincoln Skills manpower development training programs in the Kalamazoo public school system from 1968 through 1971.