Wouldn't it be great if you could buy a device on the Internet for, I don't know, $200, bolt it onto your car and enjoy an instant reduction in emissions and an increase in fuel economy?
Claims like that are as old as the hills. We've all heard about the 100-miles-per-gallon carburetor that "they" don't want you to have, and the scientist whose invention was mysteriously suppressed just as he was about to bring incredibly cheap people's power to the world (think Nikola Tesla).
The Blade: Looks good, doesn't it?
It's inevitable that when fuel prices zoomed up, these devices would see a revival. (Yes, I know gas has come down, but is anyone really happy with $3 a gallon?)
Free lunches are hard to come by, however. Popular Mechanics tested a bunch of "fuel savers" back in 2005 and concluded that absolutely none of them worked. One even started a fire. These devices use miracle magnets, vortex generators, ionizers and water injection. But the only thing they reduced, PM said, was the cash in your wallet.
And this brings us to the latest device, The Blade, which bolts on to the exhaust pipe. It's kind of cool looking in a retro way. Remember those chrome exhaust tips people put on their cars to create a fake hot rod? I've only seen pictures on the website, and I have no idea if the Brazil-sourced Blade actually works. But, given the history, I think caution might be in order.
Don't worry, though, because actress Laura Dern says it works. "Having a Blade on my hybrid car allows me to continue driving with the satisfaction that I am lowering my carbon footprint and burning less fuel," she says.
The Blade is definitely more credible than most. The company paid for independent testing by the respected Automotive Testing and Development Services (ATDS) in Canada. On a 2004 Honda Civic, the Blade allegedly achieved a 57 percent reduction in hydrocarbons, 14 percent in carbon monoxide, 34 percent in nitrogen oxides and six percent in carbon dioxide (the main global warming gas). And on the highway, the numbers show it achieving a five percent fuel economy improvement.
ATDS Vice President Lin Farmer, who conducted the tests, said the Blade "seemed to be doing something on the positive side." He pointed out, however, that the 2004 Civic is a very low-emission car (the numbers for emissions of hydrocarbons, for instance, ranged from 0.0010 without the Blade, to 0.0004 with it).
"It's possible that some of the large improvements in gases are due to test-to-test variability and the fact that we were working with such small numbers," Farmer said. He added, however, that the Blade "performed better than other devices we tested." And the fuel economy numbers impressed him.
William J. O'Brien founded parent company Sabertec in 2005, after he came across the Blade on a visit to Brazil in his role as a venture capitalist. He's a great talker, and I can't pretend to understand everything he said. Luckily, there's a You Tube video that lets you judge for yourself. Here's some of what he said to me when I asked him how a device bolted on to the tailpipe can increase fuel economy. It's unfortunately somewhat paraphrased, because he talks fast:
"There's a phenomenon called backsliding. When the spark goes off and the piston fires, there is both an exhaust wave and an energy or sound wave (which is five times faster than the exhaust wave). When the reversion wave bounces out, some of it goes back into the exhaust chamber, affecting fuel economy. The ratio of air to fuel is affected. The Blade compresses the sound wave, with a vacuum effect, so the exhaust is sucked more freely toward the tailpipe. You end up with a cleaner charge."
O'Brien said it was "difficult to put all this in layman's terms," and related the effect to something called "exhaust scavenging." The website goes into great detail. O'Brien: "Talk to someone who says he knows a lot about engines, and they'll say, "No way will this work.' But if you talk to someone who's really knowledgeable, they say, 'Oh, sure, that's exhaust scavenging.'"
To his credit, O'Brien says he's funding $250,000 worth of further testing, on several different vehicles, including a Ford E250 van and a Toyota Prius. The results aren't out yet. And he admits that some of his earlier emissions numbers are based on trace readings, and thus the 57 and 34 percent reductions may not mean a whole lot. "We're moving away from some of that," he said. "We want to stress the fuel economy advantages, and what the Blade does as a fine particulate filter and reducer of greenhouse gases."
For further enlightenment, I went to an expert, Jim Kliesch, a senior engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "I wish them all the best, but I'm dubious," he said. "On some of those readings the numbers are so small that the changes are actually minimal. And I don't see any proof of their mileage claims. If they had a variety of vehicles independently tested, then I could take it seriously."
So we await the further testing results. The mileage claims Kliesch was referring to are not from the test data, but are on the website. According to what O'Brien calls "customer experience," the Blade has achieved 34 percent improved fuel economy on four-cylinder cars, 21 percent on light-duty trucks and 16 percent on dual-exhaust eight-cylinder sedans. There's no way to verify any of that.
It's hard to believe there's a free lunch, or a bolt-on device, that can achieve improvements like that. Popular Mechanics reports, "There's no ignoring the laws of physics, people. Your vehicle already burns over 99 percent of the fuel you pay for. Less than one percent is squandered as partially burned hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide before the exhaust hits the catalytic converter for the last laundering. Even if one of these miracle gadgets could make the combustion process 100 percent complete, the improvement in mileage resulting would be one percent."
So when it comes to the Blade, let's see those independent test results!
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