PORT CHARLOTTE -- A local entrepreneur is about to begin marketing hydrogen-assisted fuel system kits that manufacturers say could turn even gas-guzzling American cars into vehicles that get as much as 70 miles per gallon.
It's the fuel system the big oil companies don't want the motoring public to know about, according to Pascal Schreier, founder of EcoGaniCo, a Port Charlotte company that also markets small electric vehicles.
There's only one problem: The technology works in theory, but making it work in ordinary cars has proven tricky, Schreier said. And, he said, he doesn't want to start selling the kits until he can provide assurance they will perform as intended.
Now, Schreier thinks he has the solution. He's teamed up with a hydro-fuel system technician, Stefan Reindl of California, to offer seminars here. The goal is to train mechanics from across the state how to tune the modified fuel systems.
Schreier and Reindl held their first seminar June 27-29. Nine mechanics from as far away as North Carolina participated, Schreier said. They worked on tuning cars at Schreier's garage throughout that weekend.
Schreier plans to bring Reindl back each month to continue holding the training programs.
"Right now, there's a big failure rate (with the hydro systems)," said Schreier. "But we're right there, close to solving it."
Schreier said he equipped his family's Jeep Wrangler with one of the systems a few months ago. Its performance actually declined. He said the fuel economy dropped from 18 miles per gallon to only 12 mpg.
The system wasn't delivering the appropriate mixture of air and gasoline to the engine, and the device's draw on the electrical system, which amounts to about 15 amps, was dragging down the performance, he said.
That's because, in ordinary cars, the automakers have preprogrammed the vehicles' computers to automatically adjust the air/fuel ratio so that it amounts to about 14.7 parts air to 1 part gasoline, explained Reindl.
The hydrogen fuel system enrichens the fuel to the point a car engine will run on a mixture of more than 20 parts of air to 1 part gasoline, he said.
The trick is to modify the vehicles so their computers will let them run on the leaner mixture, Reindl said.
The system zaps water with electricity in a device similar to a battery to generate hydrogen and oxygen. The water must be periodically replenished.
The enrichened fuel is then fed through another device that uses magnets to ionize the fuel molecules. That reduces their size by some 100 times, from 300 nanograms to 3 nanograms, according to Reindl. And that makes the fuel more combustible, he said.
In theory, that reduces the amount of gasoline needed to run the car. It also reduces emissions to the point water is the primary emission, he said.
At least one other Port Charlotte mechanic who is not connected to Schreier or Reindl also believes hydrogen-assist fuel systems offer the key alternative to exorbitant fuel costs and excessive emissions.
But Lenny Kaplan of Fast & Easy Auto Repair, also warned the products pose a risk of rip-off.
Kaplan said he's been researching the devices, which cost from $60 to $1,200. He is planning to test one on his own vehicle before offering to install them for customers.
His research has told him the devices not only need the appropriate mix of air and fuel, but also a stable supply of electricity.
"I've been following hydrogen for a while," Kaplan said. "Hydrogen is going to be the next fuel. It burns hotter but cools faster and cleans out the engine. Basically, the only emission is water."
Gregg Marrapodi of Gregg's Automotive Repair Center in Punta Gorda said he participated in EcoGaniCo's seminar in late June in hopes of learning how to tune the kits.
"Well, they do work," he said. "It's just, each vehicle is different. It's not as 'plug and play' as people want to believe."
Marrapodi said he's installed a kit in his 2007 Tundra pickup. The device boosted mileage from 16 mpg to 30 mpg -- until the truck reached 55 mph. Then the fuel efficiency dropped back down, he said.
"That wasn't satisfactory," he said. "I think we were having problems with some of the components that were delivered."
To tune the vehicles, Reindl hooks up a laptop computer that reads various parameters of the engine's performance. It measures the mixture of air and fuel and engine temperature.
Using a voltmeter, Reindl then installs resistors and other devices that alter the electronic signals from the vehicle's computer. He keeps tinkering until the computer tells him the fuel mixture is optimum.
Schreier, a commercial pilot with an education in aeronautics and economics, said he met Reindl a few weeks ago after searching for a technician to tune his Jeep.
Reindl was giving a seminar in West Palm Beach at the time. So, Schreier drove his Jeep to the seminar. Reindl tuned it up.
The two men realized they shared a common interest; both are automotive engineers from south Germany. A partnership quickly formed.
"With some luck and time, I met Stefan," said Schreier. "Now, there are two Germans working together on this."
Schreier said the public has shown keen interest in his company's electric car products. But, the fuel system seems more marketable, he said.
"It seems hard to sell someone a $12,000 (electric) car when we have all these gas-powered cars that just need help," he said.
Reindl said he has 25 years experience in automotive engineering. He is currently working to develop a computer that could be installed with the kits to automatically adjust the fuel system.
He said he's not worried that other companies will beat him to the breakthrough.
"The retrofit market is $169 billion," he said, referring to value of the units that could be placed in cars already on the roads. "So, why would I worry?"
A request for comment from the American Petroleum Institute was not answered Friday. A request for comment from the Association of International Automakers was declined.
For more information, call Schreier at 941-628-6000 or visit www.EcoGaniCo.com.