“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Gadgetman Groove update

Back in February of 2011, I wrote a post on the Gadgetman Groove, a modification purported to provide spectacular gains in fuel economy and power. And when I say "spectacular," I'm talking about double the m.p.g. and more. As it happens, my Groove page turns up on the most visited statistic fairly frequently. I suspect the visitors may not read what they'd hoped to but, as the Apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, the time comes when we must "put the ways of childhood behind" (New International Version 1 Corinthians 13:11).

In any case, seeing that post come up as one of my most frequently visited piqued my curiosity and I paid Ron Hatton's (the inventor of the Groove) web site another visit, where I found the following quote: "The EPA tells us more than 60% of the power in your fuel is wasted in the exhaust." Does the EPA actually say such a thing? Well, sort of...

The EPA (and anyone else with a degree of knowledge of engineering thermodynamics) will
tell you that much of the chemical potential energy released in the burning of fuel in the cylinders of an internal combustions engine exits the engine as low grade waste heat in the exhaust, through the radiator, radiantly from the engine, and elsewhere, and 60% is really a very low number for that "waste" in an otto cycle engine. Such losses in a heat engine (or any engine) are an inevitable consequence of the second law of thermodynamics.

Ron Hatton, though, implies that this waste is fuel that isn't burned in the engine. Or, perhaps is burned in such a way as to not produce motive power - I'm not really sure. He has a fourteen minute explanation of its working principles (as he understands them) here. At one point, he mentions that the "ball" of high pressure air created by the groove is a million times more dense than ambient air. That would be ~1.22*10^6kg/m^3~. Yes, the air is so dense that a cubic centimeter of it weighs (ok, has a mass of) 1.22 kilograms or weighs (here at the Earth's surface) 2.7 pounds. This is about 90 times as much as a cubic centimeter of mercury weighs! If it's an ideal gas (it's not, but we're talking order of magnitude here) its pressure is on the order of ~3*10^{13} Pa~ or ~4*10^9 pounds/inch^2~ (where I've speculated that the temperature is around 470 K).

I actually watched an online "talk show" called "Talk For Food" wherein Adam Abraham holds forth on a variety of rather outré subjects. In the subject episode, Abraham interviewed Gadgetman Ron Hatton and had the groove installed in his 1993 Lexus. In the course of the interview, Hatton claimed as much as 90% of the fuel going into a typical internal combustion engine is not burned in the cylinders to produce motive power. Rather, it's burned in the catalytic converter or exhausted unburnt.

This is irrational. A gallon of gasoline releases about 132 MJ (megajoules)/US gallon upon complete oxidation. Let's assume that 13.2 (10%) of those potential MJ are actually released in consuming a gallon, and the vehicle goes, say, 18 miles on that gallon at 55 m.p.h. Let's further, generously, assume that the internal combustion engine (ICE) can utilize 30% of these 13.2 MJ (i.e., the ICE is thermodynamically 30% efficient) then we can calculate that abut 4.5 horsepower is what's required to push this vehicle down the road. Sorry, that dog don't hunt.

Hatton had an analyzer hooked to Abraham's exhaust for a before and after test. The footage showed somewhere around 3,900 ppm (parts per million) for hydrocarbons in the exhaust before installation of the groove and 0 (yes, zero) after. Now, I've not seen any independent testing of the exhaust stream, so I can't say that these results have been replicated (nor that replication has been attempted and failed).

I don't claim that the Groove doesn't work, or that it provides no benefits. I simply state that all the "I think I'm getting about 28 m.p.g. and I used to get 12 m.p.g. and it sure does run smooth now" anecdotes on youtube provide no evidence that it does provide benefits.

But, at a broader level, I ask you: If this simple modification could be so effective, why aren't all the vehicle manufacturers beating a path to Hatton's door to license the (patented) technology? Can the oil companies really afford to pay them off? Imagine that Chevy could announce a Chevy Cruze that achieved 45 m.p.g. or even 60 m.p.g. and that car cost not a penny more to manufacture (the groove would, after all, not be installed by auto workers with Dremel tools as Hatton does it).

Anyway, I'll answer a question that comes up when I write about such matters and then make a comment on a comment I've seen on my blog posts and elsewhere. The question: "why do I care? The customers are satisfied, Ron Hatton seems like a nice guy." I care for a couple of reasons. First, the rising (worldwide, if not in the US) demand for petroleum based transportation fuel coupled with our stagnant ability to provide it makes critical analysis of possible efficiencies crucial and the discounting of pixie dust pivotal. Second, the gullibility and inability to think critically of the US public is disturbing and each example troubles me.

As to the comments, I've frequently seen (at PESN, on my blog, and elsewhere) a troubling retort to physics based debunking of alleged miracle fuel saving devices, miracle cures, etc. The retort is along the lines of "I'm sure glad I never took physics so that my view isn't limited by the dogma of traditional physics. I can be open to new ideas." You'll see such a comment on my original Gadgetman post. It's sad, so very much is possible within what we know and, though we certainly don't know everything, we know a lot more than nothing. And knowing what is and is not possible, the "man will never fly" and "aerodynamics says bumblebees can't fly, yet they do" tropes aside, enables efforts to be directed at things that have, at least, the possibility of paying off.

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