ST. PETERSBURG — Dave Hansen thinks he has found a way to cut the cost of gas in half.
In fact, he said his month-old idea prompted a Tampa Bay investor to offer him a seven-figure advance for the rights of his invention. But Hansen turned that offer down.
He said his new hydrogen-supplemental fuel system is not about fame or fortune, though it doubles a vehicle's mileage per gallon. It's about fishing.
"After paying about 500 to 600 bucks to catch four or five trout, I thought there has to be a better way," said the 47-year-old retired business owner who is now a computer consultant. "My motivation was to go fishing and save money."
The rising cost of fueling his 24-foot Shamrock fishing boat had become a snag, and it didn't help that his main automobile for towing his boat was a gas-guzzling 1997 GMC Yukon.
Hansen did some research on alternative ways of powering vehicle engines and found hydrogen to be an often attempted but not so successful method.
That's when he started testing how hydrogen would work in his Yukon. After buying $600 worth of parts for engine modifications and a month's worth of time, he says the Yukon has gone from 8 miles per gallon in the city and 12.5 on the highway to about 18 in the city and 26 on the highway.
"Now, I don't pay $4 a gallon. I pay $2 a gallon," Hansen said. "I've got my big truck that I want to keep and I get the same mileage that you get with a Toyota Camry."
He said engines lose 30 to 40 percent of gasoline energy through exhaust, but the hydrogen supplement allows his engine to burn 100 percent of the gasoline.
Hansen added a device to the Yukon that creates hydrogen and combines it with the oxygen input to the engine, which helps the motor maximize gasoline performance. His system requires a small amount of distilled water to power the hydrogen generator and uses distilled vinegar to keep the generator's plates from corroding.
Additional gauges monitor the efficiency of the generator and help the system work well in Florida summer temperatures.
"The motor now runs cooler and with less carbon buildup, which ultimately will increase engine life," Hansen said. "The system has multiple built-in safeguards to make sure that the driver can operate the vehicle without concern."
Not everyone is sold on the idea.
Lev Gelb, an associate professor of chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis, who has worked for years on hydrogen storage, said he is skeptical of Hansen's claim.
"The energy in the battery also comes from the engine, so all of the energy actually comes from the gasoline," Gelb said.
"This approach can't work because everything is still limited by the car engine efficiency, so I think that his claim of nearly doubling the vehicle mileage is bogus."
Hansen said scientists' and car engineers' doubt is relevant but limited by what they have studied.
"The science is there, but there isn't a focus on existing vehicles," Hansen said. "Everyone looks at new vehicles to produce hydrogen."
Albert Rawlins, 75, who recently met Hansen while playing golf, said he is willing to try a hydrogen fuel system on his 1995 Chevrolet Impala, especially because he still sends gas money to two daughters living in Ohio.
"If you don't know computers, the best mechanic in the world can't do this," Rawlins said of his amazement of seeing Hansen's modified Yukon engine. "I told Dave, 'I'm willing to do this in order to make a statement' and the first thing I'm doing is taking a road trip to Ohio."
Even with regular compliments from people like Rawlins, Hansen said he still isn't sure he wants to pursue a patent and open a business. Instead, he has posted his findings on his Web site, htgsystems.com, and he will allow feedback to determine his next move.
"I'll let the public decide. I'm not doing this to make money. I just wanted to go fishing, and I thought it was a shame that nobody was doing anything about this."
Eddie R. Cole can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.