ST. PETERSBURG — For the past 24 years, Dean Johnson has been telling anyone who would listen that he has a fuel additive that will reduce a vehicle's emissions and improve mileage. Now, with gas nearly $4 a gallon, he hopes people actually will listen.
"My product could save this country 3-million barrels of oil a day," said Johnson, owner and founder of RxP Products Inc. "I feel like a voice in the wilderness."
Running the business with his daughter and a handful of employees from an industrial park off Interstate 275, Johnson, 86, has eked out a living selling the additive, called RxP, in 1-ounce bottles through auto parts stores and in 55-gallon drums to railroad switching yards. But the big payoff has eluded him despite repeated independent tests, including one in 2004 by the Florida Department of Transportation, that support his claims.
"We made about $1-million in sales last year, and that's peanuts," said Johnson, who made a fortune in the nursing home business and has sunk about $7-million of it into RxP Products. "Without my injecting funds in this company, it wouldn't fly."
Things may be starting to change. Recently, McMullen Oil on 49th Street N in Clearwater started putting RxP in all fuel sold at its pumps. Paul McMullen, owner of the wholesale and retail oil business, tried RxP in all his companies' vehicles.
"It increased mileage and eliminated black smoke," said McMullen, who is paying a half-cent a gallon for the additive and absorbing the cost for customers. "We'll let the people tell us what they think."
Johnson retired to Florida from Illinois in 1970, then invested in a business that sold a propane additive used in metal cutting. Tinkering with that formula and buying the company, he developed RxP, a patented blend of liquid hydrocarbons that naturally occur in gasoline and diesel fuel.
Johnson's retail business does best in states such as California and Texas, which require emissions testing. He offers a money-back guarantee for people who rely on RxP to get their clunkers through states' emissions' testing.
Richard Schneider, an engineer in Alachua, was professor of nuclear engineering at University of Florida when Johnson contacted him about his discovery in the 1980s.
"He told me not to waste his time or my money," Johnson said.
Schneider eventually relented and tested the formula. He now regularly uses RxP in his 2005 Honda Odyssey van.
"The product makes combustion more complete and can save between 5 to 10 percent on your gas mileage," said Schneider, who said he has no financial stake in RxP. "The problem is, the average driver doesn't know what their gas mileage is, and they don't want to spend $6 or $7 on an additive. But with gas at $4 a gallon, maybe it gets interesting."
Andy Lockhart, the owner of St. Petersburg's CD Roma's restaurant who races sports cars as a hobby, said he has won races because of RxP. He uses RxP in his 2000 Cadillac and his restaurant's delivery van.
"It's a 1992 Chevy Astro with 300,000 miles, and I've never touched the engine," said Lockhart, who added that he also has no investment in RxP.
Johnson's company is shipping a few drums of RxP to power companies in China and Brazil. His daughter, Nancy Rackley, said both countries are testing ways to use the additive to improve efficiency of power plants.
"Other countries are looking for ways to save, but this country isn't," she said.