This blog is my attempt to reconnect with the world of chemistry. I have a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry and make a living doing research for a large company in Michigan. As times have changed, that company has changed its focus and I no longer have as much chance to do the basic, fundamental research which I most enjoy. Through this blog, I am hoping to recapture the magic which I felt during my graduate (and undergraduate) days in college. Expect topics on chemistry and alchemy along with some non-chemistry related items which I think might be interesting.

"The chymists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost insane impulse to seek their pleasure among smoke and vapour, soot and flame, poisons and poverty; yet among all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that may I die if I would change places with the Persian King."

Johann Joachim Becher (phlogistonist)
Acta Laboratorii Chymica Monacensis, seu Physica Subterranea, (1669).

Friday, March 21, 2008

Salute to Dan's Data

High-tech scams and advertisements for products of dubious value can be found all over the web. One of my favorite pasttimes is reading through them, looking for obviously bogus science facts, technical errors, and the internal inconsisencies that invariably plague these announcements. It seems like I've been running into quite of lot of them lately. The most recent would be the Tesla Purple Energy Shield.

With that in mind, I'm adding Dan's Data website to my link list and I highly recommend it. The official title of the site is "Dan's Data - PC Hardware and Gadget News," but he covers a lot more ground than that. His specialty is explaining how gadgets work, or in many cases, why they cannot possibly work in the manner described by the manufacturer. He's especially adept at skewering some of the more dubious claims associated with these products and does so in an entertaining fashion. He also appears to be rather familiar with chemistry too, often discussing the chemistry side of products, with more knowledge that I would have thought possible for a gadget guy. He's apparently a reader of Derek Lowe's In The Pipeline chemistry blog. Dan also has a related blog called How to Spot a Psychopath.

Recently Dan has been "discussing" a product promoted by FirePower which purports to be a fuel additive that performs near miracles with fuel economy, exhaust emissions, oil consumption, etc. on cars, trucks, trains, and military tanks (yes, tanks). Apparently, someone from the company was none too pleased with his analysis and apparently forced Dan to remove a link to a presentation which was sent to him by the CEO of FirePower himself. Of course, this resulted in the presentation being mirrored all over the net. You can read Dan's analysis on his website, but after reading over the presentation myself, one item caught my eye. On page 22 of the presentation, the exhaust emissions data for a Toyota Corona Avensis was shown with and without the additive. Here were the results: (Forgive my poor formatting)

Exhaust ______ No Additive ____ With Additive ____ %Difference
CO2 __________ 3.7% ___________ 1.4% _________ -62%
CO __________ 0.027% _________ 0.016% ________ -41%
NOx _________ 39 ppm _________ 16 ppm ________ -59%
FC* __________ 9.8 _____________ 8.1 __________ -17%

FC = fuel consumption in liters/100km

Both CO and NOx levels dropped, which would be a good thing for the environment. However, the amount of CO2 released dropped by 62%! Now this sounds like it would be a good thing, what with all the concern over greenhouse gases and global warming, but there are only 2 ways that the CO2 levels could drop like this. Possibility #1: carbon is being emitted in some other form. It can't be CO since its concentration dropped. The only other possibility would be the release of unburned hydrocarbon. (For unknown reasons, hydrocarbons emissions were not included in the report.) This seems very unlikely as it would have had a catastrophic effect on fuel economy, and the report indicated that the fuel economy actually improved. Not to mention the fact that if this additive really does cause a majority of the CO2 to appear as unburned hydrocarbons, you can be sure the EPA will be knocking on their door very soon. Possibility #2: 62% less fuel was used, which means a fuel economy savings of 62%, which is much larger than the 17% increase in fuel efficiency noted in the report. I do not know exactly how these tests were performed, or under what conditions, but you can be sure that any automotive engineer would immediately catch the low CO2 number. Of course, this product isn't for the automotive industry, it's for the people who don't know much about engines.

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