Today brought us news of a purported new solution to high gas prices: SwiftFuel. Currently intended as a replacement for leaded 100-octane aviation fuel, SwiftFuel claims to be ethanol-based, but somehow free from ethanol's negatives such as its lower energy density, incompatibility with gasoline, and propensity to destroy rubber components. How do we know all this? The company's MySpace page told us so. But since we realize social networking sites sometimes contain minor misrepresentations, we decided to dig deeper. What we've discovered, and more importantly, what we still don't know, after the jump.
Ordinarily, we wouldn't have given SwiftFuel a second glance due to the snake-oil style claims it makes. But in this case, the information came with a whiff of credibility thanks to a writeup by columnist Robert X. Cringely at PBS.org, including an interview with Mary Russek, half of the husband and wife team behind the company. Factor in the company's web site and a mention on Slashdot, and that's four different places you can find SwiftFuel on the internet. But is there any real information?
First, we looked at Swift Enterprises' claims about SwiftFuel, which are easy to spot thanks to the light-blue 20-point text on their MySpace entry:
- Completely renewable with no petroleum: Fair enough, it's 100% ethanol based, so that claim seems plausible enough.
- 50% improvement in mileage over E-85 and 10-15% improvement over gasoline: I grouped these together since the math is basically the same. Still, this is a huge claim, considering that ethanol has only 75% of the energy density of gasoline. To achieve the required energy density, one would need to boost ethanol with another chemical or create a new hydrocarbon from the ethanol base stock.
- 20% fewer emissions than gasoline: You had me at "a 15% improvement in mileage." But the global warming benefits are certainly icing on the cake, and seem to point toward an oxygenate in the fuel.
- No engine modifications, additives or stabilizers are needed: In other words, you don't need a FlexFuel engine to run SwiftFuel, nor do you have to dump a quart of STP in the tank to keep from burning a valve. So, whatever they're using is chemically inert.
The problem is, that's it. Aside from discovering that SwiftFuel is single, a Gemini, and interested in networking, there's no information explaining how these scientific miracles are accomplished. The company's appallingly slow web site offers their utopian vision: "Swift Enterprises aims to use renewable resources to end the energy crisis," but details amount to, "Swift is working with hydrogen peroxide and novel chemicals as new components in fuel cells and propellants." Peroxide as an oxygenate, perhaps? There's also a hint that the company is synthesizing hydrocarbons from ethanol, but that's about where the eight minutes of organic chemistry we took runs out.
So is SwiftFuel real? To paraphrase legions of X-Files fans, "We want to believe!" But we don't. When Robert Cringely and the Ruseks swing by our office with a jerrycan full of SwiftFuel for us to test, we'll bring you more. Until then, SwiftFuel belongs in the same category as Water 4 Gas and the Tornado.