Oil Drum Limited awarded prize for product that cannot work

Update on this story here.

UKC endorse, award and invest in pseudo-science!
The University of Kent at Canterbury (my old university where I studies Physics for four years) and a whole load of Kent local government and other public bodies have been taken in by some pseudo-science so completely that they have endorsed it, awarded it £20,000 of public money and invested in the company!!

Oil-drum.co.uk / save-fuel.co.uk won the “Kent Innovation Challenge 2008” despite their being no proof whatsoever that the product they sell works (in fact it cannot work).

Oil Drum Limited were asked to give a two minute presentation and were the grilled by a Dragon’s Den style panel who were, I presume, looking for a product which was green, saved carbon, was innovative and used the phrase “renewable energy” in the presentation… Oil Drum Limited may have ticked all the boxes the panel were looking for but it would have been a good idea for the panel to check to see if the product actually worked or if it actually was “renewable”.

You can find out loads more about the 2008 award from a video made by the folks that gave the award, Sittingbourne Enterprise Hub.

The £20,000 prize money came from the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) (so it is taxpayer’s money), who in turn got it from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

What is your problem, Jon?
So what is my problem with Oil Drum Limited? They make a product which saves over 10% of a truck’s fuel consumption, that can’t be a bad thing surely? Well it would be a good thing if it were true but sadly it can’t be.

Oil Drum’s “technology” appears to me to be identical to the HHO,” run your car on water”, hydrogen-hybrid scam which has been about (mainly in the USA) for decades, a technology which has been shown many times to be nonsense. Oil Drum’s publicity guy insisted to me that the Oil Drum product is completely different to the thousands of “run your car on water” scams on the Internet but I cannot see any difference whatsoever and they won’t tell me in what way it differs.

Lack of evidence
There is no science to back up any of Oil Drum’s claims, nothing. Every claim on the oil-drum.co.uk / save-fuel.co.uk website is unproven, unprovable, scientific gobbledegook.

The reason why research on this has never been conducted by a scientist or a university is because it is such obvious nonsense that no one with a science or engineering background is interested in testing it… unfortunately this seems to be not obvious to people who hand out business innovation awards.

The 10% savings Oil Drum claim are well within the margin of error given the sophistication of testing they claim to have done – ie non scientific testing, anecdotes only, no scientist or science lab in sight, on the road, “real world” testing (which is full of inaccuracies and sources of error), carried out by themselves, their friends and people who have invested money in the company.

And besides this extra 10% energy, where does it come from? You can’t magic extra energy out of nothing. An engine in good working order will burn in excess of 99% of its fuel leaving less than 1% unburned, so even if the Save Fuel unit made the engine 100% efficient the gain would be less then 1%, not the 10% Oil Drum claim.

Renewable Energy
One of the name names or phrases Oil Drum use is “Renewable Energy On Demand”. As a renewable energy engineer myself I find this use of the phrase offensive. Even if this product worked, and it does not, the would be nothing “renewable” about it. However, claiming to be “renewable energy company” appears to be one of the reasons Oil Drum were given the award.

Patented technology
Oil Drum Limited even managed a patent in the UK and another in the USA. Neither patent actually say much about what the product is supposed to achieve, just that it makes gas for use in an internal combustion engine, there is very little about fuel or efficiency or emissions. I have registered a complaint with the Intellectual Property Office in the UK but it seems there is little I can do now it has been granted, if I want them to review or revoke their decision I have to pay them to do it.

What do Oil Drum actually Sell?
Oil Drum don’t seem to actually make or market their Fuel Saver, rather they seem to be marketing the license to make the Fuel Saver.

The endorsement of  several UK Government departments and the University Of Kent (UKC) is being used to market the license to make the Fuel Saver around the World and investors are being lulled into a false sense of security by the involvement of such reputable institutions.

Mistake or fraud?
It is my guess that Oil Drum originally believed that their Fuel Saver worked; now, despite all the evidence, they are locked into some sort of weird self deception where to face the facts is worse than carrying on. Imagine building up a multimillion-pound business and then finding the premise was nonsense, it would be enough to drive one  insane. Robert Park wrote a book all about this phenomenon (Voodoo Science – The Road From Foolishness To Fraud) where he explores many examples of this and the point at which a simple and honest error becomes self deception and, ultimately, fraud. The point at which you realise that you are wrong but the consequences of stopping are too great so you carry on regardless is some grey area between self deception and outright fraud.

As for UKC, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, SEEDA and the Sittingbourne Enterprise Hub… I communicated their error to them and tried to encourage them to do something about it. Unfortunately they have all consistently either stonewalled me or passed the buck to someone else; the award still stands and the endorsement, implied or otherwise, is still there.

In a recent communication from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills they told me it was SEEDA’s responsibility. In SEEDA’s most recent communication with me they address my complaint by saying that they “acted properly” and then pass the buck on to the Sittingbourne Enterprise Hub. Sittingbourne Enterprise Hub are a private company, not a Government department, and so are not obliged to respond to me and so they ignore me.

Seeing as all these institutions must now be aware of what they have done, their choice to burry their heads in the sand must turn their stupid-but-honest error into conscious and deliberate deception. My guess is they are stuck between a rock and a hard place; admitting to the error and withdraw the award and they become vulnerable to litigation from those who lost money thanks to their endorsement, however if they ignore the issue and they are just putting off the inevitable and allowing the problem to get worse.

———————

Update – March 2010
Oona Muirhead from SEEDA also said:

If you are still dissatisfied after considering my response, then you are entitled to appeal to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (The Parliamentary Ombudsman), through your Member of Parliament.

… and so I have contacted my friend Adam Holloway MP to request that he appeal to the Parliamentary Ombudsman  on my behalf. More on this very soon… (unfortunately with the British parliament about to be dissolved for an upcoming election so this is happening very slowly).

Update – March 2010

I have a response from the National Audit Office and they seem to be taking my complaint very seriously and most certainly have not misunderstood anything.

Also, I hear on the grapevine that Oil Drum “vanished” some time last month. Also, there are daily Google searches ending up at this page for phrases like “oil drum administration” and similar.

Update – May 2010

Story picked up by BBC 1 and the Kentish Gazette.

See here – http://www.eco-scams.com/archives/714

20 Comments

  1. Geoff:

    I think you are quite right to be outraged. This really is as old as the hills. The sort of thing you would find in the adverts at the back of Popular Mechanics 30 or more years ago.

  2. New butter set to end late morning hunger pangs (and thus save the world) at JonStarbuck.co.uk:

    [...] Innovation Challenge 2009 Following the 2008 Kent Innovation Awards being awarded to Oil Can Limited, Mr. Starbuck is poised to receive the coveted title of “Kent Innovation Awards 2009 [...]

  3. George O:

    John, you sound like a balanced and very well informed individual. I’m sure you’re scaring the pants of all these hydrogen companies. I’d hate to get on the wrong side of you.

  4. Jon:

    Hi “George O” (you may be anonymous but I know you sent the message from the University of Kent at Canterbury) is that an attempt as sarcasm? It is a bit lame, either way.

  5. Lez:

    George, I’m almost sure Jon is. As for Uni of Kent, I’ve only just realised why Jon is not getting any response from them, it is because they own 10% of Oil Drum.. that is a bit like owning 10% of a rotting corpse!!

  6. jh:

    Daryl Watts purchased a hydrogen generator from me in July 2007, he took it apart and wrote me a letter telling me how well the product worked when the fitted it on there own “hydrogen enabled demno truck” then ripped the idea off and claimed it was his!!

    I have a letter from Daryl on headed notepaper, signed by him, saying how good my product was (dated long before he ever sold or made one) and admitting that they took it apart to try and fix a fault.

    I spoke to Carol Barron at the University and explained the situation and my concerns and in return received a letter from a solicitor threatening me with harassment charges!!!

    I contacted SEEDA and informed them of the letter and also spoke to the Kent newspaper that was printing all the positive crap at the time, nobody was interested.

    I tested my idea at Milbrook and proved that it does not work, since testing i have not made or sold any more, reading between the lines the company that was giving the testimonials out was a shareholder in oil drum, Daryl Watts was stupid enough to spend tens-of-thousands patenting a product that i told them didn’t work.

    If you read between the lines again you will see that at the time oil drum were awarded the prize fund the uni were angling after a £7,000,000 grant to rebuild their facility, Google it and you will find that the award was given due to them helping to start up companies with world class products such as “oil drums innovative world class idea”,

    the whole thing stinks of a big conspiracy to get a huge grant, despite my feelings towards Mr. Watts i get the impression he was used by the uni in order to secure the grant,

    Please contact me via the email address, i want the uni’s blood after the way they treated me and i have dates, times and proof that the idea was taken from my product, nicking a disabled persons product and claiming it is your own is bad enough, nicking an idea that doesn’t even work is stupid!!,

    This is no mistake, it’s a giant fraud and i have the proof in writing!

  7. rich:

    There is apparently a story about this in the Kentish Gazette today. I haven’t got a copy, and there is no sign of it on the website.

  8. Jon:

    Thanks Rich!
    There is indeed a full page article in the Kentish Gazette today.
    See here – http://www.eco-scams.com/archives/714

  9. Conor:

    I’ve just watched the programme with sheer disbelief that anyone could think it works. I can only imagine that they think that the electricity from an alternator is free. It isn’t.
    You’re burning fuel to generate another fuel – hydrogen. Even if you could do that with 1005 efficiency, where’s the saving? It’s just another perpetual motion machine.

  10. jh:

    what a joke that docu was,i have e-mailed a copy of the letter to you for publication on this site which will prove that darryl watts and steve martin did not design or invent the product, a copy of the letter was also sent to seeda, carol barren at the enterprise hub, kos media(who have been praising the product)and the universitys media dept along with my concerns within 1 week of them awarding the innovation prize, the university were fully aware that the product was not his invention two years ago,

    http://www.seeda.co.uk/news-and-publications/news/recent-news/1/archive/2008/250
    notice how oil drum are used as a platform to justify the £7.3 million pound grant to rebuild the business center, no other companies are mentioned, no doubt it was taxpayers money they were awarding

  11. Lolatron:

    Hi Jon, have you put through an FOI to kent uni. about this. They would legally have to respond within 20 working days and unless they have good reason (i.e. invasion of privacy) they cannot reject your FOI.

  12. Jon:

    Hi Lolatron,
    I am not sure Kent UNi (UKC) do have to respond to an FOI request. What would you ask them?
    I wrote to UKC several times, but they never replied or took any action that I know of.
    I put several FOI requests through SEEDA, but they deliberately-misunderstood/dodged the question.
    The Sittingbourne Enterprise Hub also chose to not answer me at all.

  13. Lolatron:

    UKC are publicly funded so they definitely have to respond to FOI’s. I would ask them for email correspondence between the electronics department and Oil Drum, any other correspondence between the university and oil Drum LTD and any internal documents regarding oil drum. If they say that is too wide a scope, you can narrow it down later.
    If Kent hasn’t been responding to your FOI’s then it has quite simply broken the law. Likewise with SEEDA, Complain here: http://www.ico.gov.uk/complaints/freedom_of_information.aspx

    Here is the web adress for FOI’s to Kent. There is an email on there somewhere. http://www.kent.ac.uk/foi/

  14. jh:

    hi jon, when are you going to post my letter on here?

  15. steve:

    We have some test results for you

    Isuzu Bighorn Reg D9RCW

    Diesel only Average MPG = 17.68 MPG £0.3675 PPM Pecentage Diference
    Diesel and HHO Average MPG = 20.97 MPG £0.3100 PPM 18.61%

    Total KM Miles Lt Used MPG Cost of Fuel Cost per Lt P.P.M Driving syle 211 131.14 32.5 18.339 £47.00 £1.446 £0.358 1st test
    101 62.77 14.73 19.369 £21.24 £1.442 £0.338 New Filters
    112 69.61 18.6 17.009 £26.60 £1.430 £0.382
    105 65.26 18.6 15.946 £25.55 £1.374 £0.392 Average
    85 52.83 13.8 17.399 £18.87 £1.367 £0.357 blown fuses & Loaded
    82 50.96 11.06 20.943 £15.28 £1.382 £0.300 HHO
    186 115.60 27.65 19.002 £38.69 £1.399 £0.335 HHO
    88 54.69 10.9 22.805 £15.25 £1.399 £0.279 HHO
    146 90.74 20.57 20.049 £28.99 £1.409 £0.319 loaded
    54 33.56 7.99 19.091 £11.50 £1.439 £0.343 HHO
    97 60.29 11.44 23.951 £16.47 £1.440 £0.273 turned down HHO

    We will not go to market until we can prove why this happens if you want to talk here is my email st3v3@gaspow3ruk.co.uk [Jon says - change the 3s to e to get St3v3's email correct]

  16. Jon:

    Hi Steve,
    Where are your error (uncertainty) measurements? How did you make the measurements? How does this compare to your ~15% increase in MPG? Where is the blinding? Why the different conditions, how have you accounted for them and why not avoid them? Where is your statistical analysis? If you get this experiment done properly I guarantee the “improvement” in MPG will disappear. It has to, otherwise the laws of conservation of energy are wrong and that is risible.
    Jon.

  17. CED:

    I can’t believe I have to write this but why do people still insist that the HHO doesn’t work. I currently have bus contracts in the millions to fit our very simple HHO system. We have not had one bus that hasn’t saved fuel and guess what? that’s what our customers want. Who cares how it works, the question should be Does it save fuel?

  18. Jon:

    CED,
    In science the first question is not “how does it work?” but “does it work?” and under controlled scientific conditions the answer has never been “yes”. HHO works in the same way as homeopathy works and that is to say that it doesn’t work.
    So who are you? What bus company is having millions of them fitted? Or are you making that bit up?
    And why did you Google “oil drum uk fuel saving” from Spain to get to this page? Or are you just trolling?
    Jon.

  19. John:

    I don’t think it matters who I am or where I come from or who my customers are. The very simple fact is that we offer free tests to all our customers, we say have the equipment for a month and we will return to discuss a deal. When we return the customer is eating out of our hands. The fact is that with our system the customer saves 30%+ How can you argue with that. By all means carry on slating this technology, it just means I will have more of the market.

  20. Automotive Ecology wins award with bogus technology » Pepijn van Erp:

    [...] the website www.eco-scams.com I had stumbled upon the story about UK company Oil Drum Ltd., which had won an award: ‘The Kent innovation Challenge 2008‘. The company was then [...]

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