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 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.
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.
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.
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