Adam's Weekly Blog
Fuel for thought
The car industry is dominated by men. It’s men who talk about it, men...
The car industry is dominated by men. It’s men who talk about it, men who mainly make it and as far as I can see it’s mainly men who get interviewed about it. So it was doubly interesting to be sent to meet a woman whose business is trying to revolutionize the automotive world for the better.
I was on the outskirts of San Francisco in a rather modest industrial estate, to meet Virginia Klausmeier, the chief executive of Sylvatex – a company which is trying to create a fuel, which they believe might dramatically cut pollution.
They call it MicroX fuel. They blend 5% of their fuel with ordinary diesel. They claim particulate pollution would be reduced about 38% if everyone started using their fuel mix.
Virginia tells me her ambition is to have some of their fuel blend in every diesel tank worldwide. It’s a big vision for a small company and lots of good ideas fail long before they get to market – but Virginia is confident that from her small lab she has an idea which could change the way we power cars the world over.
Adding her MicroX fuel to the diesel mix adds more oxygen in the fuel, and when that goes through the engine it actually allows for the burning to be regulated and it burns much cleaner, she claims. That means that cars’ exhaust emissions are reduced pretty significantly.
Not only can it have a big effect – but having done all the research Virginia says making the fuel is fairly straight forward and to prove the point she invites me to make some.
We take a test tube of diesel and add water and ethanol to it. At first they don’t mix. It’s an opaque emulsion that will separate over time and won’t work.
Virginia then brings out what she calls her secret source - Sylvatex Microblend stock. We take some of it and add it to the diesel mixture. It quickly mixes all the ingredients together. The mixture becomes clear and forms what she says is a stable, micro-emulsion, with small drops of water in oil. That’s because Microblend acts like a washing up liquid, breaking down the interface between water and oil.
A unique selling point for this is that it uses existing oil industry infrastructure from pumps to storage. No upgrades needed. The blending process also allows you to mix more renewables into your diesel as well.
Virginia says she is hoping the blend will make it onto petrol station forecourts within the next two years. The big vision would be to go to the countries that are most polluting such as China, which have really bad emissions problems, and implement the MicroX diesel all over to massively reduce emissions there.
One may be sceptical of attempts to revolutionise a multi-billion dollar industry from the corner of an industrial estate on the outskirts of San Francisco – but then it wasn’t IBM which revolutionized the world of personal computing it was a bloke operating a very small unknown business that ended up being called Microsoft. Big ideas do often come from unusual places.