Case Study: Fuel Freedom International's MPG-Caps
The MPG-Cap is another gas-"saving" product intended to be added to a vehicle's fuel tank. While apparently developed many years ago, FFI began selling it earnest around November 2005. As with many such products, it is sold via multi-level marketing, which immediately triggers warning bells among sceptics. Some perfectly good and effective products are sold through MLM, but it is also a common method employed by scammers and snake-oil salesmen to maximise revenue from ineffective products. (Commonly, the "early adopters" make much, if not most, of their money by recruiting lower-level sales people rather than directly through product sales.) An additional effect is that there are thousands of lower-level distributors, all with a financial stake in the product, who will pop up on discussion forums and blogs to praise MPG-Caps and offer glowing "independent" reviews and testimonials.
Dynotab also seems to be similar, or perhaps even identical, to FFI.
FFI helpfully provide a good explanation of how the MPG-Caps supposedly work. The theory is that the additive does not affect combustion directly, but forms a coating on the inside surface of the combustion chamber that then promotes complete burning of the fuel.
An immediate question is, what is the coating? Precious metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium are commonly used in car catalytic converters to promote "burning" of the hydrocarbons in the exhaust, yet there does not seem to be any indication that this sort of material is contained in the MPG-Caps.
The second question is: supposing the product does form a catalytically active coating, what effect may be expected? This is discussed in detail here, but in summary, it seems unlikely to provide major benefits - particularly since the burn in any modern engine is already 98 - 99% complete. A specific concern is that the product claims to speed up the burn, which does not generally result in improved fuel consumption.
Especially interesting is to view the report FFI sent to the EPA for their registration application. The report makes it clear that the main purpose of the product is to allow pre-1973 engines to use unleaded petrol. Chief among the effects that allow it to do this are protection from valve seat wear and a slight increase in octane rating (about 0.5 points). What is entirely missing from this report, so far as I can tell, is evidence of significant improvements in fuel consumption.
On the subject of the EPA, many resellers make the comment "EPA registered!" as if this were proof of effectiveness. Yet as the EPA clearly state on Page 2 of the report, registration is absolutely not any kind of "endorsement" or "approval" of the product.
Many FFI supporters have, by the way, claimed that the product was originally developed by (or at least for) NASA as a rocket fuel enhancer. Absolutely zero evidence for this is given (conveniently, it is supposedly a NASA secret) but even if it is true, a solid fuel rocket is not a gasoline or diesel engine! A benefit to a rocket absolutely does not prove benefit to car engines.
FFI's test results can be found here. While interesting, the lack of any information on the test protocols makes it hard to establish how well controlled the tests were. As with all on-road tests, it is very easy for external effects (weather, traffic, etc) to produce changes in measured economy of similar size to the claimed effect of the gas-saving product.
For example, on Page 12 of the report, the test fleet shows an economy change from 3% below normal to 12% above when the product was used, followed by a drop to normal when the product was removed. But at the same time, the "control" fleet (without FFI) showed an increase from -3 to +6, followed by a drop to -4 at the end of the test period. That is to say, the test fleet improved economy by 15% with MPG-Caps, but the other fleet also gained 9% at the same time without the MPG-Caps. In other words, some other external factor - for example weather, or usage patterns - was responsible for a very large improvement in economy at this time; so much so, that the economy of the "control" fleet actually goes outside the 95% statistical confidence limits that are presumably meant to distinguish between natural variation and a "real" economy benefit. So the "10% improvement" claimed for FFI could be just a statistical fluke; at the very least, a large proportion of this benefit is apparently due to some other factor.
An additional concern with the test data is that much of it seems to be based on very old vehicles. Especially amusing is the reference on Page 6 to "Newer cars", when referring to those from 1973...
What is required instead, in order to prove the effectiveness of any gas-"saving" product, is "proper" scientific testing. As with all such products, it seems astonishing that FFI are apparently not willing to spend a tiny fraction of the potential profits on establishing incontrovertible proof of effectiveness. If FFI does believe in the product enough to do this, I would be happy to advise on test protocols and companies who might be able to do the work.
Some FFI "experts" have claimed that the standard test cycle is somehow unable to detect the economy gain the MPG-Cap delivers. No technical explanation for this is given, other than the standard "it's on a dynamometer not on the road, so obviously it's not the same" non-explanation - which suggests that the burning fuel and air somehow miraculously "know" whether they are on the road or on a dynamometer.
Perhaps the claim is that the conditions of the drive cycle do not reflect typical real-world driving conditions in terms of load and speed - which, while partially true, does not explain why other, more "appropriate" test cycles could not be used. Nor, as mentioned before, do FFI (who you would think would know) explain the exact technical reason why their product works under certain conditions but not others. In any case, engines are (as a rule) less efficient at the relatively low loads seen on the standard test cycle, becoming more efficient at higher loads - so any fuel saving product is actually more likely to display a benefit on the test cycle than under other conditions. There is simply more "room for improvement" available.
Interestingly, FFI actually did initiate a test at the highly respected test house Millbrook in England, in February 2007 (see bottom of this page). This has been followed by a total silence from FFI, and I understand from a recent Jerry Lang video that this is because the test proved no economy benefit.
Jerry has claimed that this is due to the fuel consumption calculation being affected by the combustion changed caused by the MPG-Cap, but to me this makes no sense. A presumably similar test is apparently being conducted at TÜV in Austria. Again we were promised results in September 2007, yet nothing has appeared.
Also along these lines is a test conducted recently in Australia. This is a test on a 10-ton diesel truck and involves running the vehicle on a dynamometer over a defined test cycle, as demanded by the EPA and other authorities. Test results are here. The change in economy was as follows:
Segment L/100km (without MPG-Cap) L/100km (with MPG-Cap) % change
1 69.8 58.7 15.9
2 40.6 38.6 4.9
3 38.3 37.9 1.0
4 27.4 25.4 7.3 It can be seen that the economy benefit is highly variable, falling to almost nothing under some of the test conditions
. But the average benefit is still 7%, which is convincing - isn't it? Well, not entirely, because this test still falls some way short of the requirement for rigorous scientific testing:
- There is no repeat testing, so we don't know if this vehicle has naturally high variability in fuel consumption, and it is just coincidence that the results with the MPG-Cap are better
- There is no A-B-A test, so we don't know if some other unrelated factor is responsible for the economy improvement
- Without a "standard" figure for what fuel economy and emissions a truck of this sort should achieve on this test, we don't know if the vehicle was in good condition beforehand or not (maybe the MPG-Cap is just masking an existing problem)
And, of course, it is highly debatable how relevant the results from a 10-ton diesel truck are to the typical FFI consumer, who drives a petrol (gasoline) car or SUV.
The test also gives information about the toxic pollutants from the test vehicle. This website focusses on fuel economy rather than emissions, and since the FFI product is called the MPG-Cap, this is surely what matters most. But because many correspondents claim the Cap "reduces emissions by 90%", or "reduces emissions to nearly zero", or something along those lines, it is worth also looking at the percentage emissions change:
Segment NOx change CH4 change HC change CO change
1 -33 -63 -3 -47
2 -6 -61 0 -58
3 -13 -64 +10 -31
4 -26 -61 +18 -23
So even if we take these results at face value and assume the change is entirely due to the MPG-Cap (ignoring all the comments above about lack of rigour in the testing), the emissions reduction is far less than the 90%+ frequently claimed.
Interestingly, I have found one reference to a "proper" drive-cycle test on a typical gasoline car with the MPG-Cap, conducted on behalf of the German motoring organisation ADAC. The ADAC found no benefit at all from the MPG-Cap (in fact a worsening in economy from 7.1 to 7.2 litres/100km). The test process was:
- measure economy without the MPG-Cap
- drive for 800 km (500 miles) using the MPG-Cap
- measure economy with the MPG-CapWhile not a totally robust test, it does provide additional eveidence in support of the view that the MPG-Cap is of very limited benefit.
As with most fuel "saving" products, the primary evidence in favour is uncontrolled on-road testing, where people compare their economy with and without MPG-Caps. As explained here, it is very easy to get false results from this sort of testing since fuel economy is very strongly affected by traffic, driving style, weather, etc. Espcially significant is the "placebo effect" - anyone who has invested in FFI, and wants to see it work, will naturally (if unconsciously) adopt a more economical driving style. (Also, do not forget the "MLM effect" mentioned at the top of the page.) Similarly, claims of improved performance are almost entirely restricted to comments along the lines of "my car feels quicker now", which could very easily just be wishful thinking.
There is a long history with fuel "saving" products of glowing testimonial evidence followed by scientific testing proving that the product/device has only a tiny effect (for example, the Ecotek CB-26B. Because of this, governments and other regulatory bodies generally say that testimonial evidence on its own is not sufficient to demonstrate the effectiveness of any fuel "saving" product. (See for example the advice from the Federal Trade Commission.)
Those who market and support MPG-Caps, as with other fuel "saving" products, always condemn those who criticise them without trying for themselves. "If you haven't tried it in your car, you can't comment on it", they say. But the point is this: the sceptics know very well that any testing they could do would prove absolutely nothing, due to the natural fluctuations in fuel consumption. Maybe they would see an improvement, maybe they wouldn't. Either way it would not demonstrate conclusively whether the product works or not. Only rigorous scientific testing can do this (and such testing costs far more than any independent individual such as myself can afford).
The various media reports on FFI - for example from WTMJ, WSAZ and WTOV - are often cited as "proof" of its effectiveness. Yet these are just testimonials, with no attempt at scientific testing or controlled conditions. Generally the test length is also far too short to get any kind of meaningful result, given how much economy naturally varies from tank to tank.
More surprisingly, both WSAZ and WTOV apparently got a big economy improvement instantly after adding the MPG-Cap - but FFI themselves say that a conditioning period (typically 50 gallons usage) is needed to build up the coating and cause improvements. So whatever produced the better fuel consumption, it almost certainly wasn't the MPG-Cap!
The Auto Channel also carried a positive article about the MPG-Caps in 2006. But it's not obvious to me whether this is a truly independent review or simply a paid "advertorial"; nor is there any description of what test was done to "prove" that the product works. In other words, it seems to be just another testimonial.
Comments from Jerry Lang
Recently a number of reports from "Jerry Lang", a combustion consultant, have appeared on FFI's website. Jerry seems to be quite genuine, though I see no evidence for extensive experience with car engines or emissions control equipment (whereas, without blowing my own trumpet, I have). Nonetheless, Jerry makes some interesting points, which are worth considering.
First is a comment on test results from Southwest Research Institute, looking at analyses of fuel with and without FFI added. The interesting statement here is that, on all the usual measures of fuel characteristics, "if you were to stop at two separate [gas] stations you could see greater differences in the composition" - in other words, the effect of FFI is negligible on these tests. Only an increase in octane rating can be detected (which fits the idea that it helps very old cars run on unleaded), and this is in any case only about one third of the difference between regular and premium fuel.
Jerry's other report begins with an explanation of how the product works, which basically ties in with that described above, but also adds an additional claim: that the product reduces heat transfer to the combustion chamber walls, so improving efficiency. In principle this makes some sense - heat loss to the walls is a major factor in reducing efficiency - but from my experience, I am highly sceptical that the effect is as large as is claimed. Experiments with so-called "adiabatic engines", with very good thermal insulation, have generally given disappointing results - in general, the reduced heat loss simply results in an increase in exhaust temperature rather than a major improvement in efficiency. Reducing heat loss would also tend to increase NOx emissions (these are strongly dependent on temperature), and could even promote damaging knock. I would like to see some actual measurements of heat transfer and thermal conductivity before accepting this analysis at face value.
The report also goes on to describe some fuel consumption experiments that Jerry has carried out. The problem is that, yet again, this is just an uncontrolled testimonial - all kinds of factors such as weather, traffic or driving style could be responsible for the improvement in economy seen. Certainly it doesn't constitute scientific evidence.
If Jerry is reading this, I would welome some direct correspondence.
Emissions reduction and economy gain
Some commentators have noticed reductions in exhaust emissions when using MPG-Caps, and regard this as proof of economy improvement. There are two problems with this:
First, emissions measurements have their own natural variability. Factors such as engine temperature, atmospheric conditions, and (crucially) catalyst temperature can all strongly influence emissions levels. Simply driving the car hard for a few miles can heat the catalyst enough to give a large drop in emissions as the catalyst is then working better.
The second, and more important, problem is that emissions measurements are a poor guide to economy. It is true that very high levels of emissions (especially unburnt fuel) - caused by a faulty spark plug, for example - do imply bad economy. But on modern cars in good condition the level of unburnt fuel in the exhaust is already so low that further reductions are essentially insignificant in terms of economy. Partly for this reason, the US Environmental Protection Agency's guide to evaluating fuel "saving" devices specifically excludes emissions data such as the Inspection & Maintenance (I/M) test as evidence of effectiveness.
Waterless Car Wash
FFI recently added a new product to their range, the "Eco-Sheen" Waterless Car Wash. What is very interesting is that FFI described the product as being "rich in positively charged electrons". To anyone with even a basic level of scientific knowledge, this is just nonsense - electrons are negatively charged, and no way can a "positively charged electron" exist. There is a positively charged equivalent to the electron, the positron, but these are very rare - and react violently with ordinary matter; washing your car with positrons would cause a large explosion!
Interestingly, another page talks about the product containing "positively charged microns", which also makes no sense as a micron is simply a unit of length, and so cannot have any sort of charge.
Within a couple of months, FFI had updated their pages to talk more sensibly about "positively charged ions", but you can still find references to the original descriptions if you do a little digging on the Net. The point is not that I am sceptical of Eco-Sheen (which may well work very well) but simply this: how can we believe FFI's "scientific" claims about the MPG-Cap, when they have demonstrated such a fundamental lack of scientific knowledge? Isn't FFI supposed to be full of Nobel-prize-winning chemists?
The product was apparently primarily designed as a way to allow older engines to run on unleaded gasoline
The theory does not, to me, seem to support expectations of large economy improvements
Much of the test data relates to older vehicles, and does not seem sufficiently well controlled to constitute proof
Based on this, and the fact that virtually every other "miracle" fuel additive brought to the market has failed to deliver the promised benefits, I am highly sceptical that MPG-Caps really give sufficient economy gain in typical gasoline cars to make it economically worthwhile.
As with all aftermarket fuel "saving" devices, my advice to FFI is simple: if you believe in your product, spend 0.01% of your income on rigorous scientific testing to prove it really works. If you don't, sceptics will draw their own conclusions as to why not.
Please also read the general comments on fuel "saving" devices, if you have not done so already.
If you found this page helpful, you may like to support my work. If you think I have made a mistake, or am talking complete nonsense, please take a moment to read the Response to Critics before saying so in public (on discussion Forums and the like).
Jag - you have some explaining to do.