What kind of gas mileage does your vehicle get? Twenty miles per gallon? 30? 40?

Max Sartwell says his 1998 Jeep Wrangler gets more than 100 mpg.

How can that be?

Fuel vaporization.

The recent Waconia High School grad hasn’t driven his Jeep 100 miles yet with the new fuel vaporization system he installed this spring, but all indicators point that the technology works and that the vehicle is burning very little gasoline.

Scientists and engineers understand that vaporization or gasification of liquid fuel creates a higher the rate of combustion and more efficient operation of an engine, Sartwell points out. And attempts to completely gasify liquid fuel go back many years.

In his engineering class last term Sartwell learned that in the 1930s Charles Nelson Pogue, Canadian mechanic and inventor, developed a device that was widely advertised as the 200 mile-per-gallon carburetor. However, the device never enjoyed wide commercial success because it was nearly as large and cumbersome as the engine it was meant to fuel. And it operated at a temperature approaching the flash point of gasoline, meaning the potential for fire or an explosion was quite great.

Other attempts at applying fuel vaporization in motor vehicles also had significant shortcomings, and historical accounts point out that while several technologies were patented, in many cases they weren’t commercially viable – and in some cases they might have been bought out and shelved by oil interests not keen on reducing sales of their product.

Sartwell is convinced, however, that his application can work, especially as society moves to more non-emitting sources of travel such as electric cars.

In fact, an environmental studies class chapter on air emissions got Sartwell thinking about cleaner-burning and more fuel-efficient approaches to transportation. And his spring-term engineering class put the fuel vaporization idea into application.

He designed the system as a class assignment and believes the fuel vaporization device is the only one of its kind produced with a 3D printer. The computer-generated polymer component took about 75 hours to print over a weekend on the high school’s 3D printer, Sartwell says, and he was ecstatic when it actually worked when he tried it out the day after graduation.

The only other investment Sartwell made in his system was about $20 worth of PVC piping to connect the vaporization device the engine.

He notes that it’s still a prototype, a work in progress, but that his Jeep does run pretty smoothly and very efficiently with the device, and that the right air flow is more important than fuel. Sartwell doesn’t fill up at the pump. He carries a one-quart cannister of gasoline to fuel his vehicle.

Sartwell recalls tinkering with machines since he was a kid – lawnmowers, snowmobiles and other cars. He also owns a 2006 Dodge Charger, a 1969 Ford Thunderbird and a 1980 Porsche, all in various states of operation and all which he purchased very cheaply.

He says he probably has a natural aptitude for mechanics and was nurtured in it by his grandpa Al, who he enjoys working with at his home in Buffalo, Minn.

“Something just seems to click in my head when I look at or listen to an engine,” he said. “I somehow seem to know what’s going on in there.”

Sartwell has a job he likes with Green Meadows landscaping, lawn care and snow removal near Watertown, where his responsibility is to keep all devices – vehicles, mowers and weed trimmers – in working order. Later this summer, he ships off to basic training with the National Guard where he hopes to be a light vehicle mechanic. And next spring he expects to enroll at South Dakota State University in mechanical engineering.

That campus should have larger 3D printer, Sartwell said, and he’s going to talk with his professors there about further developing his fuel vaporization prototype.

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