Oil Drum: Darryl Watts
Darryl Watts, founder of Oil Drum, reveals why all motor vehicles could soon be fitted with his innovative pollution-busting invention
The British have a fine tradition of independent inventors and scientific discovery, and Darryl Watts, founder of Oil Drum, had his own eureka moment while working for a car leasing company in 2004.
He was visiting a manufacturer and was shown a car engine achieving 60 miles to the gallon in an enclosed hydrogenated chamber. He realised that if hydrogen was added to a vehicle’s air manifold, which feeds the combustion chamber, it would make the fuel burn far more efficiently. “I started researching the concept and realised that although people had taken the idea on board, it had never been commercialised,” he says.
Watts lacked the technical know-how to do this himself, so he joined forces with electronics engineer Steve Martin to pursue the idea further. The pair rented a lab at the University of Kent and began work.
The volatility of contained or pressurised hydrogen was a problem they wanted to avoid, so instead the pair looked to filter natural hydrogen into an engine’s air supply. The culmination of their efforts is the Save-Fuel System, a standalone device that can be added to existing lorries and trucks. Oil Drum says that it will increase fuel efficiency by a minimum of 10%, reduce carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions by 10% and 15% respectively, and completely remove hydrocarbons from exhaust fumes. “It’s a retro fit device, which means it can be added to a truck or lorry that’s already in use,” explains Watts. “It can make an engine far more efficient.”
Following investment from the university, which came in the shape of both cash and resources, Oil Drum successfully gained patents for its invention in the UK and the US. Uptake of the product was swift, and one of its earliest buyers, 21st Century Logistics, a Kent-based firm with 130 trucks, also bought into the business, providing much needed cash. “It came back to us within a month of trialling the devices,” says Watts. “Our investors aren’t just finance houses, they are people who can put something else in.”
The company has opted to pursue a licensing business model, preferring to use the manufacturing and distribution infrastructures of other companies, freeing the team to work on new products. Oil Drum has now sold licences to: the pollution reduction company Andel, which is manufacturing and distributing in the UK; UAB Hydro II, which covers Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia; and Apollo for New Zealand and Australia. “Licensing the technology means that we can get on with what we are good at, which is creating new products,” says Watts.
More territory-based licence deals are on the cards for India, South Africa and Ireland. There’s also a big deal with BAE Systems in the pipeline. “It wants to sell to the Ministry of Defence and the US military, which could mean thousands of vehicles. These are markets that we would struggle to crack alone,” explains Watts.
Last year, the company passed the £1m-turnover barrier, and Watts expects to hit at least £4m by October this year, the end of its financial year. His business, which has just seven staff, is recruiting more personnel with technical abilities in order to take them on to the next stage.
So far, Oil Drum has made its devices for large vehicles, but now, with the university’s help, it’s working on a miniaturisation process, which will produce a version for vans and four-wheel drives, and then another for cars.
“By 2011, we intend to have three products in the global market: for trucks and buses, vans and four-wheel drives, and passenger vehicles,” explains Watts. “Then we should be in a position to float the company or sell to a major third-party operator.”