Over a cup of coffee, D. Singh, 50, is talking about the new Honda Fit, a tiny, affordable car marketed for its fuel efficiency.
The entry-level subcompact car gets up to 38 miles per gallon on the highway, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates.
Singh, an independent contractor who has lived in Reston 15 years, is unimpressed.
“If my engine were in the Fit, it would get at least 100 miles per gallon,” said Singh, who has patented what he calls a “super diesel” engine.
If Singh’s patented design does what it says, it could make him a very rich man, not to mention the potential to reduce environmentally harmful emissions.
Martin Adelman, a patent law professor at George Washington University, agrees. “If it really works, there’s no question someone would want to use it.”
“Given high fuel prices, we’d expect that to be an important invention,” said Adelman. “If it’s true, that’d be very good news.”
THIRTY YEARS AGO, Singh, a native of northern India, remembers sitting in class as one of his professors at the Indian Technical Institute explained the history of the diesel engine.
In the late 19th Century, Rudolf Diesel wanted to invent an engine that would be more efficient than steam. At the time, steam engines had an abysmal fuel efficiency ratio. Of the fuel used to power steam engines, only 6 percent was actually turned into mechanical energy.
The engine and fuel that would take the inventor’s name jumped fuel efficiency up to 35 percent.
It’s a history lesson Singh knows well. “In those days, [diesel] was more than two times more fuel efficient than a gas engine,” said Singh.
Gas engines, which now run near 35 percent according to Singh, only reached 15 percent in their early days.
Today, diesel engines still beat out gas engines in fuel efficiency, reaching upwards of 50 percent.
“But in the mechanical field, the diesel engine has been ignored for a long time,” said Singh.
It’s a snub Singh has carried with him for nearly 30 years. But making the engine more efficient has always been on Singh’s mind, he says.
SINGH HELD ON to his idea for nearly 20 years. “I just thought they would figure out what I was thinking,” he said.
“And we were so busy with our lives,” said G.K. Kaur, Singh’s wife who works as a real estate agent.
In 1996, Singh started codifying his ideas whether on napkins or paper. “When I was stuck, anything I was doing, I was thinking about [the design],” he said.
In 1999, Singh filed for his first patent, but it was only half of his idea. “The second part still wasn’t complete,” said Singh.
After he filed the second part in 2001, completing his design of a “super diesel” engine, his patent came through a year later.
The patent boasts 18 claims, but Singh sums up the innovative design this way: “My super diesel engine increases fuel efficiency up to between 75 and 85 percent.”
According to Singh, his design reduces waste inherent in the traditionally designed diesel engine.
“Part of my engine is powered by recycled exhaust gas,” said Singh.
BUT SINCE SINGH received his patent, he’s done little to promote it. Kaur explained again that they were just too busy.
Their attitude changed into one of urgency a few months ago after watching Al Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” which makes the case for global warming.
“I said, 'It’s about time we got this out there,’” said Kaur, who teamed up with her husband six weeks ago to spread the word.
The couple met with a local attorney friend, Edward Lippert, who thinks the idea should be vetted by the automobile industry. “Put it this way, it sounds like a dynamic idea,” said Lippert. “It certainly should be given credence and exposure.”
Singh points out that his engine doesn’t have to be used for cars. “It can power anything.” And because it’s so much more efficient, it reduces harmful greenhouse emissions, he said.