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Ramar Pillai, from Tamil Nadu in India, claims he has found the philosopher's stone of the petroleum age. He says he has an herb that can turn water into a virtually pollution-free diesel fuel or kerosene for about 23 cents a gallon. Pillai has managed to convince a few zealous followers that he is the new Isaac Newton, but skeptics believe he has been exposed as a fake. In one demonstration of his magic herb, it was alleged that his stirring stick was hollowed out and filled with gasoline. When his mixture was heated up, a wax plug at the end melted and allowed gasoline into the mixture.
Pillai is a high school dropout from a village near Rajapalayam, but he has intrigued scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) by his claims and demonstrations. He says he doesn't want a lot of money, that he only wants a processing plant built near his home village and some protection for his family. He claims he was kidnapped and tortured for several days for refusing to tell his tormentors how he turns water and herbs into fuel. Pillai says his abductors suspended him from a ceiling fan and burned him with cigarettes.
To produce his fuel, Pillai cooks leaves and bark from his special plant for about ten minutes in hot water. The mixture is cooled and stirred after adding a little salt, citric acid and traces of a few unknown chemicals. Once allowed to settle, the liquid fuel, which is lighter than water, floats to the top and is separated by filtering. The entire process takes less than 30 minutes.
According to the Department of Science and Technology (DST) at IIT, laboratory tests have conclusively shown that the herbal fuel is a pure hydrocarbon similar to kerosene and diesel fuel. Engineers at IIT in Madras conducted static tests in two-stroke engines and concluded that the herbal fuel offered better fuel economy than petrol. The fuel "will have good potential in a four-stroke petrol as well as diesel engines,'' according to the engineers in Madras.
If he is not using trickery, how is Pillai doing it? One theory, offered by Ratna Choudhury of IIT, is that atmospheric carbon dioxide is sucked in during the reaction. The carbon dioxide combines with hydrogen liberated from water and forms the hydrocarbon fuel. She admitted, however, that she was just guessing. The Times of India has a different theory. They published a report which claimed that the entire exercise of promoting Mr. Pillai was to legitimize the sale of stolen petrol and diesel from tankers of Indian oil companies in Rajapalayam. He has no magic powers and no magic herb.
Jones, David. "Flower power," Nature 387, 559 (1997).
RAMAR PILLAI HERBAL FUEL By Wesley Bruce