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Is physics a key to fuel efficiency?

Temple University professor claims small device inserted near fuel injector can drastically reduce a car's fuel consumption.

Correction at 6:20 a.m. PDT: The fuel efficiency figures were transposed and have been corrected. Also, the outcome of the FTC case has been corrected.

Temple University scientists claim to have found a simple way to reduce fuel consumption in cars and trucks.

CNET News obtained an advanced copy of the report, which will be published in the November 19 issue of the American Chemical Society's Energy and Fuels journal.

"....our fuel injection technology based on the new physics principle that proper application of electrorheology can reduce the viscosity of petroleum fuels. A small device is thus introduced just before the fuel injection for the engine, producing a strong electric field to reduce the fuel viscosity, resulting in much smaller fuel droplets in atomization. Because combustion starts at the droplet surface, smaller droplets lead to cleaner and more efficient combustion," says the report by Ronglia Tai, professor at the Department of Physics at Temple University, and head of the project.

The report goes on to say that Tai's group was able to increase the highway fuel efficiency of a Mercedes-Benz 300D with a diesel engine from 32 mpg to 38 mpg.

The scientists at Temple University are not the first to claim that manipulating a fuel's properties is the key to increasing efficiency.There have been many "fuel-saving" gadgets touting this same principle for years.

However, many people are skeptical about whether this method works.

One company--unrelated to Temple University--was even was sued by the Federal Trade Commission for making "deceptive product claims" related to a magnetic "fuel saver." The two parties eventually reached a settlement.

From responses on our boards and from e-mail feedback, it's clear we have a lot of readers knowledgeable in this area. Do you think electrorheology could have a significant impact on fuel efficiency in cars?