Peace of mind per gallon Nonvolatile: A Baltimore company has come up with a nonflammable fuel that can be stored indefinitely in the trunk of a car for emergency use. The gasoline derivative is sold through the mail.

November 30, 1998|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

Practically everyone has a spare tire, and now a Baltimore start-up company wants owners of the country's 200 million cars and light trucks to have a Spare Tank, its patented, nonflammable automotive fuel that has been launched exclusively in Baltimore.

Spare Tank Emergency Fuel LLC, which has offices on Park Avenue, distributes a gasoline derivative that can be stored indefinitely in the trunk of a car without exploding and is to be used when a vehicle runs out of gas, the company's principals said.

The mixture, which can power a car for eight to 35 miles, the same distance as a gallon of gasoline, "is not exotic," said Richard W. Jones, Emergency Fuel's chief executive.

The fuel -- which is supplied by Houston-based Shell Chemical Corp. -- is sold by the gallon for $39.95 through a toll-free number and the company's Web site.

The product is safe enough to be sent through the U.S. mail, Jones said, which is the only way for customers to get it.

The fuel's "components were already being manufactured at our Shell refineries for other product applications," said Tim Vipond, a Shell product analyst who has been working with the Emergency Fuel company.

"The mixture may not be unique, but the application definitely is," he said. "I hope this becomes big."

The fuel differs from gasoline because it doesn't have butanes, pentanes, hexanes or heptanes, which are the volatile agents that make gasoline dangerous to store and handle, Vipond said.

It could easily be sold at gas stations, but isn't because it's much more expensive to manufacture than gasoline, he said.

Before the fuel can occupy shelf space at retail and automotive stores, the company must do a public awareness campaign, said William A. Hubbard, a chemical engineer and Harvard MBA who co-invented the product.

"If we put it on the shelf now, no one would know what it is," he said.

The company began airing a 30-minute infomercial last week only in the Baltimore area to market the product and show how safe it is, Jones said.

In one scene of the infomercial, members of the Providence Volunteer Fire Co. in Baltimore County tested the flammability of Emergency Fuel and beakers of gasoline by attempting to set them on fire, dropping a lighted match in them, pouring the liquids on a lighted candle, and setting the beakers in an oven set at 300 degrees.

Emergency Fuel didn't catch fire during any of the tests in the infomercial. In fact, three volunteer firefighters endorsed the product.

The infomercial began airing exclusively on four Baltimore stations -- WBFF (Channel 45), WMAR (Channel 2), WUTB (Channel 24), and WBAL (Channel 11) on Nov. 20. Ads will appear on radio and in newspapers exclusively in Baltimore for the next 12 weeks, Jones said.

On Dec. 6, the company plans to expand its television advertising campaign to stations in Philadelphia and San Francisco.

The fuel was invented by Reginald N. Spencer, a management consultant and business development specialist who suggested the product in 1994, and Hubbard, who began the formulation and testing process.

The two men own the patent, which they received in October 1997, and have licensed it to Mark B. Gordon, the product's majority investor and chairman of the Emergency Fuel company. Gordon is an optometrist and entrepreneur.

Gordon then hired Jones, the former vice president of a national medical company in New Jersey, to run Emergency Fuel.

"It's a new concept, but an excellent one," Gordon said. "It's similar to a spare tire. When you know it's there, it gives you peace of mind."

It cost about $500,000 to research, develop and test the product and another $500,000 to bring it to market in the Baltimore area, he said.

"It is obvious that running out of gas is a widespread problem that can have serious and dangerous consequences," Gordon said. "Spare Tank Emergency Fuel will help to reduce those."

Pub Date: 11/30/98

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