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East Hall High students fueling a new idea to increase gas mileage
Teens using a hydrogen, fuel mixture in vehicles to accomplish goal
Tom Fuller, center, a professor at Georgia Tech, takes a closer look at a device East Hall teacher Dennis Shirley’s class installed on a Ford F-150 to help generate hydrogen for fuel. Gabriel Medina, a senior at the school, looks on.

Students at East Hall High School may not pay for their own gas yet, but they're not taking the recent high prices lightly.

"If it gets to $5 a gallon this summer, my parents said ‘Your butt's gonna be parked,'" 11th-grader Zach Groover said.

For those in the automotive program at the school, it's a problem they're trying to tackle.

For about two weeks, the students have been working to develop a device to insert into a vehicle and improve gas mileage. It's something the school started about three years ago and is now getting back into.

Basically, what they've developed takes electricity, puts it in water, bubbles out the hydrogen, runs over to the intake system of the engine and mixes into the gas.

It seems to be helping gas mileage, but teacher Dennis Shirley isn't exactly sure why.

Kyle Dunagan, an 11th-grader, tried it on his Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo.

"I went from about 14 to 15 miles per gallon to I wanna say 21, 22," he said. Those with the device track their mileage and figure out the efficiency after they fill up their tank.

Shirley thinks the hydrogen may be cleaning the system and thus increasing the mileage. Or it may be that it cuts fuel levels back.

On Tuesday, Tom Fuller, a Georgia Tech professor and director of the college's Center for Innovative Fuel Cell and Battery Technologies, visited the school to check out the project.

"I'm skeptical that this will actually reduce gasoline consumption and make a more efficient car," he said. "But I think it's a terrific problem in terms of it's got all kinds of complexity, all kinds of interesting phenomena going on."

Determining how big to make the device, how to design the plates used in it and what to mix with the water are just a few of the variables.

"We've built every kind of unit, I mean all different kinds of sizes playing with this," Shirley said.

The process seems to corrode the plates and produces foul smelling water. Some models they've built blow fuses. Some have to be refilled with water every 50 miles or so. It's a work in progress.

"We know we can make hydrogen," Shirley said. "That's not the big point; the big point was now we've got to be able to make it inside the vehicle to be able to get it in the engine — if it's gonna be feasible."

Whether it works or not, the project has gotten the kids engaged.

"You could get very technical with it, but I think you need to keep it on their basis, something that they enjoy doing," Shirley said. "And they really do, and they want to try it on their cars."

And the students aren't the only ones trying it.

Wesley McGee, Career, Technical and Agricultural Education director at the school, had the device installed on his four-wheel drive Ford F-150, but it hasn't been on long enough to collect much data.

"We're just excited that we can do something like this that's innovative, that interests the students," McGee said. "With the way things are with the energy crisis that we're in, it's good to know that we have alternative methods and that we're actually at the high school level working, showing kids what you can do and what's out there."

And if they can perfect it, the students at East Hall can keep driving their cars to school rather than catching the bus. They may even be able to help out their parents who lose money driving to and from work each day.

"It's not a complete story," Fuller told the kids as they presented the project.

"But it's a good start," Shirley replied.