A new front in the long-predicted "green revolution" may be opening right here in Klickitat County, and if all goes as planned, a budding new industry may be taking root soon.
A team of local entrepreneurs -- led by White Salmon's John Gotts -- is setting up a cost-effective system in which vehicles that run on diesel fuel can be converted to run on a combination of water, electricity, and hydrogen. The result is a significant increase in vehicle mileage and a sharp reduction in harmful emissions.
Gotts explained that the process essentially is a "method of converting stored, electrical energy into zero pollution, low-cost supplemental combustion fuel for motorized vehicles."
The process, which works on diesel vehicles only, is now with the U.S. Patent Office.
"We've created a way to turn water into a fuel to replace diesel fuel," Gotts explained. "We're calling the company `H-2-Go'; because you can drive on water. Water molecules mix with diesel fuel and it burns much cleaner. The tailpipe emissions are half diesel and half water."
Gotts converted a 1996 Ford F250 turbo-diesel to provide a demonstration model for the new system. After a series of tests, Gotts said he is getting a 26 percent savings in fuel with his new "electric hydrogen diesel hybrid."
With the better mileage, Gotts said the savings he realizes translates into the equivalent of paying eight cents a gallon for fuel.
"If you use 200-250 gallons a month at $3 a gallon, that's $7,500-$9,000 a year in diesel fuel costs. You'd pay for the cost of the conversion in the first year," he explained.
"It's going to be a benefit to a lot of people," said Clint Bryan, manager of NAPA Auto Parts in Bingen. "It could be huge. It works for diesel only right now, but who knows where this could lead."
Bryan added that NAPA has the parts to handle the conversions.
"We can supply everything," he said.
Gotts praised the involvement of NAPA, which helped move his process from just another good idea to a finished reality.
"NAPA took me under their wing and helped me finish this project," Gotts said. "I couldn't have done it without NAPA."
The support team that worked on the first vehicle conversion included locals Izak Riley and Alex Riley; Jason Erwin and Clint Bryan of NAPA; Tod Carter of Coburn Electric; and J.R. Dickey of Dickey Farms.
There are other benefits with the conversions as well, including a sharp reduction in harmful, greenhouse-gas producing emissions.
"Our goal is to produce 52 percent less emissions," Gotts explained. "Also, the new system provides more horsepower, and the engine is quieter -- when you drive with the system off, all you hear is the engine. When you drive with it on, all you hear is the squeaking of the dash."
According to Gotts, the product will be for sale within a week.
"The conversion will cost about $3,000 installed," Gotts said. "You'll pay that off through fuel savings in the first 10 or 12 months."
Gotts pointed out that the United States consumes about 150 billion gallons of diesel fuel a year.
"Even if only 26 percent is saved, there would be huge fuel savings nationwide," Gotts said. "The applications are everywhere -- for companies like UPS and U-Haul, fishing boats, military, railroad locomotives, log trucks."
"Anytime you can reduce the amount of fuel you burn, that's eco-friendly," Bryan said.
Gotts has been working on a proposal in which a center to convert vehicles would be set up in the former aluminum plant near Goldendale.
"We hope to move into the old aluminum plant," Gotts said. "The idea is, within a year, we'd move into the buildings there and manufacture the parts there."
Gotts believes the proposal would create a number of jobs that could pay as much $50,000 per year, with benefits.
That in particular has grabbed the interest of many county officials, who are hopeful Gott's project continues to show promise as it expands.
"I'm hopeful, and I wish him luck. I'd love to see something like that work out," said Klickitat County Commissioner Rex Johnston. "Anything that creates jobs in this county, I'm 100 percent for."