RICHARDSON, Texas -- As long as there is sea water, George Thiess figures his prototype electric car never will run out of fuel.
Thiess is so convinced about the success of his invention that the word petroleum has become anathema to him.
'I don't think OPEC will even speak to me,' said the engineer from St. Louis.
In a small laboratory in this Dallas suburb, Thiess and Jack Hooker, his partner in the Electric Motor Cars venture, are working on their invention.
They say they are close to testing an electric car that will operate on magnesium made from processed sea water. The magnesium will charge a regular battery using a patented chemical solution called electrolene.
The magnesium-powered battery will eliminate the limited range problem plaguing the current line of electric cars, Thiess says. Today's batteries won't take a car more than 40 to 50 miles without a recharge. The charges last up to 10 hours.
'We have solved that through electrolene, and by replacing the battery's magnesium rod every 400 to 500 miles,' Thiess said. 'The electrolene is pumped into the gasoline tank. Replacing the magnesium rod is as easy as filling your radiator or adding oil.
'No, don't talk of oil. There will be no motor oil of any kind in our car -- perhaps some grease for the transmission.
'You can convert any automobile plant into an electric car plant without much trouble,' Thiess said. 'You don't even have to make drastic changes in battery production. It will even cost less to operate an electric car because our electrolene uses ordinary chemicals -- I can't reveal what they are.'
The project, which Thiess said takes advantage of the abundant supply of electricity, is under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy. He said his company has been asked by the department to collect data on the car and its feasibility for commercial production.
The inventors say a cubic mile of sea water converted into magnesium will power every new car built in the country in 1982 for a full year. That translates into 72 billion miles of driving on 'a drop of ocean,' they say.
Magnesium is the seventh most abundant element on earth.
'If Henry Ford and other car pioneers could do it over again and they had today's technology, they wouldn't use the combustion engine,' said Hooker, a former Mercedes car dealer and banker. 'We're on the edge of a real technological breakthrough.'
'At the present time, something like 95 percent of all electricity generated in the United States is through non-petroleum sources, whereas transporation is 65 percent petroleum-based,' Thiess said. 'The latter figure is climbing at a rapid rate.
'We are becoming more and more petroleum dependent for transportation and less and less petroleum dependent for electricity. So the key is making transportation electricity-dependent. The electric car is the car of the future. It is that simple.'
Thiess thinks his electric car has the best potential for success in countries where gasoline is selling for $4 to $5 a gallon.
'We have received many inquiries. I have already had visits from parties in Singapore and India and some European countries.'
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