Company has a patent for success

A Jefferson City firm’s invention boosts the efficiency of diesel engines of all sizes.
Sunday, July 4, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:46 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

Two brightly colored maps adorn the walls of Charles Ekstam’s office. Sprinkled with green, yellow, red, and blue push pins, the maps of the United States and the world illustrate the places where Jefferson City-based Ekstam Worldwide has sold its Fuel Preporator system. There are more than 30 countries marked, and many more U.S. cities.

As Ekstam shuffles through the binders that stand on the bookshelf behind his desk, he pulls out a listing of U.S. patents dating back to the 1800s.

“They’ve been trying to do this for over 100 years,” Ekstam said. “We’re just the first ones who got it right.”

In fact, Ekstam got it so right that his invention enables diesel-powered trucks to save eight-tenths of a mile per gallon. Tug boats pulling barges up and down the Missouri River save 300 gallons of fuel per day and increase speeds of one and a half miles per hour. With that kind of savings and increased speed, a tugboat can haul a barge more than 500,000 extra miles each year.

“That’s to the moon and back for free, every year,” Ekstam said.

What Ekstam got right with the first patent issued to him in 1994 was a fuel filtration system capable of removing the air that gets trapped in diesel fuel. What’s making his invention and company soar is an adaptation to the system that enabled him to win a new patent in June.

Ekstam first noticed the need for his system in 1989 while he owned and operated a diesel truck.

“My truck fell on its face, and I got started on a track that has led me here,” Ekstam said.

The problem with Ekstam’s truck, and many other diesel systems, was not with the engine but with the fuel-supply system. A diesel engine operates in a manner that makes fuel injection the catalyst for its power.

When air gets trapped in the fuel, however, it delays the injection, causing “rough idling, lost power, increased fuel consumption, increased tail-pipe emissions, and the reason identical diesel engines do not run the same,” according to an Ekstam Worldwide publication.

“Basically, we remove the air, putting pure diesel fuel directly into the system,” said Dora Serrano, owner of Ekstam Worldwide and Charles Ekstam’s wife of six years.

At first, Ekstam’s Fuel Preporator system could be manufactured only in one size and was primarily used by semi-trucks. With the new patent, however, the system can be made in any size.

For the driver of the average diesel-powered pickup, it means spending less on fuel and sparing the air from unnecessary emissions. And for tugboats, locomotives, and countless other industries that use diesel fuel, it means hundreds of thousands of dollars saved. The average tugboat, for example, will save more than $200,000 a year in fuel by installing the Preporator system.

With results like that, it’s no surprise Ekstam Worldwide is receiving orders faster than its manufacturer, Knernshield Manufacturing Co. in Columbia, can fill them. Flying off the shelves hardly begins to describe the demand for the system.

While Ekstam’s original Fuel Preporator system had been on the market for seven years, Ekstam Worldwide didn’t open until October 2002. The flurry of activity has been nonstop ever since.

Ekstam conducted testing and sales from his basement early on. Although his new offices are a great deal bigger, the company still has a homegrown feel.

“We really started with nothing,” Serrano said. “Charlie just built this whole place from the ground up: the workstations, the testing centers, everything.”

Ekstam has put more than his sweat into making the company what it is today. He’s given up a lot of sleep, as well.

“I used to wake up in my sleep, talking as if I was doing a presentation explaining the product,” Ekstam said. “It’s such a difficult system to try and explain that I used to think about how to do it all the time.”

Despite the progress and the endless orders, Ekstam feels this is only the beginning for his business. His patent allows for the separation of air from not just diesel fuel, but all types of liquids. Ekstam sees himself moving toward work with hydraulic systems in the future.

“We’re doing something that’s never been done before,” he said. “That’s the absolute neatest part.”

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