Arkansas Company Creates Alternative Technologies

Les Adam has been talking, but no one seems to be listening.

He took his experiments on the road and enjoyed short-lived media attention wherever he went. But no one seems to remember his name or his ideas on alternative energy.

Adam, president of AZ Industries in Highland (Sharp County), used to travel the United States in one of several propane or hydrogen-peroxide powered vehicles he and his staff built. He doesn't do that too much anymore because, he said last week, it's a waste of time: Government leaders aren't ready, or aren't willing, to hear about new sources of power and fuel-efficient vehicles.

"The problem is we don't have the desire to change. Too many people make money off this current system, including this government," Adam said.

"We have an entire country that's totally locked into this burning of fuel. All the tax-collecting system is established. All of the the major companies are established to distribute this product."

And that's bad, Adam said, since his calculations indicate there is only enough oil to last about 20 more years.

"There will be an end to the barrel. There are no more dinosaurs dying to make more oil," he said.

What's more, Adam believes it will take the country 25-30 years to convert to alternative power. Since the process hasn't started, time may have already run out.

"When we turn to alternative energy is when we can't go any farther with what we have," he said.

The original mission of AZ Industries was to produce magnets, a business plan he dreamed up in 1972 in his basement in California. Today, the company has annual revenue in excess of $1 million and 16 employees who provide printing services, energy-efficient buildings, water purifiers and, yes, magnets — about 150,000 of them shipped each day to 45 countries.

In addition to the commercially viable products that keep AZ in business, Adam and his team of "simple mechanics" have a whole line of vehicles that use alternative energy sources and gadgets that help machines use the current energy sources more efficiently.

For starters, Adam's crew built an electric car. That, of course, is an idea that was novel in 1917. But Adams claims AZ Industries' electric car will run 200 miles at about 80 mph before the battery needs to be changed or recharged. The car is made from the same lightweight material used in aircraft.

Another vehicle displayed in the showroom at AZ Industries is powered by a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and gasoline and gets about 70 miles to the gallon. The only drawback is the volatility of the liquid.

"You've got to do it right, because that's rocket fuel," Adam said.

While that might not be a viable alternative for most people, Adam says he has a red sports car that runs off 100 percent ethyl alcohol and can cruise at 150 mph. Though it's not as efficient as other vehicles in the showroom, it averages 15-16 miles to the gallon and could be sold for $30,000.

Adam hasn't tried to mass-produce any of these vehicles because of the "strange laws" on Arkansas' logbooks.

One law requires owners of propane-powered vehicles to buy a $200-$600 permit each year in order to "gas up" at special fill stations. Adam said he believes the high cost of the permit makes up for the taxes not received from gas purchases.

Another law requires a permit to be purchased from the Highway Department before any vehicle can be manufactured commercially.

Stuff like this doesn't get Adam down, though. He just redirects his energy.

One of AZ Industries' more popular products is an airport runway sweeper that requires no fuel to operate. It uses a series of gears that prompt the brush to rotate and hitches to any small tractor. It's lightweight and can be operated without special training, said Adam, who sold his first one in 1987.

The sweepers are being used at the Little Rock Air Force base in Jacksonville and the FedEx building in Memphis. An order of 24 sweepers soon will be sent to Malaysia at a cost of $7,000 each. Electronic and gas-powered sweepers can cost $100,000, Adam said.

The torus spiral burner created by AZ Industries' mechanics is a "burner tip that spirals the flame out like a tornado." The spiral allows more oxygen to enter the flame and burn fuel 30-40 percent more efficiently than ones currently used. More than eight million already have been sold in Europe, Adam brags. Now the AZ mechanics are toying with the burner for use in chicken coops to help farmers save money on heating costs.

Adam said his staff has also figured out how to harness steam unleashed into the air by power plants. After the water vapor is exploded, it can run a second, smaller generator. This process is called the BLEVE Effect. AZ Industries claims the BLEVE converter can raise the efficiency of a steam generating plant to 74.5 percent from 40 percent.

Adam's staffers constructed their 22,000-SF warehouse using interlocking panels from commercial refrigeration storage units. The walls are six inches thick with insulation between the sheets of thin metal. When constructed, the building requires no studs or bolts to stand.

Adam's crew had never built a building like it before, but being his own guinea pig worked out fine. Instead of $5,000 a month to heat and cool the warehouse, Adam's utility bill is only $1,400, he said.

"We're open-minded enough to use this stuff," he said.

The staff at AZ Industries also created a water purifier to be used during a flood. Unpure water from a flooded area is piped into a tank that processes 360 gallons per hour into drinkable water. The tank is small enough to be transported by a 2.5 ton pickup truck, but hardy enough to create potable water for an entire community. Adam said he is unsure why no one has purchased one of the $50,000 systems.

It's not for a lack of knowledge that the United States doesn't use alternative energy sources and more fuel efficient mechanisms, he said.

"The problem is not hardware. The problem is we don't have the desire to change," Adam said.

Maybe it's a concern for the job market. Maybe people are afraid that if the world turns to alternative power sources, many people will lose their jobs. While that might be true, Adam said he remembers when computers entered the workplace, and secretaries were worried about losing their jobs. Instead, most of them became data-entry specialists and got paid more.

Embracing new technology is not always bad, just uncomfortable, he said.

"We're afraid of the unknown, and we don't want to go there. We'd rather stay with something that's lousy," he said.