Fuel Additives: An Innovation Or Burden?

Fuel Additives: An Innovation Or Burden?

By Shehwar Ali

Fuel additives are considered to be a modern day innovation of liquid engineering. According to U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in the past, the registration process for fuel additives was fairly simple. However, with the passage of time, in order to assess the probable impact of these additives on public health, it has to undergo complex testing.

The History Of Fuel Additives

The history of fuel additives can be traced back to the history of gasoline. In the beginning, the emerging oil industry selected gasoline as the fuel of choice but because of that pinging and knocking sound, pure gasoline wasn’t suitable to serve the purpose. So, the first anti-knocking agent was iodine that was added to kerosene in 1912. Though it knocked out the knocking, it was too costly so it was replaced by aniline.

After the failure of aniline, selenium and tellurium were also rejected because of their odor. For the removal of residual matters like lead oxide in the engine, tetraethyl lead along with bromine and chlorine were also used. As lead poses serious health risks, the EPA asked for the total removal of lead in gasoline.

So, after 1970, regulators in the US banned the use of fuel additives for their adverse effects on health which also acted as an obstacle to cleaner burning fuel and better gas mileage. So, another additive methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) was introduced but was later banned due to potential carcinogenic effects. Hybrid compounds and blends have been engineered over the past few years to make additives which can alter, change or enhance particular characteristics of fuel.

Categories of Fuel Additives

Different brands of gasoline use different additives in their different packages. Most fuel additives fall into seven basic categories:

1. Gasoline Stabilizer:

Main advantage of its use is that it reduces the hard-starting which is caused by the evaporation of some gasoline components into atmosphere.

2. Fuel-Line Antifreeze:

The concept behind using ‘fuel-line antifreeze’ is that water condensation causes the fuel line to freeze during extreme temperatures (cold weather). So, water dispersant fuel-line antifreeze is employed to absorb water condensation. Formulas of modern fuel additives contain some kind of water dispersant.

3. Octane Boosters:

In order to improve octane rating and lubrication, octane boosters became popular after the ban of ethyl lead in the 1970s.

4. Fuel Injector Cleaners:

Symptoms of hard-starting, poor cold engine performance and sluggish acceleration are caused by carbon deposits. Low and high priced injectors are used as preventive maintenance additives and for the removal of carbon deposits respectively.

5. Upper Cylinder Lubricants:

Normally, nowadays modern gasoline additives contain upper cylinder lubricants to lubricate valve guides, piston etc.

6. Diesel Exhaust Fluid:

Though it’s not a fuel additive but it’s important to understand the concept behind it.  Its job is to break nitrogen oxide component into its parts.

7. Anti-Gelling Additives:

During sub-freezing temperature, it is used to liquefy solid paraffin wax.

Pros & Cons

Fuel additives act as a protector so maintenance cost is reduced since they are helpful in reducing unwanted items that may cause harm to your vehicle. They also focus on preventing the build-up of sludge. Multi-functional fuel additives are now available in the market. Though it’s been long since the fuel industry has realized that in solving one issue, they shouldn’t be creating another.

So, the overall benefit fuel additives offer to users includes the provision of enhanced safety and performance enhancement. Indeed the importance of fuel additives has already been recognized in European regulations and according to an estimate, 95% of European fuels are treated with a fuel additive.

Summary: Role in Environment

On the other hand, if a fuel additive claims to solve all performance related issues, it is most likely that it cannot live up to all these promises. The hazards presented by fuel additives can be further reduced through further management.

Though when fuel additives end, they end their life as a combustion product which are emitted in the environment, they have played a vital role in reducing combustion which wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

Image courtesy of pixabay.com

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