Designing advanced fuels to go into advanced engines

After five years of scrupulous testing in harsh conditions, BP claims to have created a fuel that will tackle the problematic issue of dirt in the engine. Even a microscopic amount of dirt can have an adverse effect on a car’s performance, reducing economy and clogging up vital components such as fuel injectors and intake valves. As a result an engine can feel sluggish, the drive can become more jumpy and erratic, and in the long-term, parts may need replacing leading to unexpected and sometimes hefty repair bills.


And it’s a problem that affects both petrol and diesel powertrains alike. In a diesel engine, soap-like deposits can form on the inside of fuel injectors and impurities can be carried into the fuel system, blocking filters and injectors along the way. On petrol engines sooty, slimy intake valve deposits may begin to form when combustion gases mix with the fuel and lubricant on the valve surface.


Engine designs are constantly being evolved and improved upon by manufacturers in a bid to enhance efficiency and address the dirt issue, however it’s widely acknowledged across the industry that the chemical make-up of the fuel that goes through the engine has a significant effect. BP believes it has a solution to the problem with its latest dirt-busting fuel called BP Ultimate with Active technology, which they claim contains their most advanced and innovative cleaning properties to date.


According to BP, by filling up with this fuel regularly, owners will benefit from extra miles, smoother driving, a reduced risk of unscheduled maintenance bills and engines will run as the manufacturers intended. It may sound rather far-fetched to think of a fuel cleaning the engine, but that’s just how BP explained that this technology works. The fuel contains active molecules which start working as soon as the engine is started. And these molecules fight engine dirt in a couple of ways. Firstly they remove existing dirt by attaching themselves to it and dragging the dirt away from critical engine parts. The dirt is then burnt off, causing no further harm. Secondly, the molecules prevent any further build-up of dirt by attaching themselves to clean metal surfaces in the engine and forming a protective layer to stop dirt clinging onto the metal. BP claims “the fuels fight the effects of dirt every time you fill up, every time you drive, from the moment you start your engine, no matter what car you drive, no matter how old or new your engine is”.


Bold claims, but of course, there is an extra premium to pay for this dirt-busting fuel, and it will add an extra 10 pence per litre when filling up at the pumps, and that’s quite a hefty price when some tanks hold 90 litres or more. According to BP, motorists who use the fuel regularly can expect to see an extra 21 miles per tank of fuel, although they were reluctant to say what tank capacity these claimed figures were based upon. Yet, it’s not just the extra mpg that BP is promoting with this new fuel, it’s the long-term benefits of improved engine performance, which in turn leads to more comfortable, smoother and dynamic driving capabilities, with less servicing costs caused by dirty engine parts.


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We attended the ADAC testing centre just outside Berlin, Germany for the global launch of the fuel, where Alex Jensen, Vice President Europe Retail and Chief Marketing Officer for Fuels, explained: “BP Ultimate with active technology is our first global fuel launch for more than a decade and we believe it represents a major breakthrough for BP and our customers.” She added “The hidden enemy for engines is dirt, and dirt is a particular problem for the modern direct injection engine. With ever tougher legislation imposed, this kind of engine is likely to become more and more common, so BP’s active technology molecules attack the dirt, remove it and prevent further build-up. These fuels have been developed over five years – we’ve put it through tens of thousands of hours of testing, using over 80 different test methods – and the result is something our customers have asked for, which is high quality fuels that keep pace with our changing engine technology and that deliver a fuel economy benefit.”


It would seem that fuel development has to keep pace with the technology advancements within car manufacturing and it’s an industry that moves at quite a speed. Anne-Marie Corr, Vice President of Fuels Technology and Formulated Products, said: ”Due to legislation, automotive engine manufacturers had to design their engines to be more efficient. They use less fuel, emit less emissions and they still deliver really good driving experience. The performance of a 2.0-litre engine yesterday is the same as the performance of a 1.2-litre engine today.”


Ever more complicated engine designs mean that the fuel companies need to do their part too, with Anne-Marie adding “In diesel engines, the injector strategies have become much more sophisticated. They are operating in a far more hostile environment at between 2,000 to 3,000 bar of pressure. The holes of the injectors are incredibly small, so we can have very fine and evenly distributed fuel spray, and that aids efficient combustion. If the holes get blocked by dirt, or impurities build up, it affects the quality of the spray and it causes inefficient combustion. That in turn leads to dirt generation, which robs the engine of its performance and can reduce fuel economy.”


But how many miles would you have to drive before breaking even on the extra costs of filling up with premium fuel, and will customers be willing to pay the additional outlay at the pumps? Alex Jensen believes they will. She said: “We have seen premium fuels are popular with customers, and that has encouraged us to invest more into this technology. We launched this product in Spain last year and it has exceeded all expectations, and there was big up-lift in volume. It wasn’t just the increase in fuel efficiency benefit that customers liked, but also the fact they were protecting their engine for a longer-term benefit.”


There are around 1,300 BP service stations up and down the country, and the new Ultimate fuel with active technology is now on sale at most of those UK sites.

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