Fuel for thought 08 March 2010

When a so-called fuel catalyst was put through its paces on a DAF truck at Millbrook, the fuel savings were as surprising as they were significant. Brian Tinham reports

Slick salespeople have attempted to blind transport managers with science for years – and none more so than those armed with supposed fuel saving devices. But the general consensus among hard nosed engineers has it that, by and large, they don't work. Nevertheless, some do seem to – as witnessed by the report from Carmarthenshire County Council (Transport Engineer, February 2010, page 40).

Now here's another one – this time a so-called fuel catalyst, which has its origins in the US. And so certain was Fuel Harmonics (the UK distributor) of its efficacy that, late last year, it put its Fitch fuel catalyst (FFC) to the test at the Millbrook proving ground.

What emerges is interesting. While some of the marketing blurb is enough to turn off most self respecting engineers, Millbrook's findings do indeed show significant (3%) fuel and engine efficiency improvements, as well as emissions reductions – albeit only after several thousand 'conditioning' miles.

First, some background. Fitch fuel catalysts have been manufactured by US-based Advanced Power Systems since at least 2001, when a report on the company's technology appeared to demonstrate improvement in octane rating, when used to condition aged Texaco-87 fuel. Its effects on bacterial growths, thought to be responsible for premature fuel ageing, were also studied in 2002 by the Departments of Chemistry and Biology at the University of Connecticut n the US.

Subsequently, Saybolt, a subsidiary of Core Laboratories, demonstrated that the fuel catalyst also improves cetane values in moderately aged diesel fuel. Its report showed: "The difference between [the treated and untreated fuels] is that the alkane region in the PMR increases, with respect to the aromatic and olefinic region."
Since then, the FFC has enjoyed occasional glowing reports – including one from City of York Council – apparently demonstrating anecdotal success. Now, however, we're looking at independent verification in the UK, with an unambiguous report from Millbrook, dated 4 December 2009 and seen exclusively by Transport Engineer.
Fuel Harmonics enticed John Lewis to provide a 2004 DAF 85, with 1,014,886km on the clock, to Millbrook, which ran the tests in its variable temperature emission chamber. Its report states that the vehicle was tested three times over the FIGE cycle at 23oC, monitoring legislated bag emissions as well as real-time hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, NOx and CO2 at the tailpipe.

The Millbrook team then fitted the FFC, following the manufacturer's instructions (including touching the leads on the battery terminals together) and drove the truck for 1,000 miles on the test track before running three more FIGE tests. At this stage, Millbrook noted no significant fuel consumption changes and no changes with the emissions, except for carbon monoxide and particle mass, which were down 6.8% and 11.6% respectively "to 95% confidence levels".
But the story doesn't end there. The vehicle then returned to service for a further 4,000 miles before being delivered back for further tests. Although outside Millbrook's control, Colin Johnson, John Lewis' fleet engineer manager, certifies that no maintenance work was carried out during that time. Yet now Millbrook found significant improvements.
Using the same driver and the same batch of fuel, it found that, although emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and NOx remained virtually unchanged, both CO2 and fuel consumption had reduced by an average of 3% (5.3% urban, 4% suburban, 1.8% motorway). Against that, particulate mass had risen by 6.5%.
Says Roger Macnair of Fuel Harmonics: "By the time [fuel reaches a truck] it is likely to have degraded in a number of ways: increased water content; contamination, due to microbial growth; sludge formation; and/or breakdown of hydrocarbons. This can result in corrosion of storage tanks and lines, shortened filter life, fouling of injectors, shortened life of engine parts, increased sulphur content of fuel and reduced fuel efficiency. Fitting an engine, new or old, with an FFC reverses the effects of degradation, allowing fuel to regain its optimum, 'refinery fresh' condition."

Although Macnair can't confirm that John Lewis is about to sign a substantial order for the Fitch catalysts, when pressed he said: "A national retailer is committing to a significant fleet contract."

FFC is already a success in the US, where it is retailed through more than 20,000 outlets. The FFC warranty is for 800,000km or 10,000 operating hours, whichever comes first, and is maintenance-free. Seems this one may well be worth checking out.

Brian Tinham

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