Makers of fuel additives strive to demonstrate their benefits

The fuel additive and catalyst business is a tough one.

Many mariners view these products with skepticism.

"You get any number of people who think that all additives are worthless, and they don't believe anything you say," said Erik Bjornstad, technical information director for Bell Performance, based in Orlando, Fla. Bell Performance makes two additives to treat marine fuel oil and heavy fuel oil.

Hornbeck Offshore Services' Liberty Service. (Brian Gauvin photo)

Gary Aman, president of EnerTeck Corp., puts it more bluntly. He has been in the business for 40 years. "There has been so much sold that doesn't work that when you walk in and say, "I have a fuel-borne catalyst," they spit on the floor," he said. EnerTeck, based in Stafford, Texas, manufactures a fuel-borne catalyst that coats the combustion chamber to improve engine performance and reduce emissions.

One problem with measuring performance of these products is that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires a testing and registration process for additives for highway vehicles, but does not stipulate this process for additives to marine fuels, according to Catherine C. Milbourn, an EPA spokeswoman.

As a result, companies often pay for the testing of their product. "The challenge we face is getting in the door," said Merrill Stanley, director of operations for G2 Fuel Technologies, based in Tampa, Fla. G2 is a distributor of EnerTeck's additive, EnerBurn. "We have to prove that EnerBurn works," Stanley said. "We do a proof of performance. That is a real challenge. It is not cheap to do that."

MAN B&W diesel in the tanker Sunshine State. Makers of fuel additives say their products can protect diesel engines and increase fuel efficiency. Some companies pay for independent testing to back their claims. (Brian Gauvin photo)

Cerion Energy, of Rochester, N.Y., takes the same approach. Cerion produces GO2, a nanotechnology-based diesel fuel additive.

"We will prove out these tests on our dime to show you that they are working," said Andre Jarreau, Cerion's director of business development and communications. It can cost up to $50,000 to perform the test, he said.

EnerTeck also does tests for larger companies, mostly because these firms do not keep adequate records to measure before and after performance, said Aman. All three companies hire independent companies to perform these tests.

This problem has been around for decades. Marine gas oil, marine diesel fuel and residual fuel oil (also known as bunker fuel) traditionally have had high sulfur content. The fuels do not burn completely in the combustion chamber, leading to wasted energy and higher emissions. Because diesel fuel does not burn as cleanly as gasoline, diesel engines are more likely to accumulate deposits in injectors, on valves and in combustion chambers and cylinders, according to an article on black smoke on the Bell Performance website.

Deposit buildup means the increased use of cylinder lubricant, which leads to lower performance of the engine. In addition, black smoke or soot results from heavy fuel oil that has not fully combusted, according to Bjornstad.

A new wrinkle in the business came with the introduction of ultra low diesel fuel, used to meet stricter air quality regulations. This fuel lowers sulfur emissions but created new problems. A common method of removing sulfur, called hydrotreating, makes physical changes in the fuel's chemical composition. Sulfur is a natural lubricant, so its reduction leaves no protective barrier between metal surfaces, leading to damage to engine components, according to the article "Low sulfur fuel raises new issues for diesel operators," by Brian Rhoades and Dr. David Daniels in Professional Mariner (PM #120 Dec./Jan. 2009).

Storage of fuel often leads to the introduction of water that in turn can promote the growth of microbes. Sulfur is a natural microbicide, so its removal means there is nothing left to fight microbes, said Bjornstad. Engine problems result when that contaminated fuel is pumped into vessels. This problem has led to the development of additives to kill the microbes.

Bell Performance produces Bellicide, which kills microbes. ValvTect, of Northbrook, Ill., makes BioGuard Plus 6 for the same problem.

Among the many products used to treat marine fuels, two types stand out. Conventional fuel additives use a formula containing organo-metallic catalyst ingredients. Typical metallic ingredients include iron or manganese, according to Bjornstad. The metals are dispersed into the fuel and impact the energy activation in combustion. The metals lower the amount of energy needed for the combustion reaction to happen, and leads to better fuel economy, according to Bjornstad. Bell Performance's ATX-1004DSC, for heavy residual fuels, reduces corrosion caused by excessive sulfur in fuel, improves combustion and increases engine efficiency and reduces air pollution by minimizing the discharge of unburned carbon and soot, according to a company brochure. ATX-1005SSD, for blended and bunker fuels, improves combustion, reduces fuel consumption and increases horsepower, but does not address corrosion issues.

Other products work at the molecular level to improve combustion and reduce emissions. EnerBurn, a fuel-borne engine treatment, was developed by Esso, introduced by Nalco Exxon Energy Chemicals in 1994, and acquired by EnerTeck in 1997.

The additive lays down a nano-scale catalytic surface inside the combustion chamber, according to a company brochure. This catalytic surface accelerates the burn rate, with earlier ignition in the stroke giving the fuel more time to burn. What would otherwise be unburned hydrocarbon is burned earlier in the crank cycle, converting waste heat and hydrocarbon into work.

When EnerBurn is present, the combustion temperature of carbon is reduced from 1,110° to 756°. Since it burns the fuel more completely, you get between 8 and 10 percent less fuel consumed, according to Aman.

In addition, it reduces NOX by 19 to 20 percent, he said. EnerBurn is used in the United States mainly by tug and barge companies. Aman said companies that use his product asked not to be named for competitive reasons.

Cerion Energy's GO2 was developed by former Kodak scientists. GO2 contains nanoparticles that have been engineered to act as a carrier and distributor of oxygen, according to a company brochure. In the combustion chamber, each nanoparticle releases its surface oxygen, which contributes to diesel combustion. The nanoparticle quickly scavenges for oxygen and re-releases it to enhance combustion.

The result is a higher concentration and more uniform dispersal of oxygen, to create more rapid and complete combustion, thus delivering greater force to moving the piston while using less fuel. This product results in an 8 to 13 percent reduction in fuel consumption, according to Jarreau. Some of its customers include a ferry system in Plaquemines Parish, La., and a ferry system in Montreal. It is also being tested by the marine towing company Amherst Madison of Charleston, W.Va.

The demand for these products is mainly driven by economics. Stanley said that demand is increasing for EnerTeck's diesel additive. "They want to cut fuel costs," he said. "I personally haven't run into a company who is looking at EnerBurn strictly for the emissions advantage."

By Professional Mariner Staff