Choosing a Fuel Catalyst: What “Catalysts” are and aren’t Catalysts

Choosing a fuel catalyst requires an understanding of what a catalyst is and what is not a catalyst and understanding what a catalyst — or a non-catalyst — can and cannot do. The problem is, the definition of a catalyst — therefore, the function of a catalyst — is a moving target. Gaining an understanding of what a true catalyst is isn’t overly complex. However, knowing what marketers in the fuel supplementation and enhancement industry use the word “catalyst” for is can be very difficult to get a grasp on. 

A true fuel catalyst serves two purposes: increase fuel efficiency — gas mileage — and reduce emissions. A “catalyst” purposed to do other things — lubricate or clean an engine for example — isn’t a catalyst. Unless the product you plan to purchase increases fuel efficiency and reduces emissions, you are not purchasing a catalyst.  

That is not to say that many of the products marketed as “catalysts,” which are not in fact catalysts, do not have value. Fuel supplements and additives have value. They can be used to clean the internal components of a combustion engine, to lubricate those parts, and to increase the octane or cetane of a fuel. 

But, cleaning, lubricating, and increasing the compression resistance of a fuel does not make it a catalyst. 

What is a Catalyst

A true fuel catalyst must contain catalysts. If the components of a “catalyst” are not catalysts, the product is a “catalyst” by name only. A true fuel catalyst contains noble metals — a.k.a., catalysts. Almost all noble metals are precious metals. Noble metals are unique elements because they have the capacity to catalyze. 

The process of catalyzing is unique in the world of chemistry and physics because catalysts are capable of generating a chemical change without themselves changing. As catalysts pertain to fuel catalysts, the noble metals in a fuel catalyst can change the molecular structure of a fossil fuel without themselves degrading or breaking down.

Simply, noble metals that are catalysts can cause a chemical change without undergoing a chemical or physical change. 

What is a Fuel Catalyst

A fuel catalyst is a pre-combustion mechanical device that improves the combustion efficiency of a fossil fuel. While fuel catalysts are ineffective at changing the combustion efficiency of low energy density fuels, fuel catalysts can improve the combustion efficiency of a high-energy-density fuel like diesel, fuel oil, and, bunker fuel dramatically. 

The reason the combustion efficiency of fossil fuels like methane and gasoline is difficult to improve is that small, low-energy molecules and molecular chains constitute the hydrocarbon composition of fuels like gasoline, propane, and, natural gas. While large hydrocarbon molecules and molecular chains contain a larger amount of energy than those found in less valuable fuels, large molecular chains bind together into clusters. Hydrocarbon clusters reduce combustion efficiency.

Hydrocarbon Clusters, Surface Area, and Oxygenation

The noble metals in a fuel catalyst — which, incidentally, are the same found in a catalytic converter — create a homogeneous mixture of diesel and heavy fuels. The catalysts in a fuel catalyst break the polarized bonds that hold large hydrocarbon molecules together in clusters. By depolarizing the hydrocarbon clusters and exposing the individual molecules and molecular chains, a fuel catalyst creates more molecule surface area. Surface area is essential to the oxygenation of hydrocarbon molecules. 

Oxygen is one of the two key components of hydrocarbon combustion, the other being a spark or tremendous pressure, enough pressure to force the hydrocarbons in diesel to combust. Un-oxygenated hydrocarbon molecules do not combust. Instead, the unburned hydrocarbons blow out the exhaust as toxic emissions. 

As explains, “In real engine applications, the combustion process is incomplete. This means that not all the energy content of the fuel supplied to the engine is released through the combustion process. There are several factors which can influence the combustion process, the most important being the fuel-air intake and fuel atomization (size of droplets). 

Oxygenation and Combustion

The fuel inside the cylinder needs air (oxygen) to burn. If there is not enough oxygen available, not all the fuel is burnt, therefore only a partial energy is released from combustion (e.g. around 96 %).”

“If we analyze the exhaust gas of an internal combustion engine, we can see that it contains both incomplete combustion products (carbon monoxide CO, nitrogen oxides NOx, unburnt hydrocarbons HC, soot PM) and complete combustion products (carbon dioxide CO2 and water H2O).”

Simply, a fuel catalyst increases the oxygenation of hydrocarbon molecules by creating more surface area by breaking up hydrocarbon molecule clusters and exposing the molecules inside a cluster that would otherwise go unburned and blow out the exhaust as lost energy in the form of emissions.   

What Products Marketed as “Catalysts” are not Catalysts

There are a wide variety of additives and fuel supplements marketed as catalysts even though they have none of the properties of a catalyst. All fuel additives and supplements undergo a chemical change. More importantly, additives and supplements must always be replaced with more. A fuel additive or supplement burns up with the fuel to which it is mixed. 

Detergent “Catalysts”

The most common fuel additives are detergents. The purpose of detergents is to clean the internal components of a combustion engine. When fossil fuels burn, fossil fuels always leave a residue. Because fossil fuels never burn completely efficiently, carbon builds up on the internal components. Carbon buildup on the inside of an engine creates friction. 

When carbon buildup on the inside of an engine occurs, parts wear faster because of the increase in heat. Another problem with the additional friction created by carbon buildup, which causes friction, is lower fuel efficiency. Because fuel detergents remove the carbon buildup on the inside of an engine and reduce friction, detergents are extremely valuable to the maintenance of a vehicle or machine. However, detergents can and should not be mistaken for catalysts. 

Octane and Cetane Additives 

Like detergents, octane and cetane additives are vital to the function of a vehicle if the octane or cetane level of the fuel used is not sufficiently high to prevent pre-combustion — a.k.a, knocking. Today, gasoline engine engineers design vehicles that require higher octane fuel. While some people may believe that high octane gasoline equals higher performance, the truth about high octane gasoline is the opposite. 

High octane fuels are more difficult to combust than standard gasoline. The reason high octane gasoline does not combust as easily as gasoline that is manufactured without octane additives is because high octane gasoline has a lower energy density than additive-free gasoline. By lowering the energy density of gasoline, engineers prevent pre-combustion. The layman’s term for pre-combustion is “knocking.” 

When the pistons in an engine rise, if the gasoline is too energy dense, it will combust as the result of compression force instead of igniting when the engine’s spark plug fires. By lowering the volatility of gasoline — by raising the octane level of gasoline, — engineers can design engines with higher compression ratios. Engines with high compression ratios produce lower emissions and, theoretically, have a higher thermal efficiency. 

Thermal efficiency is the amount of energy lost — wasted — divided by the total energy put into a system. The greater the thermal efficiency, the lower the emissions and the better the gas mileage. However, because high octane fuel is less energy dense than gasoline without additives, the increase in thermal efficiency from high octane fuel does not actually produce better gas mileage. 

High octane fuel does, however, produce fewer emissions and prevent knocking. As such, octane and cetane fuel additives do have value. But, octane and cetane fuel additives are not fuel catalysts. The additives that increase octane and cetane burn up as the fuel combusts along with the gasoline or diesel when they combust. 

Lubricating Additives

Diesel is a thick, highly lubricating fuel that helps reduce friction in a combustion engine prior to combusting. Gasoline, on the other hand, does not. Gasoline is a light fuel that evaporates easily, particularly when agitated. While gasoline does not increase the friction in a combustion engine, the internal components of a gasoline engine wear out quicker than those of a diesel engine if not properly lubricated. While motor oil lubricates the majority of the components in an engine that would otherwise suffer the consequences of a high heat/high friction environment, motor oil does not reach all of them.

Lubricating fuel additives help reduce the friction between combustion engine components that motor oil does not lubricate. By lubricating the engine, lubricating additives increase engine life as well as increase engine efficiency. 

Valuable for extending the life of an engine and increasing thermal efficiency — thereby increasing fuel efficiency, — lubricating additives are not catalysts. Like almost all other additives, lubricating additives burn up once they enter the combustion chamber of a gasoline engine. 

Catalytic Converters 

With respect to physical makeup, catalytic converters have more in common with fuel catalysts than any additive, detergent, or lubricant. For one, the work-producing components of a catalytic converter are true catalysts, noble metals. Catalytic converters are mounted on the exhaust line between the exhaust manifold and the tailpipe. The noble metals in a catalytic converter warm to extremely high temperatures. Once heated, a catalytic converter burns the unburned fuel that escapes from the engine. 

Without a catalytic converter, the unburned fuel is blown out the exhaust as toxic emissions. With respect to emissions reduction, no pseudo-catalyst compares to a catalytic converter. However, a catalytic converter does not improve fuel efficiency. In fact, by creating back pressure that forces a backflow of exhaust air into the engine, a catalytic converter actually reduces fuel efficiency in the same way a muffler does. 

Fuel Catalysts

Again, a fuel catalyst is similar to a catalytic converter with respect to the materials it is made of. And, like a catalytic converter, a fuel catalyst reduces emissions. However, unlike a catalytic converter that reduces emissions by catalyzing emissions as a post-combustion device, a fuel catalyst is a pre-combustion mechanical device.

Fuel catalysts mount on the fuel line prior to the intake valve of a diesel engine. The purpose of a fuel catalyst is to homogenize a diesel fuel mixture prior to the mixture reaching the engine’s injectors.  

To reiterate, all fossil fuels, in their natural state, are a heterogeneous mixture of hydrocarbons and contaminants. The fuels with the greatest energy density — fuels like diesel, fuel oil, and bunker fuel, — are the most heterogeneous mixtures. For the same reason, heavy fuels are typically high energy-density fuels, heavy fuels are a poor mixture. The reason is big hydrocarbon molecules and long hydrocarbon molecular chains. 

Low-energy-density fuels like gasoline and natural gas are more evenly mixed because the hydrocarbon molecules are small as are their hydrocarbon molecular chains. They do not stick together at the same rate as the molecules in heavy, high-density fuels. The natural polarization of large molecule hydrocarbons causes them to stick together. 

The noble metals in a fuel catalyst neutralize the charge that holds large hydrocarbon molecules and molecular chains together in clusters. The resulting homogeneous diesel fuel mixture burns more efficiently which both increases fuel efficiency and reduces emissions.

If a fuel catalyst does not increase fuel efficiency and reduce emissions, it is not a true fuel catalyst.


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