What is a Fuel Catalyst and What Does It Do that Additives Don’t?
How Does a Fuel Catalyst Work? And, Equally as Important, What Isn’t a Fuel Catalyst?
What is a fuel catalyst is a question that results as a wide array of misnomers and misconceptions. While the concept as a whole is not difficult to understand, marketers use the word catalyst to promote products that are not catalysts. The substitution of the words additive, treatment, or supplement with the word catalyst is the impetus to much of the confusion.
If all products advertised as fuel catalyst worked the same as true catalysts — and produced the same results, — there would be no issue. However, the fact that many products advertised as fuel catalysts are neither catalysts nor provide the same benefits of a catalyst means it is easy to mistakenly purchase a product or mechanism for the wrong reasons, a product that does not produce the results you want.
Consumers hoping to increase fuel efficiency and, at the same time, reduce emissions want a fuel catalyst.
What a Fuel Catalyst Is
A fuel catalyst is a mechanism that increases fuel efficiency — “gas” mileage — and decreases emissions. As FuelandFriction.com explains, “A combustion fuel catalyst is a type of technology developed to improve internal combustion within the engine. These products can work in many ways by targeting the core problems behind partial combustion.
Combustion fuel catalyst products can help lower the oxygen requirements of the fuel to finally undergo a chemical reaction. With lower air requirements, a more proper chemical combustion happens and more energy is produced. Moreover, a combustion fuel catalyst can also help in the better burning of gas and unburned fuel due to low temperatures.”
As simple as the layman’s definition is, there is a great deal of confusion about is a fuel catalyst; what isn’t a fuel catalyst; and how a fuel catalyst works. Fuel “catalyst” additives are not fuel catalysts. Additives and treatments serve completely different purposes than fuel catalysts, none of which are reducing emissions nor increasing fuel efficiency.
Fuel catalysts are not catalytic converters either. While they serve an important purpose and are by no means a lesser technology, catalytic converters do not increase fuel efficiency. The purpose of a catalytic converter is to reduce emissions. As important as catalytic converters are, they serve a different end than fuel catalysts.
Again, fuel catalysts increase the combustion efficiency of fuel — which increases fuel economy — while also reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. Catalytic converters only reduce emissions. Additives and treatments do neither.
Though Not Fuel Catalysts Are Fuel Additives and Treatments Catalysts?
No, fuel treatments and fuel additives are not fuel catalysts nor are they true catalysts. They do not contain catalysts nor do fuel supplements — additives and treatments — act as catalysts. Catalysts are typically noble metals or enzymes. Catalysts include noble metals like platinum, titanium, palladium, cobalt, manganese, zinc, silver, and copper. Fuel additives are chemical compounds.
Additives and fuel treatments are typically solvents. The active ingredients in additives and treatments include petroleum and diesel refining byproducts like acetone, ether silicone, nitromethane, and tetranitromethane.
For a product to be a fuel catalyst, it must contain catalysts.
In addition to not containing catalysts, fuel treatments and additives do not behave like catalysts.
Nevertheless, there are fuel supplements and treatment products on the market labeled “catalyst” that are not catalysts by even the most general definitions.
The Differences between a Fuel Catalyst and a Catalytic Converter
There are several critical differences between fuel catalysts and catalytic converters. The difference between catalytic converters and fuel catalysts is not always clear because both are manufactured using, in part, noble metals — catalysts. But again, fuel catalysts and catalytic converters are two very different mechanisms with different design purposes.
The most important similarity between fuel catalysts and catalytic converters is the fact that both reduce emissions by exceptional sums. “By most estimates, catalytic converters fitted inside the exhaust pipe of a gasoline-operated car convert over 90% of hydrocarbons (HC), carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) from the engine into less harmful carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen and water vapor. Diesel engines, in addition, emit particulates. The use of a particulate filter, in conjunction with a catalyst, can reduce their mass by 90% and reduce the number of ultra-fine particles by 99%.”
But — and again — fuel catalysts also increase fuel economy. Catalytic converters can not.
Difference between a Fuel Catalyst, Additives and Treatments, and Catalytic Converters
Both fuel catalysts and catalytic converters lower emissions. Both contain noble metals that function as catalysts when exposed to fossil fuels. So, the difference between a catalytic converter and a fuel catalyst is not immediately obvious. The difference between fuel catalysts, additives and treatments, and catalytic converters are much more so.
Fuel catalysts and catalytic converters are both mechanisms that lower emissions. Additives and treatments do not reduce emissions. Additives and treatments do not increase the energy output of a fuel either.
In other words, like catalytic converters, fuel additives and treatments do not increase fuel efficiency, “gas” mileage. Todd Kaho of MotherEarthNews.com explains, “Mileage-boosting fuel additives claim to increase the combustion efficiency of gasoline. But the automaker programs a vehicle’s computer to have optimal fuel economy with straight gasoline in the tank. Change the chemistry, and you may actually find a decrease in both performance and mpg — if there is any real change at all.”
A cursory explanation of the difference between a fuel catalyst, fuel additives and treatments, and a catalytic converter is: additives and treatments clean engines and/or raise the cetane or octane rating of a fuel. Catalytic converters decrease emissions, significantly. However, catalytic converters do not increase fuel efficiency.
Fuel catalysts both increase fuel efficiency and reduce emissions.
Why Aren’t Additives and Treatments Fuel Catalysts?
Simply, because they are not catalysts. A chemical compound is almost never a catalyst. Elemental compounds like can be catalysts, but there are no fossil fuels nor byproducts of fossil fuel refinement that are catalysts.
Ethanol — one of the most common active ingredients in additives and treatments — is not a catalyst. At the least, ethanol is not a catalyst in any scientific sense of the word, nor with respect to the dictionary definition of a catalyst.
In order to be a fuel catalyst, a mechanism must contain true catalysts.
Noble metal catalysts comprise a portion of catalytic converters. Fuel catalysts also contain precious metal catalysts. Diesel fuel catalyst additives, fuel catalyst treatments, and any other chemical compounds — even though they are marketed with the word catalyst — typically do not contain catalysts.
What is the Purpose of Fuel Additives and Treatments
They do not lower emissions or increase fuel efficiency, but additives and treatments do have benefits. All fuels burn inefficiently, at least to a degree. The inefficient combustion of fuel is called a “dirty burn.” Since no fuel burns 100 percent efficiently, a clean burn is merely a theoretical concept.
When fuels burn inefficiently, and they always do, hydrocarbon deposits buildup on the internal combustion components of an engine. Some fuels and additives are formulated to clean the hydrocarbon off the internal components of an engine.
One of the reasons fuel burns incompletely is because of a low octane rating. There are two manners in which fuels combust: exposure to a spark or flame and compression. If a fuel combusts prior to compression ratios of an engine, the result is a loss of power and knocking in a petroleum spark ignition engine. Additives that increase the octane rating of a fuel increase engine efficiency and prevent damage.
The last type of engine additives/treatments are lubricants. Alcohol, ethanol, detergent additives and other high combustion rate additives refineries put in fuel can strip the natural lubricants inherent in diesel and petroleum from the internal components of an engine. This creates friction in an engine and leads to a shorter engine life. Lubricant additives can help lower the friction rates of internal combustion and compression engines.
What exactly is a Catalyst
In the world of chemistry and physics, catalysts are extremely rare because catalysts can generate elemental changes on the molecular level, but catalysts do not change themselves. Though catalysts can change the structure and composition of chemical compounds, catalysts do not oxidize, degrade, burn, or decompose.
The BBC’s Bitesize Bites and Clips explains the concept of a catalyst simply:
“A catalyst is a substance that can increase the rate of a reaction. The catalyst itself remains unchanged at the end of the reaction it catalyzes. Only a very small amount of catalyst is needed to increase the rate of reaction between large amounts of reactants.”
How do Fuel Catalysts Catalyze Diesel?
The combustion of fuel is a chemical reaction. Like all chemical reactions, there are factors that determine the rate at which fuel reacts. In the case of diesel fuel, the chemical reaction that occurs in an engine is combustion.
All things equal, the rate at which diesel combusts, depends on the sum of oxygen fuel molecules have exposure too when compressed. (Diesel engines, unlike petroleum spark engines, do not combust fuel using a spark or flame. Diesel engines combust fuel with compression.)
But, it is not as simple as exposing diesel fuel to air. Diesel fuel, after refinement, begins to coagulate. The fuel molecules in diesel begin to cluster together as a result of polarization. Rather than being a homogenous mixture, diesel — and all fossil fuels for that matter — is a heterogeneous stew of fuel molecule clusters.
Fuel clusters do not burn completely because the molecules on the inside of the clusters are not exposed to oxygen. Without surface area exposure to oxygen, fuel molecules escape out the exhaust prior to combustion.
Understanding the importance of surface area is simple when using a solid as an example, “The rate of a chemical reaction can be raised by increasing the surface area of a solid reactant. This is done by cutting the substance into small pieces, or grinding it into a powder.”
The same principles hold true with liquids according to Odesie of the Technology Transfer Service, “The speed at which the chemical reaction between the carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen occurs is crucial to flame performance. By atomizing the oil into very small droplets, more surface area of the oil is available for the oxygen to come in contact with. The more surface area, the quicker the reaction will occur.”
But, to increase the surface area exposure of diesel fuel molecules, a catalyst is required to break up the bonding of fuel clusters.
Why Diesel and Other Fossil Fuel Molecules Cluster Together
Fuel molecules cluster together because of polarization. Fuel molecules, all, have a charge. Because of the charge each fuel molecule has, they are attracted one another and cluster together. The clustering together of fuel molecules reduces the surface area of the individual molecules.
How Does a Fuel Catalyst Break Fuel Clusters Apart?
In reality, fuel catalysts do not break fuel clusters apart. Instead, fuel catalysts neutralize the charge of the molecules and the molecules drift apart. Without a charge keeping clusters together, agitation of the fuel as it passes down the fuel line and into injectors homogenizes the fuel.
Homogenized fuel has the potential to produce far more energy than a heterogeneous mixture.
So, in the simplest terms, a fuel catalyst is a pre-combustion mechanism that homogenizes fuel.