The cleaner fuel making cars go further

It’s not just modern petrol engines that are becoming increasingly sophisticated and efficient – the fuel that powers them is also at the cutting edge.

While high performance Formula One racing and a simple drive to the supermarket may seem worlds apart, the fuels on which both road vehicles and racing cars rely actually have a lot in common.

In the heat of competition, racing teams have to operate precision engine systems, and they rely on the highest quality fuel to ensure optimum performance. With current F1 rules not allowing cars to refuel during races, this performance must also be achieved as efficiently as possible.

Cars with high compression engines running on high-octane fuel can travel further on a tank of petrol

F1 rules also state that racing fuel can only contain compounds that are contained in commercial pump fuel. This means that the fuel innovations these teams develop for racing can eventually filter down to road vehicles.

Improving the efficiency of motor vehicles without sacrificing performance has been a key challenge facing the automotive industry. There is a crucial need to lower emissions and get the most out of existing fuel supplies as the world and its economies adopt more sustainable system approaches.


Improving performance and efficiency

Just as on the racetrack, the highest performing fuels available at filling stations are those with the highest octane rating and energy density. Improving the octane rating of petrol is a key aspect of getting more out of our fuels, as it means they combust more predictably in the engine.

Another way of improving petrol is by guaranteeing a certain level of oxygen. With certain oxygenates, the dual effect of reducing unwanted emissions and boosting efficiency can be achieved.

Today’s high-tech engines are increasingly reliant on high-quality fuels: fuel ethers are best-in-class components to formulate high-quality petrol

So, what special ingredient could simultaneously make modern petrol cleaner and more efficient? They’re called fuel ethers – special components that are blended with petrol, raising its octane rating and delivering adequate oxygen and sufficient energy content.

Fuel ethers do this by altering the combustion characteristics of fuel. They are a type of oxygenate – a compound that contains oxygen within a chain of carbon and hydrogen atoms. The added oxygen can help achieve cleaner, more complete and more efficient combustion, resulting in lower emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants.


Fuels used by F1 cars and road vehicles are based on the same components

Getting more for your money

Because petrol blended with fuel ethers is burned more completely within the combustion chamber in high compression engines, less unburned fuel is emitted through the exhaust. When compared to ethanol, fuel ethers contribute up to 26% more fuel energy, which would allow cars to travel further on a tank of petrol. Motorists get an enhanced engine performance from every litre of fuel, therefore getting ‘more for their money’.

Estimates predict that by 2030, the vast majority of petrol sold in the EU will have a high octane rating

Fuel ethers are particularly beneficial when an engine is first started. Engines are at their least efficient when cold, consuming the most fuel and producing the highest levels of emissions. Because fuel ethers help the petrol burn more efficiently, they can appreciably improve the economy of a car that is used mainly for short journeys.

Fuel ethers also reduce ‘knocking’ – where fuel ignites too early, damaging the engine and reducing efficiency – lowering costs for servicing.


How fuel ethers are enabling technology

Today’s high-tech engines are increasingly reliant on fuel ethers. They support modern technology such as turbos, higher compression ratios, smaller engine capacities and even cutting-edge developments such as cylinder deactivation. The versatility of higher-octane fuel supports the broader functionality of modern, and more efficient, engines.

The benefits of octane-boosting oxygenates for modern high-tech turbo engines are clear: improving the octane rating enhances engine performance. The current automotive industry trend is towards ‘downsizing engines’, reducing their overall volume but retaining performance. In this process, the octane rating of fuel becomes crucial as it enables more complete combustion within the engine.

Higher-octane fuel will be vital in the future. Between now and 2030, high-octane fuel with a high RON rating is expected to form an ever greater proportion of pump fuel sales. A 2014 study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) estimates that by 2040, 80 per cent of light-duty vehicles in North America could transition to higher-octane fuel, while 95RON is gaining greater market share across Asia and in developing countries.

The only way for modern high compression, turbocharged petrol engines to deliver peak efficiency and environmental performance will be to exploit the benefits of high-octane and high-oxygen fuels made possible by fuel ethers.

Fuel ethers are set to become an increasingly vital component of the petrol in our tanks – bringing economic savings, as well as improved environmental and health outcomes.