By Jeremy Cleron, Lubrizol Corporation
Visit a diesel fueling station in the United States and there is a good likelihood you’ll find a darker, stained patch of concrete just below the fuel pump. It’s a telltale sign—the diesel fuel being pumped into the vehicle or truck’s tank has overflowed due to diesel’s tendency to foam, just like a carbonated drink that has been poured into a glass too quickly.
On an individual basis this is certainly no great waste—perhaps just a few ounces of fuel per instance. However, when we consider how common this problem is across the country, this waste adds up. Also consider that after foaming occurs, it takes some time for the fuel to fully settle, meaning that the fuel tank isn’t completely full after a fill-up—just like that vigorously poured carbonated drink.
For a fleet operator, who may have dozens of trucks on the road at any given time, this waste and loss of miles between fill-ups can add up quickly, leading to unnecessary collective downtime for the entire fleet and adding up to higher costs over the long term.
Foaming diesel, and the collective losses it may represent, is just one problem that American commercial trucking professionals may not even realize is occurring in their day-to-day operations, and it’s attributable to the pervading quality of regularly available diesel fuel today. What’s more, it’s a problem that is preventable.
The Benefits of Additive Enhancement
Widespread diesel quality in the United States lags significantly behind other countries, particularly throughout Europe, and there is opportunity to improve. Anti-foam additives, advanced deposit control additives and other solutions are available and can help diesel engines operate more cleanly, efficiently and reliably over the long term. These kinds of additives keep vehicles on the road for longer, helping them serve longer and more useful lives.
Why have these kinds of additive-enhanced diesel fuels not reached higher market penetration in the U.S.? Higher-performance additives have proliferated among name-brand gasoline retailers throughout the country, driven in part by the successful TOP TIER gasoline program, which has helped satisfy automotive OEMs’ demand for higher detergency levels in gas used in their vehicles. These gasoline additives have helped reduce deposits, prevent engine damage and have generally enabled a higher level of engine performance.
That’s great for passenger car drivers, but what about heavy-duty diesel trucks? Many of these vehicles log thousands of miles all across the country, and the impact could be significant. American regulatory measures have been less focused on diesel quality than they have been of gasoline, but the benefits that could be had by wider-spread, higher-performance diesel could make a major impact. The fuels industry should be working to make it a reality.
Why Additive-Enhanced Diesel Is Important
There has been some work toward more widespread use of higher-performance diesel to date, but there’s plenty still to be done. In 2017, TOP TIER diesel was officially introduced for similar reasons that brought TOP TIER gasoline to life. OEMs want to see higher-quality fuels to enhance the performance of their hardware and feel that diesel fuel regulations have been outpaced by advancements in engine design, broader emissions regulations and customer demands.
Today’s advanced diesel engines are complex, and that means the fuels and fluids necessary for their operation must account for these complexities. Modern diesel vehicles must meet demanding fuel economy, power, emissions and reliability targets and fuel quality can help ensure reliable, optimized performance.
In these applications, higher-quality diesel fuels can:
- Help reduce both internal and external deposits on fuel injectors
- Improve lubricity resulting in less wear on injectors and the engine as a whole
- Improve fuel stability for fewer deposits in fuel system components
Each of these benefits results in a higher-performing engine. Consider a diesel truck that uses commonly available diesel fuel without enhanced additive performance throughout its lifetime. The use of that fuel doesn’t mean the engine will fail outright, but it does mean the engine will lose substantial performance over time, compared with a vehicle using additive-enhanced diesel. Poor quality fuel can have a gradual, negative impact on the engine’s overall power; drivers may not perceive an immediate loss in torque, but eventually the loss in performance can become a major headache. Fuel injector deposit issues can also cause up to a 3% loss in fuel economy overall.
That 3% might not seem like much but it is a big number for a Class-8 truck traversing from coast to coast. Consider a fleet of 100 trucks, each using common diesel fuel. Say each truck travels 100,000 miles per year getting 8 miles per gallon at $3.00/gallon—a 3% fuel savings here means $1,125/year savings/truck, or over $100,000/year total.
Increasing the Availability of Additive-Enhanced Diesel
While its counterpart in the passenger car gasoline market may make up the majority of what’s available at retail, additive-enhanced diesel makes up a miniscule portion of available diesel fuel in America. Solving the potential issues associated with traditionally available American diesel fuel is an uphill battle—and a truly important one.
Engines continue to advance, and the importance of high-performance fuel will become increasingly important. It’s incumbent upon the fuels industry to ensure that more high-performance diesel fuel makes its way into the marketplace.
Jeremy Cleron is the business manager of fuels at Lubrizol Corporation. Lubrizol Additives products enables transportation and industrial equipment to work better, last longer. It’s products perform in a variety of operating environments, supported by an integrated global supply system that works around the clock to optimize availability and nearly a century of expertise working with lubricant marketers, fuel marketers and original equipment manufacturers all over the world.