3 min read
When To Treat For Cold Flow: Navigating Diesel's Seasonal Challenges
As winter beckons, a prudent eye turns towards the fuel tanks and the specter of cold flow problems that lurk in the...
It is common knowledge that today's fuels have undergone significant changes. We have been discussing for some time now how the gasoline you purchase at the pump is different from what it was a decade ago, primarily due to the inclusion of ethanol. Similarly, diesel fuels today have their own set of challenges compared to those available a few decades ago, largely due to the refining process aimed at reducing sulfur content.
Whether you are a consumer looking to improve your car's fuel or a business seeking to manage fuel and equipment costs in an unpredictable environment, finding effective solutions is crucial. While you cannot alter the fuel itself, as it is what it is when it reaches you, there are limited options available. Consequently, many individuals and businesses turn to fuel additives as a potential solution.
In a market flooded with thousands of fuel additive products, each touting its greatness as the best solution, confusion inevitably arises—how do you discern the right choice?
This dilemma poses a significant challenge for both businesses and consumers alike, who cannot afford wasteful spending on additives that don't meet expectations.
The crux of the matter lies in trust—can you rely on the claims of an unfamiliar additive that purports to be the ultimate solution? While the EPA does regulate fuel additives, its oversight is limited, creating the environment for questionable products to proliferate. This oversaturation of the market with mediocre "me-too" additives can lead to costly mistakes. Fortunately, we're here to provide guidance and clarity.
There are lots of different types of fuel additives. Contrary to the popular conception, some of them do rely on solid chemistry to deliver effects and benefits that are well known within the industry. In other words, not all of them are snake oil.
In order to pick the right additive solution for your problem, you need to know what kind of additive will help you. That entails knowing what kinds of additives there are to choose from. As we start weeding through the 1000s of additive products on the market, we can find it helpful to group them together in certain ways.
The biggest divider of fuel additives is by what kind of fuel they’re used in. This means mainly gasoline additives vs. diesel fuel additives. The majority of gas additives are aftermarket products purchased by consumers for their personal vehicles. Diesel additives dominate the B2B market, who use large volumes of fuel and who have a clearer picture of what problems they have and what they need to meet their challenges.
"Multi-function" additives are popular among consumers as they offer a blend of benefits in one product, providing a sense of added value. These products are often tailored to specific fuels or uses, like "Marine MXO" for boats or "Mix-I-Go Small Engine" for gas-powered equipment. Other examples might include Sea Foam, Power Service, and Ethanol Defense by Bell Performance.
Multi-function additives commonly target single problems like detergency, lubrication, water control, fuel stabilization and cetane rating elevation in diesel additives.
While consumers gravitate towards multi-function formulas, on the business side, "single function" additives are favored. Businesses focus on targeted benefits to meet their needs. Examples are fuel stabilizers like Dee-Zol Life, biocides such as Bellicide, and water scavengers like DFS Plus.
Fuel additives can also be classified by their treat rates – whether they are concentrates or “one shots”. A large swath of multifunction additives aimed at the consumer market are “one shot/single-treat” products – lower-cost products where you use the entire bottle in one tank of fuel.
For the most part, single-treat products are considerably more expensive to use than concentrates. They may cost less up front, but their cost-to-treat is much higher. You may buy a single-treat gas additive off the shelf for $6.00 at the local auto parts store instead of a bottle of Ethanol Defense Concentrate that costs $23.00. At first glance, the single-treat is much less expensive, until you consider that the single-treat product only treats one tank of fuel – call it 20 gallons. That means the single-treat actually costs 30 cents per gallon to use. The $23.00 concentrate product might treat over 300 gallons of fuel, so it costs less than 10 cents per gallon to use.
Which would you rather pay for the same benefits? 30 cents per gallon or 10 cents?
Businesses use fuel additives because they know they work. They also know that whatever fuel treatments they purchase need to provide a high ROI – return significantly more money and value than what they cost. This puts single-treat additives out as they are too expensive for businesses to use.
The type of additive used depends on the needs of the business. For some, this could mean protecting stored fuel to ensure it remains functional for when they need it. Or improving the performance of their engines to ensure continued peak operating. Or even helping to protect the life of their capital equipment so their maintenance costs stay under control. For these and other needs, some additives considered might include:
Fuel stabilizers – Anyone who stores fuel (or who uses stored fuel for an essential function) needs to protect the fuel’s quality in the storage tank.
Biocides – Stored fuels inevitably develop microbial growth in the storage tank, leading to severe problems. Biocides are the weapon of choice to stop this problem.
Water controllers – Water collection in storage tanks is associated with lots of costly problems. Microbial growth and corrosion in the storage tank are just two of them. Water controlling fuel additives are used to keep water buildup in storage tanks at bay.
Cetane improvers – Diesel fleets rely on cetane improvers to ensure their fleet vehicles are performing the way they should.
Cold flow improvers – Also known as anti-gel treatments. Since diesel fuel gels in cold weather, cold flow improvers are added to the diesel fuel supply, before the weather gets cold, to ensure diesel engines don’t shut down with clogged filters because they’ve become plugged with gelled diesel fuel wax.
Other Problem Solvers –There’s a whole another group of fuel additives used by market sectors like refining, power generation and fuel distribution – static dissipaters, H2S scavengers, vanadium inhibitors and deposit modifiers for heavy fuel oil.
Whether you’re a consumer buying for yourself or an operations manager buying for your business, you buy a fuel additive because you have an idea what you think it’s going to do (otherwise, why would you buy it, right?). If you’ve used it before, you have a better idea what it’s going to do. If a friend or industry colleague uses a particular fuel additive, then it’s the same deal – you have credible information on what to expect it to do. If not, then you’re relying on product claims and promises.
Therein lies the big issue – so many additives “over-promising and under-delivering”. How can you have confidence whether any additive will do what it claims? Nobody has the time or inclination to test or try out everything in the market. And why should they have to?
When you stick around as long as we have, you learn there are certain signs you can watch out for in choosing a good fuel additive or avoiding a bad one.
Mileage is the one everyone pays attention to. If you pick up a bottle of fuel additive and it says something like “Improves mileage by 20% or more, guaranteed”, there are some giant red flags in there.
Red flag #1: The Big Claim – No additive can consistently improve fuel mileage by that much. Maybe it might happen on rare occasion, but not often enough to make a marketing claim for it. There’s a limit to what fuel additives can do for mileage. Huge mileage claims are a sure sign that it’s probably not a good product.
Red flag #2 The Guarantee – There are lots of guarantees in life. Death and taxes, for example. Improved fuel mileage isn’t one of them, because that depends on lots of different factors working together. Driving behavior, for example, is a big one. That’s not to say fuel additives can’t improve mileage substantially. We’re not saying that at all. But a guarantee of a certain level of improvement isn’t something a credible fuel additive would make. A bogus fuel additive would definitely do that. And by the time you figure out the guarantee wasn’t really valid, they’ve already got your money.
Everyone in the industry knows that fuel microbes need free water present in order to grow. The old rationale used to be, control the water and you won’t have microbe problems. But this changed a few years ago. It’s no longer enough to simply control the accumulation of water to prevent microbes in your storage tank. Yet lots of lesser fuel additives make claims that imply just that. Worse yet, many of them go as far as implying that they can kill existing fuel microbes simply by getting rid of water. This is not actually a legally-valid claim to be making. The only thing that can kill fuel microbes is a biocide. And if you have a legitimate fuel biocide in your hands, you’ll know it by the multiple biocide registration numbers displayed on the product’s labels as required by law.
If someone’s trying to sell you a fuel additive that claims to be able to control or kill microbes simply by controlling water, that should be a red flag that it isn’t everything it’s claiming to be.
Fuel additives combine various chemical active ingredients to induce specific effects in the fuel or the engine environment. However, success hinges on delivering sufficient quantities of these chemicals into the fuel. Consider 2-ethylhexylnitrate (2-EHN), a common cetane improver. It's a well-established chemistry known for decades. To elevate fuel cetane by, let's say, 4 points, a specific amount of 2-EHN must be present.
Issues arise when a fuel additive claims numerous benefits at an extremely low treat rate. For instance, a product may promise engine cleaning, enhanced mileage and power, plus up to 8-point boost in diesel cetane number, fuel stabilization, and water control – all at just 1 ounce per 30 gallons of fuel.
Initially, this seems like a fantastic deal – so many benefits at a tiny treat rate. Adding 1 ounce to 30 gallons corresponds to a 1:4000 treat ratio, yielding 250 ppm of additive in the fuel itself when you're using it. However, fulfilling all these claims requires significantly more than 250 ppm of active ingredients. Even raising cetane rating by 4-5 points, let alone 8, necessitates nearly 1000 ppm of cetane improver alone. Little room remains for other chemicals to address the other proclaimed benefits.
Ineffective fuel additives exploit this "customer knowledge gap" by making grand claims while only incorporating minuscule amounts of necessary chemicals. They add a drop of 2-EHN, then claim "improves cetane number by up to 8 points." Though they can truthfully claim to have cetane improver in their product, it's nowhere near enough to support the big promises they made. Consumers are disillusioned when their expectations, based on the marketing claims, fall short.
An "EPA-registered" fuel additive should be what you are using. For any fuel additives used in "on-road" gasoline or diesel, EPA registration is a legal requirement. The EPA examines the additive's composition to ensure it won't harm the environment or engines. However, the EPA doesn't assess the product's claimed benefits; their focus is on its similarity to existing fuel fuel to ensure it won't cause harm.
An additive lacking EPA registration is illegal for on-road fuel use. This rule applies to the fuel used in vehicles like cars, trucks, and RVs, but not fuel for boats or small equipment (as these are "off-road" machines). Off-road fuel additives are exempt from EPA registration. Yet, many people use on-road fuel in all their machines. If a company hasn't bothered to register their on-road additive, it's best to avoid it. Beyond the simple fact that they're breaking the law, if they won't complete the simple, legally-required EPA registration, can their additive's claims be trusted?
A high-quality fuel additive's attributes are closely tied to its suitability for your specific intended use. Different benefits are required for cars, trucks, small engines, and stored fuels. Although there's overlap among these needs, consumers often perceive "car additives" as distinct from those for boats or ethanol fuels. Hence, products are tailored and marketed accordingly. While common ingredients might be shared, users prefer additives labeled for their specific application.
When seeking an additive for a particular purpose, understanding the nuances between options is crucial. Is Product A superior to Product B for your requirements? Some choices are straightforward, especially when comparing single-function additives like cetane improvers, water controllers, or lubricity enhancers – these typically offer similar outcomes with the right components.
However, challenges arise when comparing additives with more nuanced differences. While some additives are predictable, this doesn't hold true for all of them.
This is a big market mostly slanted toward consumers. As with regular gasoline additives, you want something that’s going to improve mileage and performance. And that goes hand in hand with detergency, which is probably the most important element of a good multifunction additive. Keeping injectors and the combustion chamber clean are the most important things you can do to keep your engine running at its best.
Specific to ethanol, you want a fuel treatment that prevents phase separation and prevents ethanol damage – the slow solvent action of ethanol on polymer parts like rubber and fiberglass. This is much more of an issue with small engines than it is with cars and trucks, which are pretty much immune to that. If an ethanol additive has some kind of protectant ingredients, it’s likely included because it’s assumed the consumer is going to use it in their lawn and small equipment in addition to their vehicle(s).
A survey of the market gives us a comparison between 6 popular additive choices for ethanol gasoline: Ethanol Defense, Star Tron, Sea Foam, Amsoil Quickshot, SRP Gas Treatment and Sta-Bil 360 Performance. You can see which ones fulfill the most essential functions of an ethanol additive, especially with respect to their treat rates and their cost to treat.
Multifunction diesel additives have some commonalities with ethanol additives. Providing better mileage and performance are critical. And the backbone of any reputable diesel multifunction treatment is the detergent package. Beyond this, these additives also aim to control water. Some formulas will provide added lubrication to fuel system parts. As a bonus, still other formulations may also provide stabilizing ingredients for diesel fuel in storage. Put all these together and you have a good diesel fuel additive that covers all your bases.
As with ethanol additives, we can survey the market for a comparison between seven popular additive choices for treating diesel fuel: Dee-Zol, Lucas Fuel Treatment, Power Service Diesel Kleen, Marvel Mystery Oil, PRI-D, Sta-Bil Diesel Stabilizer and ILFC 1032.. You can see which ones fulfill the most essential functions of a quality diesel additive, as well as comparisons of their treat rates and their cost to treat.
At first glance, you might think fuel stabilizers (for diesel fuel) are single-function products. But there are key distinctions that can separate a good stabilizer from a not-so-good one. A fuel stabilizer isn’t a one ingredient thing. It’s a number of different chemicals put together, each one included because it accomplishes a specific thing that protects the fuel’s storage life. Acid-base stabilizers, dispersants, metal deactivator, corrosion inhibitor and anti-peroxidal ingredients – the best stabilizers check off all those boxes.
We can see how some of the available popular additive choices compare in this regard: Dee-Zol Life, Sta-Bil Diesel Formula Stabilizer, K-100MD, PRI-D and Schaeffer 192ND Neutra Plus. When we examine whether they contain all of these key ingredients, and contrast that with their treat rates and cost to use, the better ones start to rise to the top.
Picking the right biocide and sludge dispersant is important. Yet it can be difficult to tell the good ones from the lesser ones. The better sludge dispersants have a biomass dispersant ingredient that breaks up the biomass formations that can shield microbes from any biocide added to the fuel. So using a sludge dispersant in conjunction with a biocide makes the biocide itself more effective. They may have additional functionality beyond petroleum sludge dispersal and biomass dispersal, like corrosion protection.
Biocide product names are distinguished by type of chemistry, and not all chemistries are equally effective in the most important areas. The best biocides need to last a long time killing microbes in the storage tank. They also need to work quickly, work effectively through both the fuel and water phase, and be immune to the effects of low fuel pH. Low-turn stored fuels that are sensitive to sulfur concerns may also want a biocide with a low sulfur impact
Surveying the market for both biocides and sludge dispersants helps us to see how the functionality of the different products available (Bellicide, low-sulfur ClearKill, Kathon FP 1.5, Bio-Bor JF, Pri-ocide, Aquatreat DNM-30, Bell Tank Treatment SDF, Technol, SBG, Fuel-Right, Clear-Diesel) stack up, especially in the context of their treat rates and their cost to treat.
Despite naysayers, the need for fuel additives in boats is evident. A quick online search combining terms like "gasoline treatment" and "outboard motors" yields insights from reputable sources like West Marine and Mercury Marine. They acknowledge the concerns surrounding ethanol gasoline and its impact on outboard boat motors.
Boats.com highlights the challenge: "Modern fuels, especially mixed with two-stroke oil, develop a varnish in carburetors upon evaporation... Fuel stabilizers extend fuel life and diminish varnish production."
These insights converge on a common problem: ethanol fuels' adverse effects on outboard motors. Solutions like Marine MXO, a fuel stabilizer with detergency, target carburetor-clogging varnish. Furthermore, marine fuel additives combat environmental water, prevent phase separation, and address corrosion risks, aligning with the needs of gas-powered boats. These additives share attributes with those for automobiles, such as enhanced mileage, performance, detergency, and fuel stabilization, with added features like improved water control and ethanol treatment.
Buying decisions often have emotional aspects, not just logical ones. Two common objections to purchasing the right fuel additive include "It's too expensive" and "I haven't heard of this one."
The "Too Expensive" objection stems from sticker shock. Is it truly costly, though? Consider the expense of not using an additive. Preventive maintenance is a common expense, like changing car fluids. Fuel additives fall in the same category. While $23 for Ethanol Defense might seem much, it's only about 7 cents per gallon, offering more value than just a mileage boost.
The "Why haven't I heard of you" sentiment arises when people can't find Bell Performance products on store shelves. For many, store presence validates a product. Bell's absence is due to its higher quality. Unlike lesser, cheaper products on shelves, Bell stands by its claims. Fuel additives, like any product, deliver what you pay for.
Consumers don’t ask for much when they’re needing to buy. They have a need or challenge that they’ve determined is worth spending time and money to solve. When they spend this time and money, they expect good value back. Just as importantly, they need to have confidence (trust) that they’re making a good decision.
The fuel additive market is more competitive than ever, filled with entities that will tell you whatever they think you want to hear to get your money. Since they’re only concerned with their own bottom line, they have no problem exaggerating their real ability to fix your problem. This makes the fuel additive industry look bad.
Bell Performance invented the first fuel additive back in 1909 – that’s more than 100 years ago. A big reason why Bell Performance is still around is because our customers know they can trust our fuel additive solutions to do what they claim. We have customers who are still with us since their parents bought their first Bell Performance product back in the 50s and 60s.
On the business side, companies and professionals also know the problems and challenges that they need to fix. And they weigh solutions vs. the cost of not taking action, every day.
Our customer base is spread out across the state of Florida and around the world because Bell Performance products like Dee-Zol, Bellicide and Dee-Zol Life are among the few industrial-grade fuel treatments that really work. They are priced competitively and they consistently deliver a high ROI while effectively addressing the fuel-related issues that businesses purchase fuel additives to address.
Fuel additives don’t have to be a daunting proposition. And they don’t have to be snake oil. Choose the right one – Bell Performance. Because We Fix Fuel.
Fuel storage and maintenance is a topic of great significance, especially for industries relying heavily on fuel-based...
The podcast episode, “Hot Summer Cold Winter,” astutely unveils the nuances of extreme climates, and provides insights...
In an era of erratic weather patterns and escalating climate concerns, it is essential to be prepared for hurricane...
The world of fuel standards can be a maze of information, and navigating through it can be daunting. One of the most...
The world of fuel management is more complex than ever, ensuring fuel quality is paramount to maintaining both the...