Feature Report: Crude Oil and Fuel Prices

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The Eco-Performance of Fuels and Lubricants

For years, all oil companies have been focusing their research on producing fuel and lubricants that protect vehicles' engines, improve their performance and reduce fuel consumption and CO2 and pollutant emissions. "Eco-performance" is just as relevant for ships and airplanes as it is for cars, and also applies to all services along the fuel marketing value chain.

Fuels are the subject of ongoing research aimed at improving their technical and environmental performance. © THINKSTOCK

Improving conventional fuels is a continuous process conducted in partnership with automakers, ship builders and aircraft manufacturers and heavily influenced by regulations introduced by public authorities. Of the many milestones achieved throughout this process, the end of the 1980s was particularly important for the removal of lead from gasoline and the introduction of vehicle emissions control systems. In Europe, the authorized level of sulfur in vehicle fuels was reduced from 50 parts per million (ppm)Dimensionless quantity representing 10-6 (1 to 1 million). This proportion can be used for both weight (mass) and volume... in 2005 to 10 ppm in 2009.

FuelFuel is any solid, liquid or gaseous substance or material that can be combined with an oxidant... additives, which vary depending on the country and the technologies of the oil company, are also used to improve gasoline and dieselDiesel is the name of an internal combustion engine that works by compression-ignition... performance and reduce their environmental impactAny change to the environment, whether adverse or beneficial, wholly or partially resulting from human activity....

Biofuel Additives

1/1,000: The ratio of additives to fuel used to improve eco-performance.

"Green fuels" produced from biomassIn the energy sector, biomass is defined as all organic matter of plant or animal origin... are added to reduce fossil fuel consumption in the transportation sector. Their use varies significantly depending on applicable local legislation. In Europe, for example, unleaded 95-E10 is a fuel with up to 10% ethanol and an octane rating of 95 and has been marketed since 2009. Traditional unleaded 95 only contains 5% ethanol, whereas unleaded 98 contains up to 5% ethanol with an octane rating of 98. Superethanol-E85, containing 85% ethanol, has been available for use by specially adapted "flex-fuel" vehicles since 2006. The octane rating, which reflects the proportions of the gasoline components octane and heptane in a fuel, determines the ignition point of air and fuel compressed together as a mixture.

Following debate over the real impact of biofuelsA fuel produced from plant or animal matter. There are currently two types of biofuel... on the environment and the world's food supply (see Feature Report: "Biofuels"), the European Union decided to introduce a 7% cap on the contribution of agrofuels (biofuels from grains, sugar plants and oilseed crops) to final‑energy consumption for transportation by 2020. At the other end of the spectrum, more than 60% of Brazil's 36 million vehicles run on ethanol alone or both ethanol and gasoline.

Performance Additives

Performance additives used in fuel protect the engine and prevent corrosion.

Performance additives are active chemical compounds used in tiny quantities of around one part additiveChemical compound added to a fuel and lubricant to enhance its properties. to 1,000 parts fuel. They are added when the fuel is taken out of storage and loaded into tank trucks. The additive-enhanced fuels are then marketed in service stations under various names given by the different fuel brands.

For years, companies have been conducting research on the use and choice of additives and closely guard their chemical formulas. Additives generally fall into four categories – detergents, friction modifiers, anti-corrosionThe gradual degradation of a material by a physical or physicochemical reaction... products and emulsifiers – and are used to reduce clogging in injectors and valves, protect sensitive engine parts from corrosion and improve performance and engine life. All of these improvements reduce fuel consumption and therefore CO2 and pollutant emissions.

According to Total's own estimates based on tens of thousands of vehicles used in real-life conditions, the use of fuel additives can result in fuel savings of up to 1.8% across a vehicle's life cycle, and CO2See Carbon Dioxid emissions reductions of between 1.1% and 1.8%. For diesel, these figures range from 1.1% to 2.7%1.

The dual aspect of improving performance and reducing environmental impact gave rise to the concept of eco-performance.

Lubricants and Services

The same approach applies to lubricants, although a greater proportion of chemical components is used (generally 80% lubricant base stock and 20% additive). However, the objective is still to improve engine performance. Engineers from oil companies and auto manufacturers work closely together to achieve this goal, as can be seen in the demanding environment of Formula 1, which often serves as a real-life testing laboratory.

The quest for eco-performance also extends to the entire fuel and lubricant value chain, from production to marketing to recyclingAny waste treatment process that uses materials from identical or similar end-of-life products or manufacturing waste to produce new products.. Processing used oil is an industrial sector in itself. For example, Total's Osilub plant in France recycles 120,000 metric tons of engine oil each year, the equivalent of 50% of all used oil collected in the country. The plant operates like a mini-refinery, producing three liters of base stock from every four liters of used oil, which is then converted into lubricant.



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