There is a gap between the fuels we use today and those that will power our future. In between are years of rigorous testing, simulated engine conditions and millions of miles of test driving to produce fuels that deliver consistent performance, do not increase engine wear and tear, and conform to all standards and regulations for low emissions and environmental safety. The expectations of fuels are increasingly sophisticated, as are the methods by which they are tested. Fuels need to work efficiently and meet the needs of users and those monitoring environmental safety.
Evaluating performance fuels requires time, patience, trained staff, and many, many hours of conducting experiments and recording the results. Test engines are used in laboratory conditions, vehicles are taken on roads, and there is equipment to simulate conditions found in real life.
Simulating the kinds of real-life conditions that motorists experience has become more prominent in performance fuel testing, as there have been claims that the results derived from laboratory testing of performance fuels do not match the results when the fuels are used in real driving conditions. Effective fuel testing now comprises many hours spent on roads encompassing a variety of the conditions that motorists generally encounter, testing engines mounted on benches in laboratories – particularly to evaluate parts such as new infector systems for diesel engines – and testing engines in specially designed facilities in which real-life environmental factors can be presented for tests of short duration.
The consistency of conditions is incredibly important for gathering quantifiable data. The cars or engines used must be identical, and it is vital that the fuel is of guaranteed quality.
Simulating environmental conditions
Although more tests are being conducted by gathering continuous data while cars are driven on roads, data from laboratories is also useful. For these kinds of tests, a vehicle can be connected to instruments that introduce factors such as changing gradients or friction and measure the impact. Large ventilation ducts can introduce wind and changing temperatures to replicate the experience of driving in a winter storm, meaning that the effect of wind-chill and air resistance can be measured on performance fuels at varying speeds.
Engines and additives
As fuels evolve and incorporate new additives, rigorous testing must be undertaken to accurately assess the effects of different additives. This can be done by connecting standardised diesel or petrol engines to computers and then running a series of tests to evaluate the effects of extreme temperatures and other conditions on valves, injectors and other engine parts. The effects of different gradients and the impact of braking can also be factored in. As all aspects of the tests and engine use are rigidly controlled, small differences in conditions can be evaluated for data exchange and a range of joint projects.
The future of fuel testing is precision and consistency, replicated again and again for test results that can be reproduced and compared. This is especially important when it comes to emissions and the environment.