MadSci Network: Chemistry

Re: What are the benefits or detrements of adding a cetane booster in diesel

Date: Fri Jul 21 18:10:54 2000
Posted By: Imack Collins, Staff, none, Adventech
Area of science: Chemistry
ID: 962830114.Ch

Cetane boosters only improve cold starting on diesel engines due to increase of flamability of the mixture at lower pressure and temperature. It has been proven that no effect on the power of the engine is attained once the engine is at normal operating conditions.

There are a number of engine performance characteristics that are generally recognized as important. Their relative importance depends on engine type and duty cycle (truck, passenger car, stationary generator, marine vessel, etc.).

starting ease low wear (lubricity)
sufficient power low temperature operability
low noise long filter life (stability)
good fuel economy low emissions
Engine design, by far and away, has the greatest impact on most of these characteristics. But since the focus of this publication is fuel, this chapter will discuss how they are affected by fuel properties.

When a cold diesel engine is started (cold start), the heat of compression is the only energy source available to heat the gas in the combustion chamber to a temperature that will initiate the spontaneous combustion of the fuel (about 750°F [400°C]). Since the walls of the combustion chamber are initially at ambient temperature rather than operating temperature, they are a significant heat sink rather than a heat source. And since cranking speed is slower than operating speed, compression is also slower, which allows more time for the compressed air to lose heat to the chamber walls. (A glow plug provides an additional source of heat in indirect-injection diesel engines.) A fuel that combusts more readily will require less cranking to start an engine. Thus, if other conditions are equal, a higher cetane number fuel makes starting easier. As the compression temperature is reduced by variables like lower compression pressure, lower ambient temperature, and lower coolant temperature, an engine requires an increasingly higher cetane number fuel to start easily. Research indicates that fuels meeting the ASTM Standard Specification D 975 cetane number requirement of a minimum of 40 provide adequate cold starting performance in modern diesel engines. At temperatures below freezing, starting aids may be necessary regardless of the cetane number of the fuel. Even after the engine has started, the temperatures in the combustion chamber may still be too low to induce complete combustion of the injected fuel. The resulting unburned and partially burned fuel is exhausted as a mist of small droplets that is seen as white smoke (cold smoke). This situation normally lasts for less than a minute, but the exhaust is irritating to the eyes, and can be objectionable if a number of vehicles are started together in an enclosed space. A fuel with a higher cetane number can ameliorate the problem by shortening the time during which unburned fuel is emitted to the atmosphere.


Power is determined by engine design. Diesel engines are rated at the brake horsepower developed at the smoke limit.1 For a given engine, varying fuel properties within the ASTM D 975 specification range does not alter power significantly. For example, in one study seven fuels with varying distillation profiles and aromatics contents were tested in three engines. In each engine, power at peak torque and at rated speed (at full load) for the seven fuels was relatively constant. However, if fuel viscosity is outside of the D 975 specification range, combustion may be poor, resulting in loss of power and fuel economy.


The noise produced by a diesel engine is a combination of combustion noise and mechanical noise. Fuel properties can affect only combustion noise. In a diesel engine, the fuel ignites spontaneously shortly after injection begins. During this delay, the fuel is vaporizing and mixing with the air in the combustion chamber. Combustion causes a rapid heat release and a rapid rise of combustion chamber pressure. The rapid pressure rise is responsible for the diesel knock that is very audible for some diesel engines. Increasing the cetane number of the fuel can decrease the amount of knock by shortening the ignition delay. Less fuel has been injected by the time combustion begins and it has had less time to mix with air. As a result, the rapid pressure rise, along with the resulting sound wave, is smaller. One design approach to reducing combustion noise is to shape the injection-setting the rate slow at first and then faster - to reduce the amount of fuel entering the cylinder during the ignition delay period. Another is to use indirect-injection


Here again, engine design is more important than fuel properties. However, for a given engine used for a particular duty, fuel economy is related to the heating value of the fuel. Since diesel fuel is sold by volume, fuel economy is customarily expressed as output per unit volume e.g., miles per gallon. Therefore, the relevant units for heating value are heat per gallon (Btu per gallon). Heating value per gallon is directly proportional to density when other fuel properties are unchanged. ASTM specifications limit how much the heating value of a particular fuel can be increased. Increasing density involves changing the fuel's chemistry - by changing aromatics content - or changing its distillation profile by raising the initial boiling point, the end point, or both. Increasing aromatics is limited by the cetane number requirement (aromatics have lower cetane numbers [see Figure 4-7]); changing the distillation profile is limited by the 90% distillation temperature requirement. Combustion catalysts may be the most vigorously promoted diesel fuel aftermarket additive (see Chapter 7). However, the Southwest Research Institute, under the auspices of the U.S. Transportation Research Board, ran back-to-back tests of fuels with and without a variety of combustion catalysts. These tests showed that a catalyst usually made "almost no change in either fuel economy or exhaust soot levels."2 While some combustion catalysts can reduce emissions, it is not surprising that they don't have a measurable impact on fuel economy. To be effective in improving fuel economy, a catalyst must cause the engine to burn fuel more completely. But there is not much room for improvement. With unadditized3 fuel, diesel engine combustion efficiency is typically greater than 98%. Ongoing design improvements to reduce emissions are likely to make diesel engines even more efficient.

Imack Collins

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