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Fuel additives: boating's hot new market

Companies race to deliver protection against today’s engine-clogging formulations


Many of the specially blended fuels on the market today, combined with the harsh marine environment, are causing a myriad of problems for boat engines — from clogged fuel filters to higher bacterial growth and lower fuel economy.

Automobile-grade additives just aren’t passing muster when it comes to marine engines, so a number of manufacturers have come out with their own formulations designed to address problems specific to boat engines.

“The environment in marine is much different than automobiles,” says Jerry Nessenson, president of ValvTect Marine Fuels of Northbrook, Ill. “There’s more heat and humidity, and they burn 20 times or more fuel per hour than a car.”

All this leaves behind carbon deposits that lower an engine’s efficiency. While detergents help improve fuel economy, Nessenson says the amount of detergents in automobile fuels is not enough to clean marine engines, and the problem is only getting worse.

“There has always been a gap between what marine engines need to run efficiently and what automobile engines need,” he says. However, with all of the regulatory changes in fuel today, he adds, “that gap has become wider.”

The most notable example is the increasing use of ethanol-blended gasoline.

“Ethanol is a very unique component,” says Jeff Tieger, vice president of Star Brite. “It will grab onto water-based solubles. The alcohol grabs onto the sludge in the bottom of the tank and softens it. This sludge ends up clogging fuel filters.”

Also, ethanol has an electric charge that attracts other polar molecules, according to Matthew Cohen, general manager of marketing and technical services for Solpower Corp. Fort Lauderdale-based Star Brite provides private label retailing for Solpower, a San Pedro, Calif.-based manufacturer of fuel-enhancement products.

Cohen says water sucks right into the fuel, and because water is heavier than gasoline, it collects at the bottom of the tank and turns into a gel. At about 0.5 percent water, this is called phase separation, and then that phase coagulates in cold weather. This ends up blocking filters.

ValvTect’s Nessenson says the excessive deposits in hotter-burning marine engines also decrease fuel economy, reduce power output and can potentially cause powerhead failure.

Finding solutions
ValvTect, Star Brite and a number of other companies have developed special additives designed to solve these ethanol-related problems.

Star Brite offers Star Tron, an additive made with enzymes formulated to stabilize the fuel and break the sludge into microscopic materials so the fuel   doesn’t gel. The same enzyme package prevents water from combining in the fuel and forming a distinct layer. The water is then safely burned away and microbial growth that forms at the boundary of fuel and water layers is prevented, according to Tieger. Any existing microbial growth is dispersed and either caught in the fuel filter or burned as part of combustion.

Because of ethanol-related problems, Tieger says the demand for Star Tron has risen exponentially since the company introduced the product more than a year ago.

“It’s our best-selling product, without a doubt,” he says.

ValvTect Marine offers Octane Performance Improver, a patented combustion modifier, detergent and anti-wear additive formulated to help clean the entire fuel system of problem-causing deposits. OPI is included in the ValvTect brand of gasoline the company sells to marinas. It also is sold as a separate additive for standard gasoline.

Fuel economy tests indicate that ValvTect OPI reduces fuel consumption up to 8 percent, significantly improves acceleration and overall engine performance and extends engine life, according to the company.

Other ValvTect additives include ValvTect Carbon Free and Marine Motor De-Carb, which are designed to prevent and remove carbon deposits that form in hotter-burning 2-cycle marine gasoline engines, which cause ring sticking and piston seizure.

To resolve problems associated with water-contaminated fuel, there’s ValvTect Fuel Dri, a water dispersant and rust inhibitor. This can be used with either gasoline or diesel fuel to prevent fuel filters from clogging, eliminate hesitation and help the function of the fuel/water separator. Fuel Dri also prevents corrosion and reduces the possibility of bacterial contamination.

Marine Development & Research Corp. of Merrick, N.Y., also sells gasoline additives formulated to combat ethanol-related problems.

The company’s E-Zorb additive is made to mix phased-out water and ethanol at the bottom of a fuel tank back into the   E-10 gasoline. The water will pass through the finest filters with the gasoline and burn through the engine as steam. In the process, the octane phased out with the ethanol is restored to the fuel, according to the company.

MDR also offers its E-XTEND additive for 2- and 4-cycle engines. This product is designed to prevent antioxidants, sludge and gum from building up in the fuel tank. It contains E-Zorb to help E-10’s water tolerance, and also helps reduce corrosion and exhaust emissions.

CRC Industries of Warminster, Pa., offers Marine Octane Boost, an additive designed to increase horsepower and octane ratings of pump gasoline by up to 5.5 percent. It replaces the function of lead in gasoline and protects rings, pistons and combustion chambers from low octane.

CRC also sells Isopropyl, an isopropanol-based formula that removes water from gasoline. It is designed to prevent fuel-line freeze, while protecting and cleaning the fuel system year-round. Isopropyl protects to 50 degrees Fahrenheit and assures quicker starting and faster pick-up, according to the company.

Diesel challenges
Special blends of diesel fuel — including low sulfur, ultra-low sulfur and biodiesel — also present problems for marine engines, according to ValvTect’s Nessenson.

Low sulfur (500 parts per million) or ultra-low sulfur (15 ppm) diesel contain more moisture, destabilize very quickly and are more susceptible to bacterial growth than high-sulfur diesel, Nessenson explains. The results are sludge and plugged fuel filters that can completely shut the engine down while at sea.

And while biodiesel has good lubrication qualities and a more pleasant smell, Nessenson says it has some of the same problems for boaters as ultra-low sulfur diesel. These include poor stability and susceptibility to bacteria growth. Biodiesel also contains about 3 percent less Btu (energy content) than diesel fuel, which causes somewhat reduced power and increased fuel consumption.

ValvTect’s brand of Marine Premium Diesel is formulated with BioGuard biocide, lubricity improver, water dispersant, corrosion inhibitor and fuel stabilizer to prevent problems caused by the reduced sulfur content. BioGuard is specially designed to kill and prevent bacteria, algae and fungi that grow in diesel fuel, plugging fuel filters and corroding metal surfaces.

For non-ValvTect diesel fuel, the company offers the Diesel Guard Marine Diesel Additive. This product is designed to stabilize fuel, disperse moisture and reduce smoke, objectionable diesel odor and transom soot. It also increases cetane up to four numbers, removes injector deposits and improves fuel economy up to 13.6 percent, according to the company.

The Hammonds Companies of Houston introduced Biobor JF, a concentrated liquid fuel additive used to eliminate hydrocarbon utilizing microorganisms, or HUM-Bugs in marine fuel systems. HUM-Bugs are microorganisms that feed on hydrocarbon fuels such as marine diesel and cause fuel tank contamination and filter plugging.

“These HUM-Bugs are only microscopic in size, but cause serious harm,” says Rick Richardson, vice president of the Hammonds Companies.

According to Richardson, more than 250 types of bacteria and fungi can live in the water in the bottoms of fuel tanks. Fewer than a dozen actually feed on the fuel and produce acid waste by-products. Such by-products corrode fuel tanks and pipes, distort rubber hoses and seals, and increase wear on equipment by adding deposits to various engine components. If left untreated, the small percentage of HUM-Bugs can seriously damage diesel-powered watercraft fuel systems, he says.

The microbicide Biobor JF maintains fuel quality by preventing the growth of micro-organisms. Biobor JF is used at 270 parts per million (ppm) as a shock treatment in fuel to effect sterilization, and subsequently at 135 ppm as a maintenance treatment to keep the fuel free of fungus.

CRC’s Marine Bio-Con Sludge Sediment Remover is a formula designed to remove slime and sludge caused by bacteria in diesel fuels. It disperses moisture, eliminates corrosion, rust, hard starting and excessive smoke. Bio-Con also eliminates and prevents clogging of injectors, and keeps fuel tanks, lines and filters clean, according to the company.

Walker Engineering Enterprises of Sun Valley, Calif., offers Fuelsep Vessel Packages to help fight the high cost of diesel fuel at the docks. The package includes two Main Engine Fuelseps, one Genset Fuelsep, three sets of fitting kits, and three fuel installation lines.

The Fuelsep has been used on marine diesel engines worldwide since 1998, with nearly 20,000 units in service, according to the company. The product is designed to improve fuel economy, reduce transom soot deposits, and reduce greenhouse gases.

Fuelsep Vessel Kits are designed to be used on yachts with Caterpillar, Cummins, Detroit Diesel, MTU and other popular diesel propulsion engines. The Fuelsep also is sized for diesel generators, including Onan, Koehler, Westerbeke, and Northern Lights.

This article originally appeared in the August 2008 issue.


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