Many motorists believe that whatever brand of petrol you buy, it’s pretty much the same thing since all petrols come from the same place – the reserves of fossil fuel buried underground around the world. To a large extent, that part is absolutely correct and every petroleum company buys crude oil (from which petrol is obtained) in the open market and ships it to its own refinery for processing into various fuels. However, after it arrives at the refinery, the difference (between different brands of fuel) starts to occur and throughout the process that ultimately ends with the fuel being used to generate power in the engine, that difference increases.
It is because of this that companies like Shell Malaysia stress that not all fuels are the same. Far from being a mere claim for advertising purposes, there is much in the statement which is valid, in no small way supported by a 100-year history in developing fuels. Being among the global industry leaders, Shell has obviously been in a pioneering position where fuels technology has been concerned.
“It’s an integral part of our business to continuously invest in R&D to ensure that our customers benefit from the latest breakthroughs in fuel technology,” said Azman Ismail, MD of Shell Malaysia Trading.
While Shell fuels cover a broad range of products to suit different requirements, its most distinctive product line is the V-Power family which is said to offer improved performance. V-Power products are the culmination of over 60 years of innovation and a shared passion for performance with Ferrari. V-Power products first appeared at Shell stations in the late 1990s to offer motorists a fuel that would enhance performance – while meeting legal requirements, of course. The key to this was drawing on the lessons learnt in developing fuels for Ferrari’s powerful Formula 1 cars to use in races. And this development work has resulted in a fuel that can be used in the F1 cars as well as your road-going car. Of course, the demands on an engine during a race are more extreme so certain elements (a fuel has around 200 constituent parts) are adapted specifically for extreme conditions which a motorist would not encounter in the daily drive to office.
The ultimate Shell fuel is V-Power Racing, which is a premium product (with a premium price) that many motorists will swear makes a significant different to their car’s performance. V-Power Racing is a highly-refined product with more sophisticated additives which promote combustion efficiency to the highest possible level, which makes a tremendous impact to performance.
Until recently, if you wanted enhanced performance, you had to buy V-Power Racing which costs more than RON97. But Shell Malaysia found that demand for high-performance fuel is strong among motorists and decided that its RON97 petrol should also be upgraded to ‘V-Power status’. This is not just a matter of changing the name as it would have to deliver on the promise of improving performance.
To upgrade its RON97 petrol to V-Power 97 meant that elements of the V-Power Racing additive package would also have to be used. The exclusive patented Friction Modification Technology (FMT) found in V-Power Racing was applied to the RON97 fuel and this unique technology is like a lubricant which reduces internal friction. The additive sticks to the cylinder walls, making their surface more slippery so the piston goes up and down more freely. FMT thus allows the engine to get an additional amount of useful energy which makes a difference when accelerating.
|(Above) FMT in V-Power fuel reduces friction to provide extra energy for accelerating.
(Below) Powerful additives in the fuel keep the valves and injectors free of deposits so that engine performance is always kept at optimum
FMT is one of the components which make V-Power 97 superior and the other major one is the cleaning additive. The precise formulation of the additive package is Top Secret but what it does and how it benefits engine performance can be felt and if you pull apart the engine, also seen. The cleaning additive in V-Power 97 is very effective in preventing carbon deposits from forming in the intake system, especially the valves. The deposits are inevitable as they are created during the combustion process and if you don’t have any additive in your fuel, they will very quickly form a layer that affects performance. In engines with fuel injection systems, it can be even worse because the injectors have very tiny nozzles, even a very tiny deposit will cause blockage. When the nozzle has a blockage, its ability to provide a consistent spray of fuel is lost, which has a negative effect on performance.
Shell’s cleaning additive for V-Power 97 is very strong and not only can it remove existing deposits (to an extent, of course) but continued use of the fuel will prevent deposits from forming. While it may take a bit longer on valves as the layer can be thick, with injector nozzles, the cleaning process can be quite quick since the deposits that cause blockages are tiny. Of course, what also helps is that the more complete combustion generates less deposits and additionally, less fuel is wasted.
V-Power 97, which has an octane value of RON97, can be used in virtually any petrol engine. In Malaysia, its present retail price of RM2.40/litre is not subsidized (though the price is still managed by the government according to global oil prices) so it costs more than RON95, which is subsidized. For those who place a high priority on lower running costs, then Shell would recommend its FuelSave Unleaded 95 which will be suitable for the majority of vehicles.
However, for those who want better performance, V-Power 97 can offer that extra benefit largely because of FMT. Bear in mind that, on its own, a higher RON value does not actually ‘make an engine more powerful’ though using a fuel with a lower RON than what the engine is tuned for can see less power being generated. Older engines may run less smoothly if the RON is lower than recommended unless they are re-tuned while modern engines with knock sensors will have their ignition timing automatically adjusted to compensate and this inevitably reduces output.
An interesting point made by Eric Holthusen, aka ‘Dr. Fuel’, who is Shell’s Fuels Technology Manager for Asia-Pacific/Middle East, is that an engine originally tuned for RON95 may, over time, not run efficiently at that octane. This is because of deposit formation within the combustion chambers which alters the operating temperature. If the operating temperature is higher, then there is a possibility of the fuel igniting earlier and making the combustion process less efficient. Poorer performance results and in worse cases, knocking can occur which can cause the engine damage. A petrol with a higher RON can address this condition as higher RON can cope with a higher operating temperature.
|The octane value of V-Power Racing varies and is typically the same as the highest RON in the market. In Malaysia, it is RON97 but in Singapore, where Shell offers RON98, the octane is higher for V-Power Racing.|
The problem is that many factors affect the condition of an engine so it cannot be said that ‘older engines’ should run on a higher RON. Owners have to understand how their engine performs and then pick the right fuel. Of course, there are only two choices – RON95 or RON97 – so if an engine runs poorly on RON95, then the alternative is RON97 (provided other reasons for poor performance such as a dirty air filter are eliminated). Using V-Power 97 can therefore improve performance not just with reduction of friction and more effective cleaning but also by ensuring that combustion is optimized.
What about V-Power Racing then? As mentioned earlier, V-Power Racing is Shell’s ‘racing fuel’ for the everyday motorist. It costs more because the base fuel is subject to even greater refinement and the additive package is even more superior, hence the extra cost involved. V-Power Racing sold in Malaysia has a RON97 rating though there is often debate about this rating. Many people insist that it’s ‘RON 100’ because they have come across such a fact when checking the Shell website.
The truth of the matter, according to Dr. Fuel, is that V-Power Racing, as Shell’s flagship fuel, has an octane rating that is equivalent to the highest RON in the market it is sold in. So in Malaysia, that would be RON97. The confusion probably occurs because people searching the internet may see a Shell website in another country where Shell offers fuels with higher octanes. It’s not always apparent since Shell companies worldwide follow the same corporate identity so the websites look almost the same.
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The source of Shell petrol in Malaysia: The Shell Refining Company (Federation of Malaya) Bhd – or SRC, in short – is the place where V-Power 97 and other Shell fuels originate for the Malaysian market (with the exception of V-Power Racing which is imported). The ‘Federation of Malaya’ in brackets gives a clue to the age of the facility which was established in Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan, in 1960. Given its age and Shell’s leadership position in the petroleum industry, it’s not surprising that this facility, which started on a land area of 587,454 sq. metres, has become one of the three largest refineries in the country.
Its processing capability rose by almost 20% in 1999 when the RM1.4 billion Long Residue Catalytic Cracker (LRCC) was installed. This transformed SRC from a medium-sized, relatively conventional refinery to a world-class facility. Apart from quadrupling LPG output and doubling motor fuels production, the LRCC also enabled SRC to produce premium products like V-Power fuels and propylene as well as generated sulphur. In 2009, SRC processed 34.5 million barrels of crude oil brought to its jetty from different oil fields around the world (38% came from Malaysian oil fields).
SRC aims to be the Top Performing and Most Admired Refinery in Asia and it’s well capable of that as its operational availability in 2009 was already 97%. However, in mid-2011, it’s due for a statutory shut-down which will not only be used for maintenance work but also for installation of additional infrastructure for greater operational efficiency and in anticipation of expansion. The shutdown, which is known to last for about 45 days, is not expected to affect supplies as extensive planning has been done to stockpile supplies as well as make arrangements to source from other Shell refineries.