BP super fuel launch

30 June 2016 - Marketing and piranhas

bp freak.PNGToday, at the counter of my gas station I was greeted by a BP leaflet. The topic was "ACTIVE technology" with "BP Ultimate", advertised as "our best formula for eliminating dirt in your engine", all in Dutch off course. The leaflet went on: standard fuels can lead to dirt accumulating in the car engine but thanks to "Our Solution" (yes, all capitalised) "active molecules" adhere to dirt and remove it from the important parts of the engine. They also stick to the metal surfaces and form a protective layer. The leaflet goes on: "it is like one thousand "hungry piranhas" devouring dirt in your engine". "ACTIVE molecules" do exist according to BP and add to fuel efficiency. A BP website here puts it in another way: "ACTIVE technology contains millions of dirt-busting molecules designed to protect your engine from dirt". Millions? Even if the number is one hundred million in a single tank of gasoline it must truly be a miracle molecule.

And who is the green freak accompanying this advertising drive? Reminds this blog of the mysterious blobs featuring in the 2012 ExxonMobil scam here. And what about dragging in fish? In an ideal world piranhas would not attack any tissue but focus on cancer cells and fat clogging up blood vessels but we are all smarter than that so the analogy dies there.

So what is the miracle molecule? The newspaper The Telegraph has this story, in it BP CEO Bob Dudley has this to say: "This is completely new, It's good for the engine, the pocket and the planet; that's a big claim, but it's solidly based". The article then points to cerium oxide present as nano particles. But "it is not a nano particle" says Anne-Marie Corr the companies VP (remember nanotechnology is bad). Interestingly, Wikipedia credits cerium oxide as involved in self-cleaning ovens so we are getting somewhere.

This 2012 article explains how cerium oxide in fuel can help decompose unburnt hydrocarbons and soot. More literature exists on the effect of cerium on combustion efficiency but also about cerium nanoparticles as health hazards. The patent literature then? No patents link BP with cerium but there is one recent BP patent called "Methods and uses for intake-valve and direct-injection or deposit clean-up" ( WO2015028392). The BP promotional material specifically mentions clogging up of fuel injection systems so the patents seems relevant. The patent describes two active ingredients. One is an polyisobutylene amine, basically a surfactant with the polymer tail making sure the compound is soluble and the amine head gobbling up the dirt such as metals, salts and water. Nothing new there, company Chevron Oronite is a supplier. The other ingredient is a Mannich base. Nothing new there either, Mannich bases are established so-called deposition control additives. The novelty must then be in the use of a specific combination of the two.

This is all speculation of course but if it is just combining two commercially available fuel additives then Dudley's "this is completely new" claim is nonsensical. Perhaps the BP marketing effort should be less about piranhas and more about showing off and explaining new technology.