As our societies have increasingly become aware of the dangers of climate change, green technology has become more important than ever. Fossil fuel reduction is the order of the day; however, alternative energy sources are not in a position to fully replace current non-renewable energy sources. Estimates show that by 2030, Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV), Fuel Cells (FC), and plug-in hybrids will account for only 24.6 percent of the market.
While developing cleaner energy is critical, reducing the damaging effects of fossil fuels goes a long way towards ensuring a more sustainable planet. Gasoline usage in vehicles is often cited as an example of the damaging effects of fossil fuels. Over the years, many companies have developed fuel additives that optimize the efficiency with which fuel is burned.
The results have been varied. Many additives claim impressive results but they fail to deliver their promises. Most of them work under specific conditions and make no difference at the end of the day.
However, FuelGems, a venture-backed startup from Austin, Texas, is revolutionizing the fuel additive industry and helping fuel distributors make their products more sustainable.
The need for sustainability
Since 2010, global carbon dioxide emissions, a proxy for measuring pollution caused by internal combustion engines, have increased exponentially. In 2019, the amount of CO2 emissions topped 33.5 gigatonnes.
The developing economies of China and India accounted mostly for the massive increase. Unburnt hydrocarbons and soot emitted into the atmosphere take the form of harmful particulate matter that leads to respiratory diseases, heart disease, and even lung cancer. Contaminated air caused by toxic emissions caused 5 million deaths around the world in 2019.
There is a commercial aspect to this problem as well. Fuel refineries use additives to promote greener fuel in an attempt to differentiate themselves. However, the inefficiency of existing additives does them no favors. The result is an undifferentiated $45 billion marketplace where margins are thin and profits are hard to sustain.
Building efficiency through technology
FuelGems' breakthrough nanoparticle-based additive has changed this picture. Its environmentally friendly additive can be added in small quantities, as little as 1-5 grams to treat 260 gallons (984 liters) of fuel.
This is 800 times less than some of the current fuel additive blending ratios. Most importantly, FuelGems is aiming for its additive to be used by fuel manufacturers not be sold in gas stations for car owners. This conceptual shift that puts the responsibility on the manufacturer rather than the consumer is the most needed one.
Additives were subjected to a study conducted at the Engine Testing Cell in Coventry University, also with an independent Ph.D. automotive engineer. While the Coventry University scientists used a Jaguar Land Rover, the independent scientist used a Mercedes-Benz C-class car. Both used fuel with additives, and the two engines underwent extensive testing over thousands of miles, where the amount of emission the cars emitted was observed.
The state of the engines was compared afterward, and the results showed that the additive decreased CO2 emissions by 9 percent, soot by 6 percent, carbon monoxide emissions by 14 percent, and reduced the presence of unburnt hydrocarbons in exhaust systems by 50 percent.
A simple process that offers a great efficacy
FuelGems uses proprietary plasma reactors to produce carbon-based nanoparticles cost-effectively. These reactors occupy little space in a laboratory, with more than 10 of them easily fitting into a standard workspace. Each unit produces enough nanoparticles every day to treat 20 tons of fuel.
According to FuelGems, the increased mileage and better differentiation opportunities will result in an ROI increase of over 1,000 percent for fuel distributors and wholesalers. The best part is that blending the additive with fuel is simple.
Refineries and wholesalers only need to add the additive to their fuel during the refining process. The additive can also be added to fuel storage tanks or even directly to fuel tanks when filling up at a gas station.
The company entered the pilot stage with prospective clients, including some of the world's largest corporations such as OMV Energy, a publicly-traded farming company, and a third confidential fleet operator.
With interest from the likes of BP, Marubeni, Suncor Energy, and others, the future seems to be bright for FuelGems. The company aims to generate $410 million by 2026 from a list of 15-20 clients, thanks to estimated revenues of $27 million from a single refinery.
This rise can also be seen in the use of nanoparticles and nanotechnology across business sectors. The market is expected to grow from a 2018 size of $10 billion to $50 billion in 2026. The fuel additive industry has also experienced massive deals, totaling over $200 billion in value.
FuelGem’s founder and CEO Kirill Gichunts expects his company to be the beneficiary of all of these trends.
A fuel revolution
FuelGems is one of the leaders of what might be called a revolution when it comes to reducing fuel industry-led emissions. Thanks to the inefficacy of current fuel additives, huge interest from fuel manufacturers, and an environmental need for clean technology, FuelGems' nanoparticles hold promise.