January 11, 2016 @ 12:39 PM

Picking the brain of Petronas' Fuel Technology Manager, Chan Ming Yau

Petronas offer fuels that promise superior efficiency and superior acceleration. It is what they’ve learned from Formula 1

The company needs no introduction. It is a name that Malaysians, from all walks of life, is familiar with. But it is not just us folks. Ever since Petronas mixed it up in Formula 1, the world now knows who Petronas is. Currently, Petronas supplies fuel to the champs — the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 team. But how does that translates to the fuels that we have in the pumps?
Introducing Chan Ming Yau, the Fuel Technology Manager at Petronas. His department takes care of fuel technology for the Group, which includes retail fuels such as Petronas Primax and Dynamic Diesel, and is heavily involved with motorsports, especially Formula 1. And this makes Chan the best person to explain the relationship between the fuel for F1 and fuel for your car.
Q: Petronas has always associated its retail fuel with Formula 1. How close are the fuels that are being sold in the pumps to the one used in Formula 1?
Chan: That’s a very good question that a lot of people have also asked. The first thing to note is that FIA has set the regulation for fuel used in Formula 1. This regulation is derived from the European pump fuel regulation. So, it is a Euro5 regulation that is adapted by the FIA. You can say that we are making pump fuel for an F1 car.
If I can sum it up, F1 fuel and pump fuel have the same chemistry and components but in different proportions. Or you can think of it as having the same ingredients or the same chemistry but in different levels. 
A good anecdote is the chocolate cake. Both have the same chocolate base but one has different amounts of cocoa; one has more chips and less milk while the other has less chips and more milk.
In that sense, the F1 fuel is different because it is tailor-made to a specific engine, which in our case is the Mercedes AMG F1 car. In contrast, pump fuel is not tailor-made because there are many different kinds of engines. Having said that, we can tailor the fuel if everyone drives the same car with the same engine. But we don’t do that. There are so many manufacturers out there. 
We have to learn from somewhere how to make better fuels and we chose to learn from Formula 1. It is the upper-end of engineering and all that we have learned we take it to our everyday cars.
Q: Do you test the fuel on the Formula 1 car before releasing it commercially or is it the other way around?
C: We use F1 as a platform. This means that all the chemistries that we would like to use, we put it first in the F1 car as we do in our normal development. And from there, we learn and understand which chemistry is good and then transfer that knowledge to the road.
Example, this year we launched the Primax97 with improved Advanced Engine Formula. We are the first in the world to use chemistry with attributes in the fuel that helps with superior acceleration. We first tested this chemistry in the F1 arena. 
But the learning is really both ways. There are chemistries that we use for the road are transferred to the Formula 1 car.

Q: How do you come up with the formulation of the fuels? Does it start with a general concept or are there only set parameters that need to be worked on?
C: Well, it is a bit of both. Basically, because of the rules, we can only work on a certain limit of chemistry. We cannot use power boosting additives or materials so we are working on what you can call a hydrocarbon arena. We know roughly what we can deal with; gasoline is only this big. But of course we want to fine tune it so that our Primax95 offers superior efficiency and our Primax97 offers superior acceleration. It is also here that our involvement in Formula 1 counts as we do a lot of fuel testing there.
Q: How do you tune the base fuel for efficiency and for acceleration?
C: To start with, both fuels are different. From Formula 1, we learn and understand the chemistries that go in the fuel. So we know what works and what don’t. With this toolkit, we can design the Primax 95 for better fuel efficiency, which is what everyday drivers want. 
It is different with Primax97, we introduced a new base fuel for it. For the first time, we looked right from the refinery to see how we can change the base fuel itself. And with that comes superior acceleration on top of the chemistries that will be used with the fuel.
Q: Recently, Petronas launched the Euro4 fuel that contains lower sulfur. Is it important?
C: The after treatment system of a car includes, for gasoline engines, the catalytic converter. There’s a catalyst in there that processes the exhaust gas so it comes out as CO2, nitrogen and water. When sulfur gets in there, the catalyst works hard for the wrong reasons, and turns it into sulfur dioxide. There’s a need to reduce the sulfur content in fuels not just because the exhaust becomes cleaner but also prolong the life of the car’s after treatment system as well.
So yes, there is a desire to lower sulfur in fuel.
Q: Phrases like better acceleration, cleaner injectors and efficient combustion seem to be the pillars of all fuels sold today. What makes Petronas’ fuels better than the rest?
C: What makes us special is our continuous improvement in our fuels. You may have found the best fuel for efficiency now but it may not be the same two or three years down the road.
It is the same with Formula 1. When we delivered the new efficient era fuel for the 2014 season, I was wondering how I was going to improve the fuel? But guess what, we’ve found improvements and have now gone a few steps ahead after that. And that’s the key… we just keep on improving our fuels so that our customers get the most competitive fuel.

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