Leaded Petrol - A History of Fuel
Unleaded petrol is available at every single garage across the country, but few know the history of why it is named unleaded. As a thing of the past, many younger drives won't even have heard of leaded fuel. But, in times gone by, leaded fuel was the petrol of the day. So, what is leaded fuel and why was it changed to unleaded? Read on with us as we take a step back in time to the 80's. Don't worry, we aren't calling you old!!!
What is leaded petrol?
In the early 1920's, a solution was found to reduce engine knocking. Known as pre-ignition, the knocking noise originates from the engine when it is under load in a high gear. If left to continue unaddressed, serious engine issues can arise, such as the pistons burning out. To combat and solve this issue, petrol was infused with a chemical called Tetraethyl lead (TEL). This solved the knocking problem and also acted as a lubricant to the upper cylinder and its moving parts.
Throughout World War 2, leaded fuel was widely used in fighter aircraft where maximum power and fuel efficiency was integral to having the advantage over the enemy.
The 1950's and 1960's saw the growth in high-compression engines which resulted in use of leaded fuel expanding, becoming common place in society. During the 1970's, 0.84g of TEL per litre of fuel was the standard. The dangers of lead as a neurotoxin was already common knowledge as people became aware of the dangers of lead in water pipes. With 3,000 tonnes of TEL being emitted in to the air in the UK annually, it was clear that damage was being done. It was estimated that more than 5,000 deaths per year in the US were attributed to TEL, with it causing heart attacks, strokes, breathing and brain problems in children etc.
The introduction of unleaded
The UK officially banned leaded petrol in 2000. As of 2016, leaded petrol is not available anywhere in the world after Algeria halted its sale in July 2016.
Despite it taking such a long time to ban, the UK had started to phase out TEL long before that in the '80s. By 1986, the concentration of TEL had been reduced from 0.84g/l to 0.40g/l and then massively reduced further to 0.15g/l.
As lead was phased out of petrol, the term unleaded was derived. The 80s saw the UK move towards unleaded. 1972 saw Japan gain the accolade of being the first country to introduced unleaded with a full ban in 1986. Although progress was being made, it was not necessarily fast. In 1988, unleaded was only available in 11% of garages across the UK. Furthermore, not every car was capable of running on it, similar to the E10 and E5 situation experienced recently. The 1987 Toyota Celica GT-Four was the first car to hit the UK market that could only run on unleaded fuel.
Many of us are familiar with the Euro standard given to cars to reflect how economically friendly they are. Euro 1 was first introduced in October 1993 by the EEC, the forefather of the EU. Euro 1 Standards make it a requirement for cars to have catalytic converters which could only be run on unleaded petrol.
The introduction of Ultra Low Emission Zones in many major cities in the UK are striving to low vehicle based emissions in big cities. More people are making the switch to electric and hybrid vehicles as we become conscious of our carbon footprint.
While it is safe to say that leaded fuel will never be reintroduced anywhere in the world, environmentalists and governments are constantly seeking the next best thing to preserve our world. But, don't forget, TEL was described as "a gift from God" when it was first introduced. Will the next best thing turn out to be an environmental disaster?