History of Gasoline and Diesel Fuel - Diesel fuel concept image

A Brief History of Gasoline and Diesel Fuel

Published On: November 27, 2023Categories: Blog

A Fuel Supplier’s Perspective On The History of Gasoline and Diesel Fuel

The internal combustion engine is one of the great marvels of the industrial age. There are few modern inventions that have brought more change to the way we live our daily lives than the automobile. Despite the media buzz surrounding electric vehicles at the moment, the fact is, that the world we live in was still built by and continues to be powered by oil. That will not change anytime soon.

In fact, the demand for fuel suppliers and industrial lubricants will likely only increase in the decades ahead. This two-part Mansfield Service Partners article examines the past, present and future of petroleum-based fuels like gasoline and diesel.

In part one, we look at the history of gasoline and diesel fuel through the lens of a fuel supplier. Part two will explore what the future holds for petroleum-based fuels and the internal combustion engine.

Gasoline History: From Humble Beginnings

It’s hard to believe now, but in the beginning, gasoline was considered a useless byproduct of kerosene production. When fuel supplier Edwin Drake drilled the first crude oil well in Pennsylvania in 1859, his objective was to produce kerosene fuel for lighting.

In fact, it wouldn’t be until the automobile was invented in 1892 that we recognized gasoline as a valuable commodity. Just 28 years later there were 9 million gasoline-powered vehicles on American roads.

Over the past century, gasoline has evolved, becoming cleaner and incorporating new additives. As motoring became increasingly popular, consumers began to demand more performance from cars and trucks. Higher octane fuels were needed to support higher compression ratios. In 1921, refineries began adding tetraethyl lead (TEL) to gasoline to meet that need. Soon after this, ethanol was added to some gasoline blends for the first time.

Gasoline in the 20th Century and Beyond

The job of the fuel supplier became more complex in the 20th century as different grades of gasoline emerged, along with fuel additives and modern industrial lubricants entering the supply chain. Unleaded gasoline entered America’s fuel supply in the 1970s, beginning in major cities first, then spreading throughout the U.S. After research into detrimental health effects, leaded gasoline was phased out in the U.S. entirely in 1996.

Throughout the 1980s and 90s, fuel additives became increasingly sophisticated. In addition to raising octane, additives to reduce engine wear and compounds like polyether amine-based detergent (PEA) began to be added to the fuel blends offered by the fuel distributor.

The amount of ethanol in gasoline has increased in the last few decades in the U.S. in particular. The drive towards ethanol was prompted in part by the discovery that the fuel additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) was contaminating groundwater. While E10 gasoline (10% ethanol) is most commonly seen, many modern vehicles are designed to operate with blends as high as E85 – typically labeled flex-fuel vehicles (FFV).

Gasoline and fuel additive timeline:

  • 1867 – Nicolas Otto presents the first gasoline engine at the Paris Exposition.
  • 1921 – Lead begins to be added to gasoline to increase performance and reduce wear.
  • 1970 – Congress passed the Clean Air Act.
  • 1980 – Chevron patents a next-gen fuel detergent additive using polyether amine (PEA).
  • 1996 – Leaded gasoline is completely phased out in the United States.
  • 1996 – Ford introduces the first flex-fuel vehicles (FFV) designed to use E85
  • 2005 – The oxygenate fuel additive MTBE is banned in 20 states.

The Evolution of Diesel Fuel and Diesel Additives

The brilliantly simple diesel engine was developed by Rudolf Diesel in 1893. One of the many unique things about the diesel engine is that it was designed from the beginning to work with a diverse range of fuels.

Long before modern diesel fuel and renewable diesel were invented, early versions of the diesel engine ran on everything from ammonia to whale oil. This remarkable flexibility is one reason why fuel suppliers like Mansfield Service Partners believe the diesel engine has a long future ahead of it.

Diesel fuel really began to come into its own when it was standardized internationally following WWII (the DIN 51601, VTL 9140-001, and NATO F 54 standards). From then on, diesel fuel became increasingly pure with additives for performance being developed in stages. The advent of ultra-low sulfur diesel reduced the natural lubricity of diesel fuel, which could accelerate engine wear. The use of modern lubricity additives increased in response to ULSD.

Other diesel fuel additives developed to help improve fuel performance include flow improvers and wax anti-settling additives (WASA) which are especially important in colder climates to prevent diesel fuel from “gelling”.

Additives like metal deactivators, stabilizers corrosion inhibitors, and cetane improvers are also added at the refinery. Diesel detergent additives and lubricity improvers are typically added at the pipeline or terminal, but also by fleets and aftermarket end users.

Diesel and diesel fuel additive timeline:

  • 1893 – Rudolf Diesel invented the compression-ignition diesel engine.
  • 1923 – The German concern, MAN developed the first direct-injection diesel engine.
  • 1945 – Following WWII the first modern standards for diesel fuel were developed.
  • 1978 – Mercedes-Benz introduced the first turbodiesel passenger car engine.
  • 1989 – First light truck with a direct-injection diesel engine (Cummins 5.9 Dodge Ram)
  • 1993 – EPA begins regulating diesel fuel sulfur levels.
  • 2005 – Diesel fuel lubricity standards raised (ASTM standard, D975)
  • 2006 – Ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel is mandated by the U.S. EPA.

Mansfield Service Partners: Premier Fuel Supplier Since 1932

At Mansfield Service Partners, we have built our reputation by delivering superior products and expert services to customers, without compromise. We are proud to honor the history of our industry while always keeping an eye on the future.

We hope you enjoyed this brief history of gasoline and diesel fuel in America. The second part of this article will explore the future of fuel in America and what it will mean for fuel distributors and consumers alike.

If you or your organization have a need for a fuel distribution partner with outstanding credentials and a wealth of experience – Mansfield Service Partners is only a phone call away at (800) 683-1331 or you are welcome to email any inquiries to info@mansfield.energy