Since 1956, engineers, scientists and researchers at Shell’s Technology Centre in Hamburg have helped to pioneer and develop Shell’s portfolio of differentiated fuel and lubricant products. For the record, the Anglo-Dutch company is the largest investor in R&D among major oil and gas companies (more than $1,3 billion last year) and has approximately 120 fuels scientists and specialists across the globe working on fuels innovation, development and product implementation to meet the evolving needs of customers and their cars.

In search of the special

John Lambert, the Shell Technology manager for fuels implementation says the inspiration behind the development of V-Power, which was introduced in 1998 and is now available in 66 markets round the globe, was simple: “We want to make a fuel that does something special; it needs to work instantly and be compatible with the latest engine technologies and pass on the fruits of our technical partnership with the Ferrari F1 team to our forecourt customers."

Shell South Africa recently introduced the V-Power Nitro+ petrol countrywide, which contains friction-modification technology that reduces engine losses due to friction, such as between motors’ piston heads and the cylinder linings, for example. Also introduced was V-Power Nitro+ diesel, which contains added detergents that counteract the build-up of carbon deposits in oil burners’ fuel injection systems and provide protection against corrosion.

Developed in the cauldron of F1

Did you know that the race fuels that power the Ferrari F1 team are blended (to FIA specifications, of course) at the Hamburg Technology Centre? The famous Scuderia has won no less than 12 world drivers’ and 10 constructors’ titles with the support of Shell and in a continuation of that partnership, the Anglo-Dutch company invests over 50 technical staff and 21 000 hours a year into research and development for its Formula One fuels programme.

Shell’s Formula One Fuels project leader is Mike Evans and he’s headed up the division throughout the era that Michael Schumacher netted five consecutive drivers’ titles for Ferrari and to this very day. Team members work together around the world in Shell laboratories and facilities, at each circuit on the Grand Prix calendar (through the company’s roving Track Lab) and at the heart of Scuderia Ferrari at the Maranello headquarters in Italy. As part of the Shell V-Power Nitro+ – Journey from the Lab to the Track experience, I had an opportunity to experiment with simulation software that calculates the highest specific energy outputs per various blends of fuel – it was, needless to say, a much-simplified version of what the Shell Formula One Fuels project engineers use.

99% the same as V-Power pump fuel

“Formula One represents the ultimate test environment for fuel development, because the motors have to complete 2 500 km when revving to 18 000 r/min in every gear lap after lap,” Evans said, “but at the same time the FIA (motorsport’s governing body) requires that the chemical composition of the racing fuel be largely similar to that used by road cars.”

“Several of our scientists who develop products for the Scuderia are also working on their road-going equivalents so that any technological advantage developed for Ferrari is passed directly through to the motorist. Shell V-Power fuel and Shell Helix Ultra engine oils both owe a large part of their development to the F1 programme,” Evans continued. Shell might be one of several fuel companies that are involved in the Formula One circus, but it is the only partner to have a mobile Track Laboratory that supports its team, Scuderia Ferrari, at every grand prix circuit.

Real-world testing and robotised simulation

Glenn Wilson, Shell’s manager of the Engine and Vehicle Technology Implementation team, demonstrated how it was possible to look inside of engine’s cylinders (once the spark plugs or injectors had been removed) by using an “endoscope” not too unlike those used by gastroenterologists. From there engineers can monitor the buildup of carbon deposits using an “endoscope” and a monitor – after conducting on-road tests using different types of Shell V-Power fuel. Wilson also revealed a saloon equipped with a pair of reservoirs and pumps in its boot. Wilson explained that the test car can be used to measure the differences in performance and economy when the motor’s consuming respective fuel compounds at the flick of a switch.

But to keep real-world fuel consumption/CO2 emissions testing as accurate as possible, variables such as weather and traffic density, let alone individuals’ unique driving styles, need to be eliminated. To that end, Shell utilises a climate-controlled test cell. In it, the front wheels of a road car rest on a pair of 48-inch rollers that are made to resemble the texture of asphalt and a trio of robotic legs are perched behind the wheel the car’s steering wheel.

“The three-legged robot” is programmed to drive the (tethered) test car in a variety of cycles and the testing equipment will duly measure the vehicle’s exact g/km in operating temperatures ranging from -30 to 40 degrees Celsius. And according to Wilson, a variety of vehicles (old and new), let alone competitor products, are evaluated in the Hamburg Centre’s test cell.

Future bright for the Hamburg Centre

The Hamburg site is currently undergoing major expansion on approximately 60 000 m² of additional land and substantial conversion and modernisation work on existing laboratories and test rigs including chassis dynamometers that can simulate extremes of temperature and humidity. A new main building will, inter alia, offer an advanced workshop for test vehicles.

“At Shell, we recognise that customers’ needs are evolving, and they are looking for more from their driving experience. That’s why we continually innovate Shell premium fuels to develop products designed to help consumers get the best out of their car,” John Lambert concluded. “The advanced formulations in Nitro+ V-Power fuels are the latest, but far from the last, step in the technological development of Shell premium performance fuels.”

View Gallery: Journey from lab to track with Shell V-Power

Watch highlights video: From lab to track with Shell V-Power