Historical development of the ether market

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A few words about the historical development of the ether market...

Phase 1 – Oil crisis (1970s)

After the fourth Arab-Israeli war in 1973, crude oil prices saw a sharp increase also known as "oil shock”. In Western countries, initiatives aimed at energy saving sprang up, in order to reduce the dependency of economies on imported oil. One of such initiatives was EU Directive 1985/536/EEC which encouraged the use of "gasoline extenders” such as MTBE. MTBE is made from low-quality LPG and its addition to gasoline permitted the production of more gasoline from the same quantity of crude.

Phase 2 – Lead removal (1980s)

Lead was added to gasoline to boost octane ratings and reduce engine wear. Starting in the 1970's, concern over the health effects of airborne lead, and the introduction of exhaust catalysts (which are poisoned by lead) to meet vehicle exhaust emissions limits, eventually led governments to reduce the use of lead additives in gasoline.

When Europe started to phase down lead octane additives in petrol in the 1980s, the octane number, i.e. the ability of petrol to avoid engine "knock",  had to be raised by other means. Many refiners usually replaced them with aromatics, which represented the lowest-cost alternative at the time. Towards the end of the 1990s, new environmental regulations started to limit the aromatic content of gasoline.

Refiners seeking alternative blending components came to rely more on fuel ethers or fuel oxygenates: oxygen-rich, cost-effective compounds that act as octane enhancers, with the additional benefit of making gasoline burn more completely, thereby significantly reducing toxic exhaust emissions.

Phase 3 – Air quality improvement (1990s)

Starting in the 1990's, the EU authorities began to focus their attention on improving air  quality. Massive scientific study programmes, engaging both the European Commission and key industries such as oil and vehicle manufacturers, lead to a series of Fuel Quality Directives, mandating gasoline properties which would contribute to a better environment & health.

Fuel-ethers again played a key role because when they are blended into gasoline they improve its performance. They reduce the levels of many ozone precursor emissions from vehicles such as carbon monoxide and VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) by contributing oxygen and octane, and by improving fuel distillation temperatures. They also contribute to lower particulate emissions in the exhaust.

A significant advantage of using ethers in gasoline is that the emission benefits occur immediately across all ages and classes of vehicles using the cleaner burning gasoline. This generally provides immediate air pollution benefits without the need to wait for new technology vehicles to sufficiently penetrate the vehicle fleet population.