In 1919, the Florida Bureau of Petroleum Inspection (then called the State Oil Lab) was housed in the basement of the original Capitol Building. Over the years, the lab has moved from the Capitol Building to the Mayo Building, and eventually to its current location at the Doyle Conner Complex on Capital Circle in Tallahassee. Government reorganization in the 1960's changed the State Oil Lab to the Bureau of Petroleum Inspection within the Division of Standards. Originally, chemists tested kerosene and signal oil for flash point (flammability), and in later years, began testing gasoline, brake fluid, diesel and antifreeze to ensure quality products for Florida’s consumers.
Gasoline History and Testing
Gasoline is a mixture of hydrocarbons of various size and complexity. It is the principal product of crude oil refining and can be synthesized from coal, shale, or extracted from the goo of tar sands. The most economical way to obtain this portable energy source, however, is to refine it from crude oil. Early petroleum refiners, busy producing kerosene for lamps, once discarded gasoline as a useless by-product. Gasoline came into its own in the late 1800's when inventors developed the internal combustion engine. They first tried fueling the prototype with lamp oil, but it didn't run efficiently. Gasoline proved to be a much better fuel. Over time, the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine developed from a crude, clumsy prototype to the sophisticated engine we depend on today to move us all over the world.
Combustion of the fuel-air mixture in the cylinder of a gasoline-powered engine is started by a spark. When the spark ignites the fuel/air mixture, the resulting flame front fans out from the spark plug. The flame travels across the combustion chamber in a rapid, but smooth motion until the mixture is consumed and the piston has been driven down through the cylinder. There should be no abrupt changes in pressure in the cylinder. Under certain conditions, the last portion of the unburned mixture ahead of the flame front will ignite spontaneously and then burn very abruptly, resulting in shock waves that produce an audible knock. This knocking or “pinging” can be caused by low octane fuel, combustion chamber deposits, or a poor cooling system. Some light “pinging” is acceptable, but heavy knocking indicates a potential problem. To test the antiknock index of gasoline, the Bureau’s lab is equipped with large octane test engines.
Gasoline is formulated differently for varying climate conditions. As weather gets colder manufacturers bring the initial boiling point down to help cold engines start easier, however, this lower initial boiling point would encourage some “pinging” in warmer weather and it is therefore raised as seasons warm. In order to help with deposits and emissions the final boiling point of gasoline is kept to below 437 degrees Fahrenheit. The Bureau tests the boiling points of fuel to ensure the gasoline being sold throughout the State has the correct formulation for the season. Other tests performed examine the vapor pressure, sulfur content, oxygenated compounds of the gasolines.
Diesel History and Testing
As gasoline was refined from crude oil larger hydrocarbons were left over. Diesel is formulated from this mixture of larger hydrocarbons and is therefore much more oily and viscous. These larger hydrocarbons burn at higher temperature than that of gasoline and release more energy upon combustion. In the 1890’s a German by the name of Rudolf Diesel patented his idea for an engine that was more efficient than a gasoline powered engine. The diesel engine was much more efficient than other gasoline powered engines of the time. Compression ratios of diesel engines can go up to 25:1, which is much higher than that of a typical gasoline engine. More power is produced as the compression ratio increases. The air in the combustion chamber compressed to such an extent that the heat generated ignites the diesel fuel without an external spark plug. Diesel fuel is injected directly into the cylinder of a diesel engine to make use of this unique combustion attribute.
The Bureau’s Lab tests the flash point of Diesel fuels to make sure that the fuel will not burn prematurely, causing decreased power and lowering fuel economies. Distillation tests of diesel fuels are run to ensure the fuel is mixed correctly and complete combustion will occur. The viscosity and sulfur content are also tested.
Antifreeze History and Testing
Antifreeze or Coolant is used an overwhelming majority of Motor Vehicles in the State of Florida and is the “blood” a consumer’s engine. Antifreeze is usually composed from one of two compounds, Ethylene Glycol or Propylene Glycol. Propylene Glycol based coolants are biodegradable and typically breakdown quicker as a result of this property, however, it is less toxic to animals if it is accidentally ingested. Antifreeze is moved through the engine to absorb heat and transfer this heat out to ambient air by use of a radiator. In order to make this transfer efficient a large surface area is needed and provided by the use of many small channels in the radiator. Many materials are used to build cooling systems including aluminum, steel, copper, brass, and solder for seams. Because of all these materials and the small, thin walls of the radiator channels a coolant should not be corrosive or leave deposits as this could cause a leak or block the flow. If a leak occurs then air could be mixed with the coolant causing foam and reducing the efficiency of the cooling system, which would eventually result in overheating the engine.
The Coolants sold in the State of Florida must submit a sample for registration testing. After being registered the products are subject to random sampling by our Bureau. These random retail samples are put through the same tests as the registration sample. The laboratory tests pH, freezing point, boiling point, foaming characteristics, and corrosion of all the samples.
Brake History and Brake Fluid Testing
A majority of automobiles used a mechanical braking system in the very early days of manufacture. This system was subject to cables and mechanical failure during the most important time of stopping a vehicle. As technology advanced hydraulic braking systems replaced the old mechanical systems. The hydraulic system eliminated cables and levers that needed to be readjusted as brake shoes or pads were worn down during daily use. Leather and different rubbers have been used to seal the hydraulic brake systems. The newer hydraulic system uses brake fluid to help equalize pressure on all braking surfaces and improves the response of braking systems because cables are not stretched as more pressure is applied at the pedal. Heat is generated as the brakes are applied on a moving vehicle. The heat is slowly transmitted through the braking materials and to the brake fluid. This heat can be very extreme and could make a fluid boil, thus, allowing brake fade to occur. To help eliminate brake fading a fluid with high boiling point is used in all hydraulic braking systems.
Each brand of brake fluid must be submitted to the Bureau for registration. In the laboratory we examine the labeling of the containers. The lab staff tests the boiling point, effect of a formula on a standard rubber compound, and the formula of each brand. These test are performed on random retail samples as well to help ensure the safety of Florida ’s consumers.