What is MTBE?
MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether) is a chemical compound that is manufactured by the chemical reaction of methanol and isobutylene. MTBE is produced in very large quantities (over 200,000 barrels per day in the U.S. in 1999) and is almost exclusively used as a fuel additive in motor gasoline. It is one of a group of chemicals commonly known as "oxygenates" because they raise the oxygen content of gasoline. At room temperature, MTBE is a volatile, flammable and colorless liquid that dissolves rather easily in water.
Why is it used?
MTBE has been used in U.S. gasoline at low levels since 1979 to replace lead as an octane enhancer (helps prevent the engine from "knocking"). Since 1992, MTBE has been used at higher concentrations in some gasoline to fulfill the oxygenate requirements set by Congress in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. (A few cities, such as Denver, used oxygenates (MTBE) at higher concentrations during the wintertime in the late 1980's.)
Oxygen helps gasoline burn more completely, reducing harmful tailpipe emissions from motor vehicles. In one respect, the oxygen dilutes or displaces gasoline components such as aromatics (e.g., benzene) and sulfur. In another, oxygen optimizes the oxidation during combustion. Most refiners have chosen to use MTBE over other oxygenates primarily for its blending characteristics and for economic reasons.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
What is MTBE?