Petroleum Products Research

Since 1952, Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has offered extensive petroleum products research services providing both chemical and physical analyses as well as most standard ASTM, federal, and industrial testing. The Institute's fuel and lubricant test program is world renowned. SwRI's extensive facilities are staffed by experienced engineers, scientists, and technicians who are recognized by both industry and government for innovations in petroleum technology.

In addition to having received several departmental audit approvals, all departments in the Fuels and Lubricants Research Division have achieved certification to ISO 9002, the "Model for Quality Assurance in Production and Installation" and accreditation to ISO/IEC Guide 25 (EN 45001), "General Requirements for the Competence of Calibration and Testing Laboratories." The American Petroleum Institute has recognized our Petroleum Research Department as complying with its Petroleum Test Laboratory Accreditation Program.

With the Fluorescent Absorption Indicator, Southwest Research Institute studies the aromatics, olefins, and saturates of gasolines and diesel fuel.

The Institute measures the quality and determines regulatory compliance of fuels, automatic transmission fluids, brake fluids, gear lubricants, hydraulic oils, and gasoline and diesel crankcase oils. Test equipment includes octane and cetane engines meeting ASTM Coordinating Fuels Research (CFR) specifications and modified spark-ignition engines and injector systems for induction system and fuel injector deposit and clean-up studies.

The Institute uses state-of-the-art analytical techniques, including Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) and rotating disc electrode emission (RDE) spectrophotometry. Inductively coupled plasma (ICP) and energy- and wavelength-dispersive X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyses are used to gather elemental information on solid and liquid samples. SwRI uses the most recent ASTM standard test methods using chromatography/ mass spectrometry including:

  • ASTM D 5501-Determination of ethanol content of denatured fuel ethanol by gas chromatography
  • ASTM D 5580-Determination of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, p/m-xylene, o-xylene, C9 and heavier aromatics by gas chromatography
  • ASTM D 5599-Determination of oxygenates in gasoline by gas chromatography and oxygen-selective flame ionization detection
  • ASTM D 5769-Determination of benzene, toluene, and total aromatics in finished gasolines by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry
  • ASTM D 6078-Evaluating lubricity of diesel fuels by the scuffing load ball-on-cylinder lubricity evaluator (SLBOCLE)

Standardized Testing

The Institute offers virtually every standard industry test, including ASTM, UOP, SAE, and federal tests to evaluate fuel, lubricant, and functional fluid quality. CFR octane and cetane engines measure antiknock characteristics of finished gasolines and the ignition quality of diesel fuels.

Using CFR engines, SwRI measures the antiknock characteristics of finished gasolines and determines motor octane numbers.


  • Research and motor octane numbers
  • Cetane numbers
  • Hydrocarbon typing
  • Distillations
  • Alcohol and MTBE content
  • Sulfur and other elemental contents
  • Vapor pressure; V/L ratio
  • Lubricity

Engine Oils

  • High- and low-temperature viscosities
  • NOACK evaporation
  • Elemental content
  • Thermal engine oil stability test
  • Oxidation, nitration, contamination
  • Foam, miscibility, compatibility
  • Fuel dilution
  • GF-2 and PC-7 bench tests
  • Friction and wear tests

Transmission Fluids and Gear Oils

  • Oxidation, rust
  • Copper corrosion
  • Shear stability
  • Coefficient of friction
  • Foam, miscibility, compatibility
  • Seal compatibility
  • Extreme pressure and wear
  • Thermal stability
  • Gear oil scuff test

Specialized Testing

When standard or conventional tests are inadequate or not applicable, SwRI employs a variety of special chemical and physical techniques. Concepts, product ideas, application technology, and the nature and use of finished products remain confidential.

The SwRI SAE H806 oil filter test stand is automated for unattended 24-hour operations, including interval fluid sampling.

Laboratory instruments and equipment include:

  • Atomic adsorption spectrometers
  • Automatic distillation units
  • Brookfield cold cabinets
  • Densitometers
  • Energy-dispersive XRF analyzer
  • FTIR
  • Gas chromatographs with various detectors
  • High-performance liquid chromatographs
  • RDE spectrometer
  • UV-visible spectrophotometer
  • Thermal analyzer
  • Wavelength-dispersive X-ray analyzer
  • Inductively coupled plasma analyzers
  • Supercritical fluid chromatograph
  • Scanning electron microscopy
  • Surface profilometry
  • Wide range of wear tests

The Institute evaluates oil, fuel, and hydraulic filters. The filter testing facility operates:

  • SwRI-built SAE H806 test stand
  • SAE J905 fuel filter test stand
  • Multipass SAE J1858 test stand, which runs oil filter flows at 50 gallons per minute

Procedure and Instrument Development

The Institute develops procedures and instruments to meet the needs of both industrial and government clients.

Lubricity Screening Tests

SwRI performs laboratory-scale screening tests to aid in developing hydraulic fluids, solid lubricants, and collidally dispersed solids such as PTFE in crankcase oil. Using these cost-effective laboratory-scale procedures, SwRI staff members simulate more extensive and costly full-scale equipment tests such as the M-11 and Detroit Diesel 6V92TA engine lubricant tests, the Ryder gear test, and pump durability tests. The Insti-tute routinely develops customized lubricity procedures and equipment for research and other applications. For example, SwRI has recently developed a high-vacuum (10-7 torr) wear test apparatus and procedure to simulate lubricity and wear under deep-space conditions.

CRC Port Fuel Injector Test Apparatus

The Institute developed this bench-top device to evaluate the tendency of gasoline to form deposits within port fuel injectors. Procedures are available for both "keep clean" and "clean up" performance that define both additive effectiveness and the fouling tendencies of gasoline.

Vapor/Liquid Ratio Measurement Apparatus

This instrument automatically measures the vapor/liquid ratio at selected temperatures. It is an efficient alternative to the ASTM D 2533 standard procedure.

Intake Valve Deposit Apparatus

An automated intake valve deposit apparatus (IVDA) is available, which provides good correlation with both the BMW and Ford 2.3-liter vehicle tests. This rapid and repeatable laboratory scale-test replicates the BMW induction system and is sensitive to both fuel composition and additive type. Chemical analysis indicates that deposit composition is broadly similar to that of the operating vehicle.

Custom Programs

Used Lubricant Trend Analysis

SwRI recently established a trend analysis program to evaluate used lubricants, targeted for fleet and motor pool studies.

Automatic distillation units enhance the speed and accuracy of the Institute's national fuel surveys.

The program also evaluates industrial lubricants. A database tracks the lubricant history for each vehicle or unit. Variables typically monitored include:

  • Viscosity
  • Elemental analysis
  • Oxidation
  • Nitration
  • Additive depletion
  • Base number
  • Fuel dilution
  • Water dilution
  • Antifreeze dilution
  • Soot

Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Survey

For nearly 32 years, the Institute has conducted physical and chemical analyses of fuel samples. As many as 7,500 samples are collected monthly from large cities, small communities, and neighborhoods throughout the United States and Canada. SwRI analyses of these samples provide subscribers with valuable fuel quality information. When requested, the Institute organizes consortia and customizes fuel survey programs according to client needs.

This brochure was published in December 1998. For more information on petroleum products research, contact Gerry A. Estrada, Director, Phone (210) 522-3006, Fax (210) 522-3658, Fuels and Lubricants Research Division, Southwest Research Institute, P.O. Drawer 28510, San Antonio, Texas 78228-0510.

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