Magnetic Fuel Treatment: Myth, Magic, or Mainstream Science?

Magnetic treatment has been claimed to improve the combustibility of fuels. A review of the available literature reveals that these claims are not well supported by available data

Most magnetic fuel treatment systems appear to be marketed through independent distributors who often sell out of their homes. An Internet search using the keywords magnetic treatment reveals dozens of independent distributor home pages. Very few such devices are offered by national chain stores or advertised in mail-order catalogs. Possibly, the magnetic-device manufacturers sell through independent distributors to insulate themselves from some of the more exotic claimed benefits of magnetic treatment, or perhaps consumer and wholesaler skepticism has kept magnetic treatment out of mainstream retail. Regardless of the reasons, magnetic fuel treatment devices are not usually available at the local automobile parts or heavy duty parts supply store. This lack of wide availability has given magnetic fuel treatment a sort of fringe-science status in the minds of many consumers.

Claimed Benefits and Effects

Magnetic fuel treatment devices are constructed of one or more magnets that are clamped around or installed inside an automobile’s engine fuel line between the gas tank and the carburetor (or fuel injectors). Claims for these devices include decreased hazardous gas emissions, more complete combustion, improved engine power, longer-lasting engine components, and a 10 percent to 20 percent increase in gas mileage. Prices for automotive fuel treatment magnets range from about $50 to $300 with truck and other units for stationary engines ranging from $300 to $1500.

The distributors of these devices rarely can cite any documented test results that validate these claims. Instead, they rely on numerous testimonials, lists of corporations and municipalities that purportedly use the devices, and scientific-sounding explanations of magnetic water and fuel treatment. However, just because distributors do not cite the literature does not mean that no relevant literature exists. Published test reports and journal articles that investigate magnetic treatment are available. This article reviews the available experimental evidence for magnetic fuel treatment.

Magnets and Magnetism
To many people, magnets are a complete mystery. Vendors of magnet-based scams often use this ignorance to their own advantage, so a familiarity with the basics of magnetism can aid in the detection of dubious claims.

Magnetic fields are produced by the motion of charged particles. For example, electrons flowing in a wire will produce a magnetic field surrounding the wire. The magnetic fields generated by moving electrons are used in many household appliances, automobiles, and industrial machines. One basic example is the electromagnet, which is constructed from many coils of wire wrapped around a central iron core. The magnetic field is present only when electrical current is passed through the wire coils.

Permanent magnets do not use an applied electrical current. Instead, the magnetic field of a permanent magnet results from the mutual alignment of the very small magnetic fields produced by each of the atoms in the magnet. These atomic-level magnetic fields result mostly from the spin and orbital movements of electrons. While many substances undergo alignment of the atomic-level fields in response to an applied magnetic field, only ferromagnetic materials retain the atomic-level alignment when the applied field is removed. Thus, all permanent magnets are composed of ferromagnetic materials. The most commonly used ferromagnetic elements are iron, cobalt, and nickel.

The strength of a magnet is given by its magnetic flux density, which is measured in units of gauss. The earth’s magnetic field is on the order of 0.5 gauss (Marshall and Skitek 1987). Typical household refrigerator magnets have field strengths of about 1,000 gauss. According to the distributors of magnetic products for improving fuel , the magnets sold for fuel treatment have magnetic flux densities in the 2,000 to 8,000 gauss range, which is not unusually strong. Permanent magnets with flux densities in the 8,000 gauss range are readily available. In spite of the claims often made by the manufacturers and or distributors of these products, the magnets sold for magnetic fuel treatment are nothing special; they are just ordinary magnets.

Some manufacturers claim to use magnets such as Neodymium-Iron-Boron or Samarium Cobalt. None of these exceed 13,500 gauss.

By comparison a Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine can produce magnetic flux densities in the 20,000 to 30,000 gauss range. Keep in mind that this is a room sized machine that requires a huge electrical supply to function.

Magnetic Fuel Treatment
Magnetic fuel treatment devices installed in automobiles are similar in design to magnetic water treatment devices. Hydrocarbon fuel is pumped through a canister containing one or more magnets or a magnetic device is clamped to the external surface of the fuel line. Magnetic treatment of fuel, it is claimed, results in increased horsepower, increased mileage, reduced hazardous gas emissions, and longer engine life.
Typically, vendors claim that either mileage or horsepower will be improved by about 10 to 20 percent. They also claim that if no improvement in mileage is noted, then the improvement must have come in the form of more horsepower. This, of course, makes it difficult for consumers to determine whether their magnetic fuel treatment devices really are working.

A literature search for magnetic fuel treatment studies revealed that such studies are practically nonexistent. I found a total of three references. Two of these (Daly 1995; McNeely 1994) were anecdotal accounts describing the use of a magnetic treatment device to kill microorganisms in diesel fuel, a fuel treatment application not usually mentioned by magnetic fuel treatment vendors.

The third reference (Tretyakov et al. 1985) describes tests conducted in which the electrical resistance and dielectric properties of a hydrocarbon fuel were found to change in response to an applied magnetic field. This report does not address whether the observed physical property changes might affect fuel performance in an engine, but it references two research reports that may contain performance data (Skripka et al. 1975; Tretyakov et al. 1975). Unfortunately, I could obtain neither report, and both are written in Russian.

I have heard of some theoretical research (which I have been unable to locate) that magnets of 25,000 gauss or more surrounding a fuel line immediately prior to injection into the engine could have an effect at a molecular level that could improve combustion.

This point is rendered moot by the cost, complexity and difficulty of surrounding a fuel line with an MRI machine. The size, weight, cost, and electrical requirements make this technically impossible.

My literature search found no other credible research reports pertaining to magnetic fuel treatment.

The utter lack of published test data is revealing. It was first promoted in the early 1930?s and was tried during by both the Allied and Axis forces without success during World War II. It seems to be reborn as a new technology about every 10 to 20 years or about once per generation. If it actually worked as claimed, it seems likely that it would by now be commonplace. It is not.

Vendors of magnetic fuel treatment sometimes respond to this reasoning with hints that the automobile manufacturers and big oil companies are conspiring to suppress magnetic fuel treatment to maintain demand for gasoline. Such a conspiracy seems quite improbable. This supposed conspiracy has not managed to suppress other fuel-saving innovations such as fuel injection and computerized control.

In summary, I found no test data that support the claims for improved engine performance made by vendors of magnetic fuel treatment devices. Until such data become available, considerable skepticism is justified. At present, it seems quite unlikely that any of the claimed benefits of magnetic fuel treatment are real.

McNeely, M. 1994. Magnetic fuel treatment system designed to attack fuel-borne microbes. Diesel Progress Engines and Drives. November, p. 16.  Skripka, N. I., A. A. Litvinov, and I. G. Tretyakov. 1975. Influence of operational factors on oxidizability of liquid hydrocarbons. Operational Properties of Fuels, Lubricants and Technical Liquids Used in Civil Aviation [Kiev] 1: 11-14. [In Russian.] 
Spear, M. 1992. The growing attraction of magnetic treatment. Process Engineering. May, p. 143. 
Tretyakov, I. G., M. A., Rybak, and E. Yu. Stepanenko. 1985. Method of monitoring the effectiveness of magnetic treatment for liquid hydrocarbons. Sov. Surf. Eng. Appl. Electrochem. 6: 80-83. 
Tretyakov, I. G., E. S. Denisov, and A. N. Solovev. 1975. Effects of magnetic field treatment on electrophysical properties of aviation fuels. Operational Properties of Fuels, Lubricants and Technical Liquids Used in Civil Aviation [Kiev] 1: 41-42. [In Russian.]