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7 Signs of Diesel Fuel Contamination by Microbes, Fungus and Bacteria

Posted by: Bell Performance

Today's backup fuels require more care than the fuels of yesterday. Fuel maintenance, if you will. Without it, you're much more likely to encouter water and microbial growth problems in the kinds of essential emergency fuels that generators, hospitals, and municipalities rely on.

Do you have reason to suspect you’re running on diesel or biodiesel contaminated by microbes, bacteria and fungus? Here are some signs to look for which can give you a pretty good idea:

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  1. The need to replace fuel filters significantly more often than your baseline (microbes produce byproducts that clog filters)
  2. Frequent cleaning or replacement of fuel injectors (ditto)
  3. Premature wearing of rings and cylinder liners, leading to higher oil consumption (microbes produce acidic byproducts that increase corrosion, as well as deposits that can produce wear in these areas)
  4. Increase in fuel consumption (infested fuel does not burn as cleanly and will increase your fuel consumption rate)
  5. Fuel discoloration (infected fuel turns a dark khaki color instead of the bright yellow-green of fresh #2 diesel)
  6. Rotten fuel smell (sulfuric acidic byproducts from microbes give off a characteristic smell)
  7. Black exhaust smoke at system startup (caused by the engine’s inability to completely combust the infected fuel and the deposits and byproducts caused by the microbes)

fuel contaminationSome of these problems are more commonly seen in fleets and vehicle situations while others lend themselves to a greater extent in fuel storage and backup generator system. But any and all of these symptoms can indicate a microbial infestation, whether in your own storage tank or the place where you get your fuel from.  Microbial contamination is now the biggest cause of fuel problems in stored fuels.

The best way to prevent microbial diesel fuel contamination is to control water buildup in tanks. Bell Performance Dee-Zol and DFS Plus are formulated to do this. But even the best housekeeping methods can fail sometimes, especially if not everyone in the supply chain is doing the same thing. Once you have a microbial problem, the only way to permanently end it is to kill it with a biocide like Bell Performance Bellicide. Controlling water is important, but as microbes don't need very much water present to grow and thrive, the chances are much higher that, at some point in your system's professional service life, you're going to have to deal with a microbial contamination problem.

Lastly, one thing the upstream oil and gas market has taught us is the utility of microbial testing.  If your system is in the "mission critical" category, it may be worth your while to consider upgrading to some kind of periodic microbial testing of fuel samples from your system.  In-field microbial testings like ATP-By-Filtration can give you a much clearer picture of whether you have microbial contamination (and how much), as well as being an invaluable tool to show if the problem has been solved.

Do you have any other experiences? Feel free to comment and let us know.

You might be interested in these related articles:

Are You Fuel Ready? The Checklist

Storing Diesel and Biodiesel Cheatsheet Bundle

Download Bellicide vs. the Marketplace

This post was published on March 29, 2011 and was updated on September 1, 2020.

Topics: Diesel, Biodiesel, Fuel Storage