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Does fuel polishing really work?

Posted by: Erik Bjornstad

For fuel storage tanks full of sludge and fuels that are dark and subpar, fuel polishing is often recommended. There are probably a thousand entities across the country that market the ability to do “fuel polishing”.  A thousand companies breeds intense competition, sometimes leading to cutting corners and stretching the truth when it comes to what fuel polishing will and will not do.

water_in_fuel_1.jpgWhat exactly is “fuel polishing”

In order to know what it does, you have to know what it is. Fuel polishing is mechanical fuel processing in order to clean out sludge, water, asphaltenes, and other non-fuel solids, with the goal of cleaning up the fuel and making or keeping it usable.

To that end, fuel polishing is not rocket science, nor should it be difficult to understand. The fuel is filtered and processed to try and return it as far back to original pristine condition as the situation allows.

There’s definitely value in doing that. But what effect does fuel polishing have on the most common problem areas that stored fuels have? The answers to these should inform us as to what extent fuel polishing works in the way we think it does.

Fuel Polishing To Get Rid of Water

Water is deadly to stored fuel, both by itself and through the fact it leads to bigger microbe issues. Quality fuel polishing should incorporate water separation filters that remove water from the fuel. The fuel polishing technician will also manually suction out as much of the tank’s water bottoms as possible.  So it’s reasonable to say that quality fuel polishing does remove water.

Fuel Polishing To Clean Out Solids

Since this is a primary purpose of fuel polishing in the first place, the answer would be yes. Fuel polishers will use a variety of staggered sized filters that the fuel runs through, removing solids and asphaltenes and even biomass from the fuel. A good fuel polisher should have no problem removing those from the fuel, as well as sweeping the tank to remove as much of the tank sludge from the bottom as possible.

The caveat to this is that fuel polishing by itself will not do anything to keep the sludge from coming back. For that, they need to incorporate some kind of quality chemical stabilizer, since sludge and asphaltene formation is a chemical reaction issue.

Fuel Polishing To Solve Microbe Problems

One thing fuel polishing does *not* work to do is get rid of microbial infestations in fuel tanks.  Fuel polishing can break up and remove biomass sludge formations which can be associated with microbe activity.

And don’t get us wrong, it’s important to be able to do that. But it’s dangerous to confuse the ability to to do with the idea of actually getting rid of the microbes in the tank. With fuel polishing alone, the microbes are still in the tank. And they will come back.

The only way for a fuel polisher to solve a microbe problem in a fuel tank is if they incorporate biocide treatment in their process. Biocides are the only things that will kill fuel microbes and keep them from coming back.

But in order for a biocide to be effective, it has to be applied early enough in the process and given enough time to work. Many fuel polishers prefer to go to the job, filter and fuel, and get out of there.  And that’s a problem because you can’t rush that kind of thing if you want to do it right.

So Does Fuel Polishing Really Work?

The answer is, for the main things it claims to do, yes it does. But some fuel polishers are better than others. A fuel polisher that combines quality polishing to clean the fuel with the right chemical treatments to keep the fuel problems from coming back – they’re going to be your best bet.

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This post was published on December 8, 2015 and was updated on November 1, 2021.

Topics: Fuel Storage, Fuel and Tank Services