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Fuel Storage Tank Maintenance: Fuel Tank Cleaning Best Practices Examined

Posted by: Erik Bjornstad

In running a business or heading up a facility, there’s a conflict between doing what you’re required to do and doing what you know is best. Many times, what the government requires doesn’t go as far as what the situation most needs. When you’re trying to watch costs and operate in slim margins or narrow budgets, the temptation is to do the minimum. That can end up costing you more in the long run.

Government minimums can fall short

diesel-fuel-tank-corrosionFor example, the government defines the properties of diesel fuel by pointing to a test slate from the ASTM (“D-975”). This lists the minimum levels the fuel needs to meet in order to legally be called “diesel fuel”.  Cetane rating is an important diesel fuel property – your engine can’t run well if the fuel’s cetane value is too low. The government says you only have to have a minimum cetane rating of 40.  But if your fleet’s diesels need 45 or 47, then just going with the government-allowed minimum is going to cost you more in the long run through lost performance. 

Private groups that have a better pulse on the real world than government does often recommend higher standards. The government says you can get away with 40 cetane in the diesel fuel. But groups like the SAE and EMA and groups in Japan and Europe are pushing for 50 as the minimum standard for cetane. They’ve seen in the real world that the government minimum isn’t good enough.

Another good example of this concerns fuel storage tanks.  For many, storage tanks aren’t on their mind. Tanks require a certain amount of maintenance. Maintenance costs money. Facilities like critical-use facilities (i.e. hospitals) are required to have fuel inspections yearly. But what of their tanks? Regulations vary by state, but in many times, they are only required to do tank “servicing” every 3-5 years. Mind you, that doesn’t count actual repair of tanks if they have a structural issue. But the servicing and cleaning of fuel storage tanks isn’t an annual requirement.

Those on the ground level think differently

Now it comes out that private groups (i.e. Exxon, Texaco) are telling their associates that it’s a best practice model to clean their fuel storage tanks on an annual basis. Again, the run-up of doing what’s best vs. just doing what’s required.  These private groups on the ground level have seen the effects of the fuel changes on how the fuels behave in storage.  ULSD (ultra low sulfur diesel) fuels have seen exponential increases in microbial contamination and sludge formation.  They’re telling those they have influence over that they need to do tank servicing and cleaning every year as a best practice.

What does fuel tank services and fuel tank cleaning look like in this context? It involves filtering the fuel, killing the microbes, cleaning the sludge and dead organic matter out of the tank. It involves a certain amount of upfront cost, but smart businesses that follow these best practices include these costs in their PM budget. They know that PM is unavoidable and would rather spend the PM dollars than deal with the headaches.

So for your business, your fleet, your facility, who are you going to listen to? A government bureaucrat or someone in your field who has firsthand knowledge of what’s happening and knows the best thing to do to prevent problems?  

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This post was published on May 21, 2015 and was updated on March 2, 2023.

Topics: Fuel Storage, Fuel and Tank Services, Fuel Tank Cleaning