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Good fuel maintenance starts with fuel sampling

Posted by: Erik Bjornstad

Sometimes when you store fuel, it’s necessary to have fuel testing done to verify that it’s still in useable condition.  Some installations like hospital are required by law to do this on an annual basis (or more). Other mission critical installations also find it in their best interests to stay on top of their stored fuel condition by annual testing. It’s important to know what you can expect, and the only way to really know is to test the fuel’s properties (specifications).  And a test is only as good as the sample is.

fuel samplingProper sampling techniques can be complex enough that you can take a multi-day class on the subject and get a certification in fuel sampling.  None of us have time for that, so we’re looking at some simple tips you can use to ensure you get reliable fuel samples that will convey accurate results on the real condition your fuel is in.

Start With The Basics

Make sure your sampling device and containers are clean.  You’d think this is elementary, but apparently not.

The kind of container does matter. Glass is inert but requires more specialized packaging if you’re going to mail off the sample to a lab.  A clean plastic container made with fluorinated plastic is quite acceptable.  You need the plastic to be fluorinated to prevent softening and reactivity over time.

Be sure not to overfill the container – 80% full is a safe benchmark that allows for expansion of the liquid inside.

How Much Do You Need?

How much of a sample do you need? The exact answer depends on the specific tests you want done – some tests required more than others.  One quart is a good rule of thumb to follow.

Be sure to pull two fuel samples, though. You want to keep a backup in case something happens to the first one.

How To Take Samples

Once you know these, you to have know how best to take the sample. The industry standard is a device called a Bacon Bomb.  Some call it a Pencil Bomb or a Fuel Thief. It looks like a cylinder that is lowered into the tank, with a cord that can be pulled to allow fuel to flow into the cylinder at the appropriate time.  They are usually made from brass or some nonsparking metal for safety.

When sampling from a fuel tank, you should take one sample each from the top, middle and bottom of the tank. The composite results will give you the best picture of the fuel condition in the tank. The fuel at the top can look markedly different than the fuel at the bottom of the tank.

If you get fuel deliveries on a regular basis, another idea would be to take a sample directly from the fuel delivery truck. This would give you a fuel sample representative of what was retrieved from the fuel terminal itself.

Shipping It Off For Testing

When sending the sample off for testing, make sure it has a tightly-sealed cap. Put the bottle inside of a plastic bag, seal the bag, then package it in a corrugated box.  This is the acceptable shipping container for petroleum fuel samples.

You may be interested in these other posts:


Are You Fuel Ready? The Checklist


This post was published on January 12, 2016 and was updated on March 31, 2017.

Topics: Fuel Storage, Fuel and Tank Services