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How Biofuels Have Changed the Fuels We Use Today: Part 4

Posted by: Erik Bjornstad

As a service to our customers, dealers, and friends, Bell Performance hosts quarterly webinars on fuel topics of interest to them and their customers. The following is a transcript of a recent webinar I hosted on the topic of biofuels and the impact they have had on today's fuels. If you would like to view the archived webinar, you can watch it on our YouTube channel here.

If you would like to read part 3, please click here. Click here to jump to the first post in the series.

Continued from Part 3.

The biggest problem, probably the single biggest problem that stored diesel fuel has is microbial growth over time. We could do a whole 1 or 2-hour webinar just on fuel microbes, in fact, we probably will at some point in the future.

Microbial Growth

microbes-in-fuel-2.jpgWe’re just going to touch on the main highlights here because we’re coming down towards the end of this but this is shaping up to be probably the biggest concern across the entire nation for diesel users is microbe problems because the main focus of this is biofuels.

Biodiesel has combined with the requirement to make ultra-low sulfur diesel, those 2 things have come together and caused an explosion in the instances of microbial growth in diesel fuel tanks and the microbes cause tank erosion, they do other things like cause excessive filter plugging, they destroy fuel quality because of the byproducts of biological respiration. Basically, they cause huge problems and a unique nuance of microbe problems in fuel tanks is they spread easily anywhere that fuel goes.

If you have a microbe problem in a central storage tank and you don’t do anything about it or you don’t even know it’s there, and then you fuel equipment and vehicles from that tank, those microbes will spread into the vehicles and suddenly you don’t just have to clean one tank, you have to clean out 100 tanks or 500 tanks or whatever. Microbes are a huge, huge problem for diesel users.

Again, anyone who stores fuel, both biodiesel and ethanol and of course regular diesel, they are affected by fuel and tank microbes.

Microbial Solutions

Recommended measures, again we could talk for an hour about this but we only have a few minutes so the main measures are, you have to do 2 things. You have to reduce the conditions that microbes find amenable for growing and then you have to do things to kill and get rid of the existing microbes.

What we mean by that, reducing the conditions, sometimes those are rolled into what they call housekeeping measures but for microbes, the main thing that falls under is controlling this free water build-up. Water is essential for microbes to have to grow, they need it. Virtually all tanks over time develop free water, I mean that’s just the way it is out in the field. When you have a free water layer at the bottom, you have a place where microbes can draw what they need from the water, draw what they need from the fuel, they got everything they need to grow and thrive and build up and cause problems in that tank. At least monthly you need to check the water, you need to see if you can remove the free water, that’s a housekeeping measure but that is not enough to be 100% sure you’re never going to have a problem.

The reason for that is, is because of the ultra-low sulfur diesel. Way back in the day, back in the ‘80s and the early ‘90s, and before that, the conventional wisdom was that if you kept the water under control then you would not have microbe problems. The reason why they thought that was because the fuel had a lot higher sulfur content back then. Sulfur is natural, we call it a natural biocide but it’s a preventive. Microbes do not like to be around sulfur so those fuels were a lot more resistant to microbial growth. 2006, 2007, ultra-low sulfur diesel, they had taken all the sulfur out of the diesel fuel because of The Clean Air Act, now these diesel fuels have no resistance to microbes. Then when you start blending biodiesel into them, they have no resistance and they have extra stuff put into them that microbes love to feed off of.

Microbial problems in diesel tanks are a huge, huge problem and simple housekeeping measures of just controlling free water will not keep them at bay forever. In order to keep them at bay to solve the problem, you need to use regular biocide treatment. Not water controllers, there’s a difference, the use of biocides.


microbiocide-for-drilling-fluid.jpgTreating a biocide at least once a quarter will kill the microbes in the tank and is your best bet from keeping them from coming back and causing a problem. This is extremely important and Ted talked about the measures for diesel fuel, that’s why we want to talk a little more about this in a brief fashion because this is really, really important for anyone who has stored diesel. There are a lot of things that call themselves biocides out there. If you’re trying to figure out the best one to have, you need to have these characteristics. We’ll touch on them briefly.

Broad-spectrum means it kills all of the kinds of microbes, bacteria, and fungus that are typically found. Fast-acting, typically you want it to get a complete kill once it’s properly mixed in within a couple of hours. Long-lasting kill, 4 weeks is about the top of the line that you’re going to get out of a biocide. The thing to remember is biocides are not something that you put into the fuel once a year and you come back and they’re still working. Biocides, when they kill microbes over time, they get used up and 4 weeks is about the best that you’re going to get, that’s what our biocide, Bellacide has, there are others that only last for 1 to 2 weeks. You want something that will last as long as possible.

Dual-phase effectiveness, what that means is since there’s water and fuel in storage tanks, then you need to have something that kills microbes in both areas. The most popular biocide which is Biobor actually gets deactivated in water and that actually makes it the least effective out of the major biocides. Then the last one, registration with EPA, is the one that really separates the most valid ones from the ones that might claim to be biocides but really aren’t. If you pick up the biocide pack, let’s say you had some … You get visited by a salesman and the salesman says, “Yeah, I got your biocide right here, use this.” You look at the bottle; it has to have 2 EPA registration numbers on it. If it doesn’t then that means, it’s not registered with EPA which means, first of all, it’s illegal to use it as a biocide and second of all you probably can’t trust anything that that company is telling you because the only legitimate biocides are the one that is registered with the EPA.

Lilly asked, are biocides dangerous for humans? Absolutely they are. They are required to be registered with the EPA pesticide division. When we say they’re dangerous for humans, what we mean is, about the same as if you had something that you were using like a weed killer or a pesticide of some kind. That means you don’t want to ingest them, you want to handle them properly. They have an MSPS that will give you the safety instructions. As long as you follow the safety instructions you will be fine but they are things that you do not want to be lax about handling because they are things designed to kill biological organisms.

Last Question

diesel-fuel-additives.jpg.jpgTed, Ted wanted to ask since we’re at the questions part here, Ted says, “How do you ensure that these products will meet the manufacturer’s specs to avoid liabilities concerns should engine problems occur due to the use of these third-party products? That’s an excellent question. The first thing that comes to mind, if you’re talking about on-road fuel additives like what you would use if you were treating stored ethanol or stored on-road diesel, that’s considered on-road fuel that’s going into on-road engines and so all fuel additives that are intended to go into on-road fuel, they have to be registered with the EPA.

The reason they have to be registered with EPA is the EPA essentially looks at the formula and makes an assessment that there’s nothing in those fuel additives that will harm the engine, essentially nothing in there that is chemically unlike what’s already in the fuel. That gives the consumer protection when it comes to the question, well, if I put this thing that I’d never heard of into my engine, how do I know it’s not going to blow up. Well, if it’s legally and properly registered with the EPA that is a tremendous safeguard to ensure that that’s probably not going to happen. Now there may be some other nuances to that. Ted, what I would suggest is get in touch with me afterward and we can discuss your question a little bit further unless I’ve already answered essentially what you needed to know.

The only other main aspect or main thing of concern with respect to Ted's question about liability and manufacturers is that there are some manufacturers who will write that they do not want people to use fuel additives. Now, on the one hand, there’s a difference between saying, “We don’t want you to use it and we don’t recommend that you use it”, versus “Don’t use it or we won’t honor your warranty.” Those are 2 separate things and there’s a lot of legal gray area between those 2 sides because on the one hand, engine manufacturers, they’re not in the business of recommending fuel additives, what they’re in the business of is selling more engines.

They need to essentially indemnify themselves or give themselves as much cushion so that they don’t have to spend time analyzing what fuel additives are good, what fuel additives are bad etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. There’s not really a legal precedent for engine manufacturers to make a blanket decision, if you added anything to your fuel, then you’re not going to get your warranty claim honored. Part of the reason for that is because gasoline and diesel already have certain kind of additives already in them from the refinery. They are already behind the 8 ball with respect to that. Hopefully, I’ve addressed the nuances of your question Ted.

Take Away

That brings us really to the end of the webinar here. The important takeaways, since we’re running up on time, just, you can see those if you access the recording but basically, both biodiesel and ethanol have caused the fuels the change in an adverse way, there are solutions for those, whether it’s about housekeeping measures and also use of fuel treatment methods. That’s basically the summation of what we’ve been talking about today. Ethanol-blended gasoline causes small equipment damage, lowers your millage, and corrodes tanks, but there are solutions to all of these.

Bell’s Fuel and Tank Services

The last thing that I wanted to touch on for people who have storage fuel, or you know people that have stored fuel, we’re introducing this thing called the Bell FTS program which is a service aspect. It’s Bell’s Fuel and Tank Services and we really started this because we started having a lot of customers really on the municipal end who they know that they need to treat their fuel but they need more of a full-service offering and so we use what we call a hybrid approach or we do fuel cleaning and fuel polishing, we take the best aspects of that and we combine that with the best and most effective chemical problem-solving agents to try and … and then we also combine that with fuel testing and diagnostics to ensure that if someone has got a problem, we help them identify what the problem is and how best to solve it. If that’s something that resonates with you, then by all means give us a call afterward, send us an email and we’ll talk a little bit more about it with you.

If you’re interested in Bell FTS or further information on anything that we talked about today absolutely give me a call at 877.231.6673.

Learn More

As we wrap this up, if you haven’t been to the Bell website before, most of you probably have, so we just wanted to remind you that we have a lot of helpful resources at bellperformace.com and at wefixfuel.com. The resource is also at the Bell Blog which you can go to bellperformance.com/blog or you can click on the bog link which is located here. We have both a commercial and a consumer blog so we really … that’s probably the single best place on our site to find information on the nuances of all of these things.

Learn more about our Fuel Management Services

This post was published on June 9, 2016 and was updated on April 12, 2022.

Topics: Diesel, Biodiesel, Fuel Storage, Fuel and Tank Services