We’ve preached it before on the Bell blog and we’ll continue to say it. The fuels of today have inherently changed when compared to the fuels of the past. Some of the changes may be familiar to blog readers – less sulfur and lower aromatics in on-road diesel fuels, changes to gasoline composition designed to make them better for the environment (and which also change their properties like their seasonal vapor pressure), and the widespread influx of biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel to our nation’s fuel supplies.
This means fuel managers have to change the way they take care of these fuels as well. People in the industry are finding this out because they’ve been seeing fuel storage problems and issues with their fuels and tanks on a scale they never would have expected years ago. The consequences of changing the fuels to meet environmental and regulatory demands are coming to roost.
Putting The Cart Before The Horse?
Despite recognizing this, it doesn’t just imply the need for more things like fuel polishing or tank cleaning or using more fuel additives. Were it so simple……many times, those solutions can be the right ones. But too often, jumping immediately to them is like putting the cart before the horse. Those kind of solutions are the right ones for later in the process. But jumping to them without assessing the stored fuel to see if or how the fuel’s condition has changed (and what need that implies) isn’t what best practice fuel upkeep entails.
Today’s businesses with stored fuel are finding, increasingly, that condition monitoring for stored fuel is something they now have to pay attention to.
What are we talking about when we mention condition monitoring for stored fuel? Simply put, it’s taking steps to assess or keep track of the condition of stored fuel at some kind of regular interval.
“Some kind of regular interval” is a key consideration. Regular condition monitoring for stored fuel is the only way to: a) make sure the stored fuel is in the condition it should be (which is essential if you want it to actually work), and b) see whether any fuel-related problems are developing before they become full-blown or serious.
This last point is especially apropos when it comes to the issue of microbial presence in stored fuel tanks and fuel systems. Considering how much we’re all living in a microbial world, it is shocking how little fuel professionals pay attention to the possibilities of microbial problems. Maybe because they still remember the days when groups like the US Army said you could easily get years of good storage life out of stored diesel or gasoline if you just got rid of any water you found.
Since we know fuels of today HAVE inherently changed in important ways, it shouldn’t surprise us that this is not the case anymore.
It's a microbial world, we're just living in it
Condition monitoring is indispensable to avoiding microbial problems in stored fuels because microbes are everywhere. We’re all “living in a microbial world”, which is what you realize when you know what microbiologists know.
- Every person has 100 trillion microbes living on their bodies at any given time.
- There are 100 trillion trillion microbes for every man, woman and child on the face of the earth.
- Every single physical surface, everywhere you go, can have up to a million microbes (or more) per square cm.
- Every drop of water you drink contains between 10,000 and 1 million microbes. Every drop (not every cup or every ounce).
Now take these facts and zoom in, more specifically, to fuel storage systems. In free bottom water of the kind you find in fuel systems, every mL can contain 1 billion microbes or more. All of these systems and storage tanks have at least some free water, even when you think you’ve gotten all of it out. The temporary exception to this might be if you do man entry cleaning of the storage tank (the most complete cleaning, but by far the most expensive). But even then, it’s just a matter of waiting a little bit for free water to collect again.
Given the fact there are so many microbes around us, everywhere we go, we should expect microbial problems in fuel storage systems. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.
This brings us back to Condition Monitoring. There are important steps that anyone with stored fuel can take to put themselves in a better position to head off stored fuel problems, microbial or otherwise, before the problems become really serious. Good condition monitoring involves knowing what kinds of things to do, how to do them and when to do them.
P.S. Speaking of which, we’re doing a free webinar on "Condition Monitoring Essentials For Stored Fuel" on August 29th at 11am.
This post was published on August 15, 2018 and was updated on August 15, 2018.