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Storing fuel without periodic testing: Playing with fire

Posted by: Erik Bjornstad

Is it a good idea to store fuel long term without periodic fuel testing?

storing fuelStored fuel tends to be “out of sight, out of mind”. It’s there when you need it, whenever that’s going to be. Or at least, you assume it’s going to work properly. Truth is, the only way to know if stored fuel is going to work properly at the right time is to do periodic testing of its specifications.

Some emergency users like health care facilities are already required by law to test their emergency backup fuel on an annual basis.  These requirements fall under the auspices of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and the 2012 editions of the Life Safety Code and Health Care Facilities Code – sections 101 and 99 of the National Fire Protection Association regulations. Health care facilities are governed by these regulations that cover most areas of their operations, including the emergency power backup systems that keep these facilities going.

For everyone else, they may not be required to take annual action in this area. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a really really good idea to do so.

Put it another way. If you store diesel fuel for annual or emergency use, and you don’t do some sort of testing on it, you’re really playing with fire. You're playing Russian roulette with fuel that you hope is going to be viable, but you really don’t have much of a clue if it's going to come through for you when you need it most.

If you rely on stored fuel to get things done, that’s no way to do business

You should have a sample of your stored fuel tested on an annual basis.  ASTM D-975 lists all the legal specifications for diesel fuel, but you don’t need to worry about all of them. At a minimum, you should look at:

Cetane rating – if your stored diesel develops a deficiency in this area, it won’t run properly in your equipment.

Water and sediment content – this can develop in the fuel and storage tank for a number of reasons over time. Exceeding the 0.05% maximum puts your equipment and engines at risk.

Microbial presence – in reality, you should be testing this quarterly. They’re easy to prevent with preventive biocide use, but more difficult to get rid of if not dealt with.  And this means you have to know they’re there before you can do this.

Distillation properties – confirms that the diesel fuel combusts in the proper way where it is being used.

Cloud and Plug Point – tests that quantify the important cold weather handling temperatures of the diesel fuel.

There are other tests of lesser importance like lubricity that you can look at, but these are the essential ones.  Many reputable third-party labs will conduct these tests – a la carte charges for these individual tests alone would be $1500-$2000. However, some partners have contractual relationships with testing facilities to get these done for a fraction of that cost. Talking to one of them can save you both big bucks (you may pay hundreds, not thousands) and big headaches (you’ll detect fuel problems before they bite you where and when it really hurts).

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This post was published on February 16, 2016 and was updated on March 31, 2017.

Topics: Fuel Storage, Fuel and Tank Services