Four Essentials to Know About Fuel
and Three Solutions
Are problems with your stored fuel costing your business precious dollars? You're not alone - the stored fuel landscape is littered with expensive problems developing in fuel storage tanks. Knowing the essential facts about your fuels, along with the right solutions to those costly problems, can put money back in the pocket of you and your business.
Let's review the best practice state of affairs for stored fuels.
#1 – Water in fuel tanks or stored fuels means a microbial problem soon. The ULSD mandate has only made this problem more widespread.
Experienced fuel suppliers and users know that the water phase in a storage tank is the determining factor for whether microbe problems are going to raise their head. Like all biological organisms, bacteria and fungi (sometimes called algae) need water to survive. These microbes live between the water at the bottom of the tank and the diesel fuel on top of the tank. They draw nutrients from feeding on the complex organic components of the fuel and multiply like crazy until you have a microbe infestation problem in the tank.
ULSD (ultra-low sulfur diesel) had the unintended consequence of making this problem worse. Removing the sulfur from the fuel made it better for the environment, but also made it more inviting for microbes to grow and thrive in. The common rationale was that sulfur used to act as a natural bactericide. But that's not it - there are plenty of species of microbes that thrive in high-sulfur environments. It has more to do with how the regulations and processing of the #2 diesel fuel (espcially with the lowering of the aromatic content) that gave us all fuel that is far more inviting to microbial contamination than the fuels of the past. So businesses and fleets who store ULSD are more likely to have bacterial problems in their fuel tanks than they were ten years ago.
And keep in mind that “microbial growth” causes these problems:
- destroyed fuel quality
- tank corrosion
- plugged filters & stalled equipment
It’s a costly problem for businesses on multiple levels.
#2 - Microbes Don’t Just Grow In Diesel Fuel; Ethanol and Biodiesel Have Issues Too
Those storing fuels have traditionally focused the majority of their efforts on on-road and marine diesel fuels with respect to keeping them free of microbes like bacteria and fungi. Not because other fuels like ethanol (E10 or E15) or biodiesel are resistant to them, but because of #2 diesel’s more widespread availability or use in the market segments that tend to store them for longer periods of time, and storage time is a key influencer on whether microbial problems will occur (longer storage times equal longer exposure to the conditions favorable to microbial growth in a given system). All other things being equal, ethanol blends and biodiesel blends are just as likely to wind up with microbial contamination as on-road or marine diesel fuel.
Many businesses now are using low-percentage biodiesel blends like B5 to enhance the lubricity of their ultra low sulfur diesel blends while helping them meet green fuel standards. Biodiesel blends are not immune to microbial problems; they provide excellent sources of nutrients for bacteria and fungi in stored fuel tanks, even at low concentrations.
#3 – Controlling Water Is the Key to Preservation of Fuel Quality, Especially With Ethanol
For the business or consumer who stores ethanol fuels for any length of time, restricting the accumulation of stored water is the key to ensuring the stability of the fuel blend and the prevention of microbial problems that would otherwise be inevitable. Water impacts ethanol fuels to a greater extent than it does diesel fuels.
Ethanol blends like E10 or E15 are a blend of two phases – gasoline and ethanol (ethyl alcohol). Normally this mixture stays seamlessly together. But ethanol loves to attract water and causes a certain percentage of the attracted water to mix with the fuel blend, absorbing it. Each ethanol blend has a tolerance threshold for the volume of water it may absorb, and this threshold varies according to temperature and the percent alcohol in the fuel blend. A good baseline threshold to consider is 0.5% by volume.
Once the amount of absorbed water reaches this threshold, any additional water causes “phase separation”. That’s when the ethanol within the fuel mix cannot absorb any more water, and it falls out of solution along with any of the water it had absorbed up to that point. The user now has a layer of ethanol and water at the bottom of the tank. If they’re unlucky enough to have it happen within an engine fuel tank, that engine may start burning close to pure ethanol fuel, with undesirable consequences.
Phase separation is the aspect of ethanol fuel instability that you are most likely to be concerned with. If your ethanol fuel separates, you’re going to lose octane value (because the ethanol phase strips out octane-enhancing components from the fuel) in the fuel you’ve invested in.
#4 – higher ethanol levels mean amplifying these problems
For the majority of fuel users, ethanol usage used to top out at 5-7% of the gasoline volume. That changed in the mid-2000s after the phase out of MTBE as a gasoline oxygenate (which was then and now required in order to make on-road gasoline more friendly for air quality.) 10% ethanol became the norm in the marketplace and consumers almost immediately became aware of the fuel’s deficiencies with respect to its interactions with polymers (rubber and plastic) and an increase in fuel consumption.
There’s a lot to be said on the topic of ethanol, so if you’re interested in more information, we’ve prepared some additional information on ethanol problems and here.
E15 is also available in some areas. What problems might you have when you start implementing it? The short answer is, more of the same problems that E10 users are facing currently.
Lower Mileage from Less Energy - A 15% ethanol fuel has even less energy value than E10 does, so user fuel mileage will continue to drop.
More Phase Separation - Phase separation becomes more common with E15 fuel because the water absorption threshold decreases as the ethanol goes up.
More and Faster Ethanol Solvency Damage - The issue of solvency and corrosion damage also becomes more severe as the concentration of ethanol increases by 50% from E10 to E15, causing softening and dissolving of polymer parts in fuel systems. This damage is less in recent vehicle models, but the older vehicle models manufactured before 2007 and most small equipment older than a year old can be prone to this.
More Corrosion for Storage Customers - The corrosion of aluminum and other metals from consistent exposure to ethanol blends is a multi-faceted problem that produces costs both in capital equipment replacement and lost opportunity costs from production interruptions.
Fuel Suppliers Can Be Integral Cogs In Preventing or Spreading Microbial Problems
If a fuel supplier or gas station has a bacterial issue, their customers are probably going to have one, too. These microbes transfer easily from tank to tank, especially if the distribution system components have gone years without treatment. From that point, it’s a short jump to where microbes are multiplying in fuel tanks until the end user (you) has the same kind of problems the supplier had. Namely, clogged fuel filters, corroding tanks and performance-robbing buildup of deposits (made worse by the acids the microbes excrete, which cause fuel to break apart and lose combustion quality).
Fuel suppliers spend significant amounts of time and money each year trying to keep the problem of bacteria in fuel under control. However, an infected storage tank can choke off the life blood of your business.
Microbial problems can be eliminated, but only with the right kind of solution. For microbial problems, use a biocide followed by a water-controlling fuel treatment.
What Can You Do? Having knowledge of the availability of fuel biocide products is one of the best measures you can take. Biocides are very tightly controlled from a regulatory standpoint and there aren’t that many of them out there. If you can use something that will kill off the microbial presence with stored fuel through the proper application and distribution of the biocide, you’ve got a savings center on your hands. You want to prevent a “code red emergency,” especially when you know that a biocide is the only solution for your need.
To prevent the establishment of microbial presence in tanks, you do have to keep water buildup under control (in states with humid climates year-round, that’s certainly a tall order). But once microbes do infest a fuel tank, simply removing the water will not be enough to kill and remove the infestation. They can still hang around in the fuel tank, waiting for water to accumulate again so they can begin their lifecycle anew. Or they can lay dormant behind shields of biomass where they become revived when the biomass is disturbed by the influx or movement of new fuel somewhere in the system.
Any product that claims to destroy and remove an infection simply by controlling water accumulation is not telling the whole truth. To get rid of the fuel infection for good (and the problems that go with it), you need to use a fuel biocide to disinfect the tank and kill the microbes for good. Biocide treatments are not so easy to find because they are very tightly regulated by the EPA.
Of the biocide solutions available, you can expect to have a treat ratio of between 1:2000 and 1:10000. The biggest influence on treat rate in this wide margin is whether you’re using it as a shock treatment (to kill an existing infection that has reared its head) or an on-going maintenance dosage (to prevent microbial problems from appearing in the future). Generally, the treat rate for shock treatment is about twice that of a maintenance dosage.
For diesel fuel storage, antioxidants and water controllers are essential
For preserving diesel stability and quality, use an antioxidant and a water controller.
What Can You Do? For diesel and biodiesel products outside of biocides, having antioxidant and water control solutions will offer the greatest benefit for fuel stability. An antioxidant, simply speaking, interrupts the chemical reactions that happen in fuel when it is exposed to oxygen and heat. Oxygen exposure initiates the reactions while heat (the kind you’d get in a warm climate area) provides the energy to drive the reactions faster. For consumers working with diesel and biodiesel, they should be looking towards an antioxidant fuel treatment that may be added as early on in the storage process as possible. The earlier the antioxidant is in the fuel, the faster it can stop chemical precursors of instability from happening.
Water controllers for diesel fuel help to eliminate any of the reactions initiated by water exposure. If you’re talking about solutions with the greatest potential of benefit for downstream customers, you’d probably want to lean towards a multifunction water control that also adds benefits like detergency. This would provide maximum benefit for fuel users.
Ethanol fuel users need water control, but their needs don’t stop there
We mentioned water control in diesel, but as expressed earlier, it is most critical in ethanol blends. But ethanol has so many problems, real and perceived, that the greatest opportunity to help ethanol fuel consumers revolves around solutions that effectively control the water and stop phase separation while also offering peace of mind in terms of regaining some of the mileage lost with E10 and E15.
What Can You Do? Having solutions for all three of these concerns will position you for savings. There are choices for water controllers for ethanol, but the key caveat with those is that you do not want to utilize one that uses an alcohol base for its effectiveness. As you probably can figure out, using such a treatment would be like simply adding more ethanol to control the water being attracted by the ethanol. If you are experiencing a spike in maintenance costs related to the ethanol fuel, they can be substantially reduced with an ethanol fuel protectant that protects against ethanol solvency and corrosion. If you’re battling lower mileage because of ethanol, this can be improved by adding a combination of combustion improver and fuel detergent.
Maintenance issues can be most effectively influenced with a protectant that interrupts the solvency and corrosion of the fuel. Reduced mileage can be influenced positively with a combustion improver that should be paired with detergency.
This whole area of mileage is the largest grey area for consumers, big and small. There is nothing you can add to the fuel that will suddenly boost the mileage someone’s going to get from their E10/E15 by 25% or similar figures. When you incorporate a detergent to restore engine conditioning to its peak, you can expect 5-10% improvements, which typically should be more than enough to see substantial improvement to your bottom line.
Customers Appreciate Solutions
At Bell Performance, we fix fuel. In this day and age where there’s so much information out there, you can be overwhelmed in trying to sort it all out. The bottom line health of your company depends upon you keeping on top of fuel needs and fuel problems. If you know the problems you’re having, why those problems are happening, and what will solve those problems, you will have increased the savings in your busines .