Fuel Quality

Fuel is changing rapidly. Where hydrocarbon fuel quality was once consistent, now each batch of fuel has varying degrees of quality measured against industry specifications. As refining margins decrease globally, the drive to maximise crude yeild increases. This in turn leads to an increase in contaminants shown to reduce fuel quality. Global fuel specifications are also being updated more freuqently in order to gradually reduce dependence on fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions. 

By altering the components of hydrocarbon fuels and combining new emissions prevention technology, it is possible to reduce the production of harmful emissions (Sulphur, Nitrogen & Carbon Oxides) post-combustion. The predominant changes to the components of fuel are a reduction in sulphur content and an increase in bio-derived content such as Bioethanol or FAME (Fatty Acid Methyl Ester), often found in Biodiesel. These changes have a proven depreciatory effect on the fuel quality despite the warnings of industry professionals and users. Changes are primarily mandated by local and international legislation through evolving fuel specification changes and engine emissions regulation. 

Fuel quality is deteriorating. Test data shows a direct correlation between key changes in fuel components and the number of off-specification (i.e poor quality) fuels. For example, in the marine industry, a recent study saw the greastest recorded rise in poor quality delivered fuels - 1 in 4 M.G.O. (Marine Gas Oil / ISO 8217) samples being off-specification. A similar pattern has been seen in both road & off-road fuels across Europe & the U.S. These off-specification fuels, without changing their processing, can only be consistently preserved through the use of fuel treatments. 

Poor fuel quality has a detrimental impact on both storage and combustion. These ultimately lead to key problems in organisational operations, including:

 • Increased fuel spend

 • Increased maintenance

 • Reduced operational efficiency

Fuelcare provide a range of services to combat the delterious effect poor fuel quality has on important operations. Fuelcare can provide biocides, detergents and multifunction additives to keep your fuel quality optimal and your assets running efficiently. The majority of fuel quality problems can be linked to the most recent changes in fuel specifications: lowering Sulphur content and increasing biologically derived content such as FAME. 

Lowering Sulphur Content

The reduction of Sulphur in fuels has been implemented to allow the use of emissions reduction technologies in engines. The side effects to this can be varied.

Sulphur inhibits microbial growth in fuel - the less Sulphur present, the more likely organic growth is achieved. This in turn leads to:

  • Filter blockages (leading to fuel starvation & engine shutdown)

  • Fuel pump failure and tank & line corrosion.

  • Poor fuel stability leading to tank sludge and fuel discolouration.

  • Vastly reduced lubricity leading to possible pump system failure & other issues.

  • Processing to remove Sulphur removes other components with natural lubricity.

  • Combustion efficiency - a small but noticeable reduction in fuel economy.

Sulphur content is varied depending on the fuel specification and local legislation. The predominant reduction in Sulphur now makes most road & off-road fuel supplies 'U.L.S.D.' or 'Ultra Low Sulphur Diesel' - i.e. containing less than 10 or 15ppm.

Increasing Biologically - Derived Content

The increase in Bio-derived content in your fuel, whilst shown to offset the lubricity issues of reduced Sulphur, has some known side-effects to your fuel quality:

  • Poor oxidation stability (tank sludge).

  • Affinity for water and therefore microbial growth.

  • Poor cold flow properties.

  • Reduced combustion & ignition efficiency.

  • Increased filter blocking tendency.

  • May be corrosive to certain materials.

  • Rubber gaskets, hoses & seals may swell.

Bio-derived content is now found in most fuel specifications to some degree including automotive & marine fuels. Other industries will see an increase in this component before 2020 as fuel regulations change

Microbiological Growth in Hydrocarbon Fuels

One of the most common issues facing fuel quality is that of microbiological contamination. It is almost impossible to eradicate water and microbiological contamination from fuel storage tanks and systems used for gas oil, derv, kerosene and petroleum spirit. The resultant brown or black slimes and sludge are a major cause of costly tank corrosion, filter blockages, pump failure, and poor performance. Treatment can provide the most effective and economical solution to fuel spoilage.

It is well known that contamination in the form of bacteria or fungal growth exists in most middle distillate fuel oil storage tanks downstream from the refinery. The remedies are less well known. The result of contamination can be simply poor performance of engines or oil burners or, more seriously, partial blockage of fuel lines and fuel filters due to the accumulation of black sludge and slimes in the bottom of the fuel storage tank. The catastrophic failure of the engines or burners, acidic corrosion of fuel pumps, injectors and storage tanks can cause fatal consequences and is certainly expensive.

There are usually high levels of awareness of the cause and solution to microbiological contamination amongst personnel in the oil distribution chain. On the other hand, the general public, and service industries engaged in oil burner and engine maintenance are usually unable to diagnose the problem without expert help.

Airborne bacteria and fungi can readily enter fuel tanks through air vents, and multiply very fast in this bottom water phase. These micro-organisms do in fact need the presence of water in order to multiply, but given a very small initial quantity, they can actually produce their own supply of water by feeding off the fuel. This is particularly likely to happen in diesel and gas oil tanks where it is impossible to exclude water altogether. Water enters these tanks by various methods, such as through condensation, rain water or ground water leakage, or even with the fuel delivery.

Microbiological growth will often produce black sludge but the worst type of micro-organisms are the Sulphate reducing bacteria (S.R.B.'s). These produce acidic by-products which can corrode fuel tanks and systems, with the potential to cause severe damage.

There is strong evidence that the incidence of contamination is increasing due to legislative fuel changes. Local weather conditions are often overlooked as the cause of this contamination producing condensation in cold periods followed by rapid growth in following warm periods. Treatment with a fuel biocide is often the only 100% effective way of dealing with microbial fuel contamination. Fuelcare recommend FuelClear™ MB15 Fuel Biocide for immediate results.