THE ROLE OF FUEL ADDITIVES
Fuel quality management continues to be a major topic among fuel system operators and owners. Whether for a fuel wholesaler, retailer or large fuel user, fuel system maintenance costs continue to rise. One cost savings topic gaining popularity is the use of fuel additives. They reduce fuel system corrosion and fuel quality issues. There are tons of fuel additives on the market today. Choosing the right ones can be a challenge. How can you tell the good from the not so good or the bad? Four questions need to be asked: What? When? Why? How?
What additives should I use? The answer depends on the fuel quality problems you need to solve. Generally, any additive used to solve a problem should not create another. Ensure the additives used are fully tested, registered with the appropriate government agency (e.g. EPA Registration in the United States) and have industry approvals or certifications. If a product lacks any of these, be very cautious. It is important that all three of these conditions are met by the additive you choose. Also, be careful of outrageous claims. Frequently, uncertified and even illegal products are sold using unsubstantiated claims.
There are four categories of additives generally used for correcting fuel quality issues:
- Engine Performance Enhancers – include cetane improvers, injector cleaners, lubricity additives and smoke suppressants.
- Fuel Handling Additives – include anti-foam, conductivity, de-icing and anti-gel additives
- Fuel Stability Additives – include antioxidants, stabilizers, metal deactivators and dispersants
- Contamination Control Additives– include biocides, demulsifiers and corrosion inhibitors
When should I us additives? The short answer is, whenever fuel is out of spec. A common cause is water contamination. Other causes include cross contamination, aging and sediment. Occasionally fuel arrives to the end user out of spec due to a refining, storage or transportation problems. With fuel markets in over 150 countries and numerous fuel grades and specifications, knowing your specific market and the requirements set for each fuel grade is very important.
3 measurable standards help narrow down potential fuel quality issues
- Visual analysis of the fuel and fuel system are good first steps. The simple, most cost-effective way to identify a potential fuel problem is to obtain fuel samples and inspect the tank system. At this point a word of caution: fuel samples are only representative of a small area of the fuel in the tank and are often limited by the access available for taking the sample. Take several samples from all available access points at bottom, mid-fuel level and upper fuel level. While a bottom sample may show water and biomass, it may not be representative of the majority of fuel in the tank. The mid and upper layers may be clear and bright. They could also be highly emulsified and contaminated. Fuel that requires remediation will likely contain water and will show visual signs of oxidation or aging. Further observation of the fuel system might reveal moderate to high levels of corrosion. The combination of fuel that is poor and substantial levels of corrosion usually point to a fuel quality issue requiring further examination.
- Field testing has come a long way over the last few years. There are field tests available with instant or near instant results that can provide a more complete fuel quality picture. Again, caution is advised as testing is only as accurate as the samples provided. Some of the more common field tests include: acid number, ethanol presence water detection, octane, cetane and microbial tests. There are also particulate counters, relative humidity sensors, water ppm devices and much more. Tests can range from under ten dollars to portable analysis equipment costing thousands.
- Lab testing is a more definitive approach to fuel quality testing and is often used when fuel is stored for long term use, like fuel used for generator back-up power equipment. Testing for oxidation or thermal stability is essential, especially when visual analysis reveals asphaltenes, waxes and gums present or premature filter plugging becomes a problem. These tests are often expensive but can accurately test for water, sediment, microbial contamination and total fuel quality.
Of all three testing methods, visual analysis is the most cost-effective and easiest to do. Monthly visual testing can often reveal changes in fuel quality before it becomes a costly problem or liability.
Why use additives? There are many reasons additives are used by consumers but a few apply specifically to fuel quality management. Fuel ages and when water is present, aging and biodegradation are accelerated. Once water is removed from the fuel additives are used to remediate, stabilize, clean and enhance the fuel.
3 things fuel additives do
- Kill Microbial Contamination– Microbial contamination is quite possibly the biggest problem. Microbes have been attributed to accelerated fuel aging and microbial influenced corrosion. Both are responsible for billions of dollars in damages and costs to an industry making only pennies a gallon. The proper use of a fuel biocide will kill the microbial contamination causing many of the problems in both the fuel and fuel systems. Using a biocide that is both fuel and water soluble is an absolute necessity. The biocide needs to work in any water present to kill the microbes and it needs to dissolve in the fuel so that it can move throughout the fuel distribution system killing any microbial contaminants along the way. Remediating the fuel includes killing any microbial infestation in the fuel and fuel system. It should be mentioned that biocides can be used prophylactically – as a preventative measure. When fuels are refined, biocides are used to kill any microbial contamination. As they move throughout the distribution system, they have a limited life and lose their effectiveness. Prophylactic treatment can help prevent microbial growth reducing the cost and liabilities associated with biodegradation and microbial influenced corrosion.
- Remediate Aged and Biodegraded Fuel – when fuel degrades and ages, it can lose lubricity cetane or octane, detergents and stabilizers. Additive packages that include the proper formulation can help remediate the fuel that otherwise may not meet OEM specifications. They can also be used to help reduce system corrosion and stabilize the fuel for longer life and more optimal performance. Without additives, fuel can age to the point of failure especially when fuels are stored for extended periods of time. Additives help save fuel, reduce operating costs and reduce liabilities.
- Make Top Tier Fuel – The Top Tier fuel program, beginning in 2004, was created by auto manufacturers to create a fuel that goes beyond the current fuel specification requirements, creating a premier fuel performance standard. Some companies and fuel users are opting to offer the Top Tier blends which require additional fuel additives and in the case of Top Tier diesel some additional elements to meet the standard. This is not so much a fuel quality management issue. It is more a fuel performance option – another reason to use additives that can save money and reduce costs.
Even if you filter your fuel, additives are key to disinfection and remediation. You cannot completely decontaminate fuel or fuel systems without a biocide and aged or degraded fuel will need to be remediated with the proper additive package.
How are additives properly applied? For fuel quality management, the first step is to remove any free water and gross contaminates from the fuel. Given time, a majority of fuel contaminants settle to the bottom of the fuel tank where they can be pumped off. Free water can also remain in phase in the form of droplets (including microscopic) and haze. If fuel sampling reveals hazy fuel in the mid and upper layers, fuel cleaning with water remove may be necessary. The use of a demulsifier additive may be necessary. If it is phase separated ethanol enriched gasoline then another separate process is required to remediate the fuel. For diesel fuel, water removal is generally less complicated. Once the bottom contamination has been pumped out, additives can be used. There are few different ways to properly apply an additive to fuel.
3 ways to properly apply an additive to fuel
- Injection – there are injection systems available through Hammonds Technical Service that can add the appropriate dose of additive. These are usually found in larger systems that are made to blend fuels for specific customers or uses and are not readily available to the single user or small retailer.
- Agitation – The most common way to blend additives is during a fuel drop. When new fuel is added to a tank, it can provide enough agitation to adequately blend the additive into the fuel. While this is often the most common way of blending additives, it may not offer the best coverage. This is often the most cost-effective way.
- Circulation – One of the best ways to ensure full coverage of an additive is to circulate the additive throughout the fuel with a portable pumping unit. This is often the case when fuel filtration is being done at the same time the additive is introduced into the fuel. Circulation has a much better chance of moving the additive throughout the fuel. This is especially important when applying biocides. The faster the biocide contacts each fuel molecule and any water present, the more effective the microbial kill. Efficacy is dependent on application. If additives are simply dumped into the fuel with no means of circulation, the efficacy is likely to be lower than with circulation or agitation.
The what, when, why and how of additives leads to the WHO! Who do I use? Answer, only a quality manufacturer of additives that are tested, registered and certified for use. Biobor products are the worldwide standard. Biobor JF is the original, industry standard biocide since 1965, used in the most critical application – aviation. Independently tested, EPA registered and OEM approved for use in all hydrocarbons. It does not affect fuel performance and is more stable, less corrosive and safer to handle than other products. The Biobor family of products includes diesel fuel and gasoline additives designed to remediate, stabilize, clean and enhance fuel. If you manage fuel and fuel systems, and are not using additives as a way to reduce costs and liabilities call us and find how we can help. If you are using someone else’s products, call us and find out why you need to make the change to Biobor.