Tuesday, 8 May 2012

So... just what is in our Tanks?

In 2011 River Canal Rescue the nationwide breakdown company for boats attended over 600 instances of fuel related breakdowns, with over 50% of these problems being related specifically to fuel contamination. In previous years contamination could be broken down to two main categories 1)water contamination and 2) diesel bug. However over the last 12 months the cases of unidentified fuel contamination issues has risen dramatically, and the knock on effect has resulted in fundamental components failing in the fuel system.

There is a clear correlation between the increase in diesel issues and the introduction of low sulphur diesel. The biggest down side of this diesel begin its absorption and attraction of water, which is resulting in higher cases of diesel bug and fuel emulsification. However Low sulphur diesel can also cause issues with rubber and components in the fuel system because is contains less lubricants, and eventually this lack of lubrication can result in faster degradation of these components, resulting in seizures, breakages and seal failures. Due to this range of problems most Insurance companies and parts suppliers will no longer cover claims or warrantees where fuel issues are suspected as the cause of the failure, and with an increase in these types of issues it is more important than ever to know... What is in your Tank?

River Canal Rescue has always advocate the use of treatments to combat water in the fuel and diesel bug, and for these problems these offer the best quick fix solutions, even though good maintenance and regular removal of water form you tank will give you the same protection.

However over the last 15 months RCR have seen a rise in contamination issues that are far from the norm, with visible issues causing the diesel to look anything from ‘hot chocolate’ to ‘orange’ to being completely clear, and creating a number of issues throughout the fuel system. 

Typical symptoms are non starting, erratic running, cutting out, but in addition RCR have found fuel pumps experiencing major failures. Injection pumps failures have increase dramatically as the new mixes and bio fuels result in failures of seals, pumps running ‘dry’ and internal rusting which have resulted in an increase of over 34% in these type of failures.

Working with a number of external independent testers and laboratory’s has highlighted the fact that this problem is not unique to the inland waterways. Every industry from ships, to aircraft, tractors to back up generators are experiencing similar issues.

Ian Roos of Fuel QC recently stated that ..... for some time now we have been working on a number of cases where fuel samples are taken from systems where there is frequent filter blocking issues but the samples present clear and bright with no visible contaminants. However on investigation the fuel is found to be filled with crystal.

Ian Roos of Fuel QC recently stated that .....
here is some debate as to the origin because we do not have a definitive test for it.

Companies are all capitalising on the key mistake a lot of people make in assuming the sludge they see, and the problems they have with fuel contamination is microbial. Statistically 95% of the cases we have been getting in the last two months is due to paraffin crystallisation in the fuel. 

Paraffin crystals form inside water droplets; growing bigger and thicker over time, it can appear as a white layer on the tank bottom or the crystals can remains in suspension in the mid-level of the tank, these crystals can be invisible but when they hit a filter they will compact and block up the system. 

There are a lot of explanations as to why new contaminates are being found suspended in fuel and the most likely explanation is that it is a side effect of other elements/contaminants being present, of which water is the most important. Given time to settle water does not normally remain suspended in fuel and therefore this behaviour is most likely caused by additives such as water emulsifiers, which lock the water in to the fuel. And it is these molecules that are the basis for the crystallisation to form.

RCR’s experiences are consistent with these findings, and they now suspect that more and more Paraffin or kerosene is appearing in ordinarily diesel. Additionally the use of different treatments and chemicals being added to fuel are creating a chemical concoction inside fuel tanks.

Over all although diesel bug is still affecting boaters regularly and water contamination is still a big problem, this new issue is as yet undefined and in addition there appears to be so many variations and strains that any coverall ‘treatment’ is unrealistic, no matter what any manufacturer tells you.

However there are things that boaters can do to limit there susceptibility to the current minefield of problems and solutions.
  • Use reputable supplier
  • Use same supplier if possible
  • Remove water from tank on regular basis
  • Choose a treatment that works for you and stick to it
  • Take samples of fuel delivered. Check them before you accept the delivery.
  • if buying cheap fuel – mix a sample with your current fuel to see if there is a reaction