What’s in My Fuel? (Part 3)

The Effects of Dirty Fuel

As fuel ages, it degrades. Contaminants accelerate fuel degradation. Water is the most damaging contaminant and is attributed to a host of chain reactions. When water is present, microbes can grow. They commonly find their home in emulsified and free water. Microbes do not colonize easily in dissolved water. However, dissolved water does effect the stability of fuel causing accelerated aging. The pictures above show serious contamination in diesel fuel. The water found at the bottom of the tank contained a high level of microbial growth, a direct result of the contamination. Bacteria and fungi (including yeast and mold) will grow wherever water is found. Most of these microorganisms are aerobic – meaning they require oxygen to live and grow. Water supplies the need.

While there are other types of microbes – anaerobic and facultative anaerobes – aerobics are the primary ones found in fuels. Anaerobic microbes do not require oxygen to survive and facultative anaerobes can live in both oxygen and non-oxygen environments. While rarer, they are sometimes found. Aerobic microbes require very little water to multiply. Small areas of condensation on a tank wall can sustain a colony of aerobes. This microbial contamination causes biodeterioration of fuel. As fuel deteriorates, a layer of biofilm forms at the fuel/water interface in the bottom of the tank. Biomass colonies can also form and suspend within the fuel layer, especially when biofuel is present.

Microbes feed off hydrocarbons. They are often referred to as hydrocarbon utilizing microorganisms or Humbugs. As they eat the fuel, they produce an acidic byproduct. The acid settles to the bottom of the tank, remains suspended in the fuel and forms an acidic vapor in the fuel system raising the acidic content of the fuel system and causing microbial influenced corrosion (MIC). One of the most prevalent acids found is acetic acid caused by Acetobacter bacteria. They generate acetic acid from ethanol. Due to cross-contamination of fuels, ethanol is found in most fuel types including diesel allowing for the reproduction of Acetobacter and the production of acetic acid.

Acid formation accelerates the decomposition of fuel especially biodiesel. The molecules of biodiesel are predominantly fatty acid methyl esters (FAME). Its breakdown usually happens slowly unless water is present. The chemical breakdown of FAME by water (hydrolysis) is accelerated in an acidic environment. As a result biodiesel has a very short shelf life.

Most problems can be minimized with a fuel quality management program. Regular fuel sampling and immediate water removal when found. A Fuel Quality Management Program helps to identify contamination problems long before they reach the level seen in the photos above.  Contact Dixon Pumps for help with contamination control at 1-800-874-8976 or find additional information at our CleanFuel website.

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