Fuel and Tank Cleaning Fact vs. Fiction

Reality Check

Fuel contamination and dirty tanks are a reality for tank owners today. Poor fuel quality is responsible for rising costs for tank and fuel system owners.

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Liability issues caused by microbial influenced corrosion abound. The tank owner is faced with skyrocketing maintenance costs and liabilities that were not a problem a decade ago. Contaminated fuel attributes to the corrosion issue, part of the larger global corrosion problem costing over $2.5 trillion dollars each year. Corrosion represents the single largest expense in the US economy, 6.2% GDP. Today’s tank owners are having trouble coming to grips with the cost of bad fuel. Separating fact from fiction will help identify an acceptable solution to dirty tanks and contaminated fuel.

Fiction often begins with the idea that tank and fuel cleaning is too expensive. Fact exposes the truth – you cannot afford to have dirty tanks and fuel. The rising cost of equipment, maintenance and liability issues are all attributed to contaminated fuel. The cost benefit of clean tanks and fuel far outweigh the cost to clean.

Fiction includes believing your tanks and fuel are clean. Fact – almost 75% of fuel sampled contain moderate to serious contamination. Exposing the dangers of blind belief that your tanks are clean is a necessary step to taking appropriate action. A fuel sampler is an investment worth making. Monitoring devices and water finding paste can fail. The most effective way to determine what is in your tank is to take a bottom sample.

Helping tank owners peel away fact from fiction is key to reducing the costs associated with contaminated tanks and fuel. Identifying cost effective options to clean and maintain tanks will help owners to take the necessary steps to fuel quality management and tank maintenance. Call Dixon Pumps at 1-800-874-8976 or check out our Online Store where you can order a fuel sampler and much more.


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.

It Starts with a Sample

65-00100-1Fuel quality management does not just happen. It starts with a sample. Unless you know what is in your tank, it is impossible to manage its quality. The first defense against fuel quality issues is regular sampling. Ideally, take a good bottom sample from the lowest access point in the tank at least once a week – more often if deliveries are made.  If the sample is visually clear and free of water or large contaminants you can breath a little easier.  However, clear fuel does not necessarily mean clean fuel.  Because contaminates can be microscopic and still cause damage, they may not be easily seen with the eye.

field testsTesting can also be periodically done to rule out any additional issues that might not be visible to the eye during sampling. There are economical field tests available that can detect water, acid level, ethanol and bacteria. Lab testing is also an option. While more expensive, it will provide a more detailed analysis of the fuel.  For critical applications, this if very important.

Check out Dixon Pumps Online Store for easy ordering of fuel samplers, fuel test kits and other fuel quality management accessories. If you have a question, email us at dixon@dixonpumps.com or give us a call at 1-800-874-8976.