Farmers across the UK are reporting issues with both Diesel and Gas Oil (Red Diesel), leading to several problems with blocked fuel filters in tractors and other plant equipment.
Craggs Energy, a regional fuel supplier covering the North West and Yorkshire along with its sister company, The Oil Depot, a nationwide fuel broker work with a range of agricultural customers to supply fuel; in particular, Gas Oil and they have noticed an increase in customers experiencing similar issues to what is being reported across the UK.
Recently, Chris Bingham, CEO at Craggs Energy and The Oil Depot was featured on BBC One’s Rip off Britain as a fuel expert following a fuel quality issue claimed to be caused by a major supermarket fuel station.
Chris Bingham talks about why these issues with Gas Oil are happening:
“First introduced from 2008, the levels of FAME in Gas Oil has varied, but until recently was at very low levels and caused few problems when used in farming or plant equipment.
The Road Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) requires all fuel refiners to add specific levels of FAME to most UK fuels. This has now risen significantly and from January 2019 the target was 8.5% and is set to increase up to 12.4% by 2032.
The challenge with biofuels such as FAME is that they have a chemical property which means they absorb surprisingly high levels of moisture from the atmosphere. This moisture forms tiny droplets in the fuel, then drops down to settle the bottom of the tank, where it collects as free water.
Where this water and the fuel meets, organic bacteria that are always present in mineral fuel in microscopic form, clump together and form a thick sludge, usually black, but can show as a white waxy substance. It is this family of ‘diesel bugs’ that are causing the problems we are now seeing.”
As part of Craggs Energy’s and The Oil Depot’s commitment to promoting best practice in the industry, they are issuing guidance to their customers who use mobile machinery to understand what preventative measures they can take to help tackle the issues with FAME in Gas Oil.
Check your fuel storage tank
If you still have a single skinned tank it’s probably time to upgrade to a bunded one. Aside from having a ‘second skin’ to prevent oil leaks, bunded tanks help reduce the levels of condensation in the fuel which is a major problem as the fuel gets cold overnight and then sunshine warms the single skin of the tank. The temperature difference promotes condensation, especially in the spring and autumn seasons when the highest temperature changes occur.
Keeping the tank in a location that is as dry as possible will help reduce the water build-up and in turn the contamination issues. Therefore, we recommend where possible storing your tank out of the rain. However, storing inside farm buildings that contain livestock over the winter should also be avoided as the humidity of these sheds can lead to significant problems.
Top up before you run low
The most common time for the problem with contamination to be reported is immediately after a fuel delivery. This often leads to the conclusion that the fuel delivery has been the source of the problem – but what happens is that if the fuel level was very low before the delivery, the action of pumping fuel in at high pressure causes the contamination at the bottom of the tank (often below the outlet level) to mix around the fuel and then out of the fuel lines into the engine or boiler.
One option is to make sure any water and contamination in the bottom of the tank is regularly drained, another is to not allow the fuel levels to drop much below halfway to reduce the risk of stirring up any contamination. It should be noted that this second option will only delay, not resolve the problem!
Protect your machinery with additives
There is no additive which can remove water from the fuel, however, there are additives that can reduce the buildup of microbial contamination, although care must be taken, as using these additives in a badly contaminated tank will tend to flood the fuel lines and filters with dead bacterial sludge.
Assuming that the tank and fuel is clean, the use of fuel additives (which are supplied by most major fuel distributors) will help slow the buildup and reduce the risk of waxing and of course, still provide the usual performance and efficiency improvements.
Absorb water from your storage tank
There are various water soaking devices you can use to absorb water from your fuel storage tank which includes the Tank Sponge Eco, a device which is dropped into the tank to soak up any water that might form at the bottom. Once full, the insert within the device can be replaced with a new unit, each one able to absorb up to 700ml.
The issues with FAME in Gas Oil are likely to be made worse as temperatures fall over winter as the water contained within the fuel can become waxy and this already seems to have been the case in the early cold snaps we have had so far.
The reason for adding FAME to fuel is to reduce the levels of fossil fuels, by replacing part of the mineral fuel with a sustainable element, FAME is a perfectly good fuel in most situations and at lower temperature levels there have been very few issues reported.
Diesel users must tackle these issues now as FAME isn’t going away and will only increase over time with the next increase to 10.1% set for 2021.