Fuel additives, applied properly, can be a corrective for some chronic problems
By Stephen Bennett
Season to season, heating oil deliverymen encounter systems clogged to varying degrees by sediment or bacterial growth, which brings us to the use of fuel additives to treat such problems.
The quality of No. 2 home heating oil and the presence of sediment and water in tanks are prime factors that lead to the plugging of filters, nozzles and strainers, requiring fuel dealers to go back to customers and repeat service, said suppliers and distributors of additives.
Paul Nazzaro, owner of Advanced Fuel Solutions, North Reading, Mass., noted that reports published by Brookhaven National Laboratory have advised heating oil dealers that they “could go a good distance in eradicating or reducing unscheduled calls” through judicious use of additives. “That’s why there’s been a big move by the industry to use them,” Nazzaro said.
When a tank contains a build-up of sediment, a delivery stirs up trouble.
“This stuff gets woken up at every fuel delivery,” Nazzaro said. “Fuel dispensed at 65 or 70 gallons per minute agitates the materials on the tank bottom. Left untended, the materials get drawn into fuel lines, eventually plugging filters, nozzles and strainers and leading to ‘no heat’ complaints from customers.”
The amount of time fuel has been left sitting in a tank can contribute to sedimentation, while other factors, including reduced sulfur content and the inclusion of biofuel, can affect cold flow operability.
Multifunctional additives such as the kind that Nazzaro’s company formulates contain a dispersant, a corrosion inhibitor, a stabilizer and a metal deactivator — each ingredient designed to address a specific challenge.
The dispersant is designed to suspend contaminants in small pieces that can be captured by the strainer or filter. The corrosion inhibitor is designed to protect tanks and tank trucks from naturally corrosive properties in fuel; a stabilizer is designed to counter conditions in the off-season when oil often sit in tanks for extended periods, resulting in oxidation and sedimentation. A metal de-activator is necessary because the copper lines leading to the burner act as an accelerant to corrosive activity, which leads to the fallout of impurities in the oil.
Dennis K. Burke, Inc. distributes Fuel Advantage Marketing’s Avalux, a multi-functional additive, and also uses Surrephyre 3000 from Fuel Treatment Specialists.
“A fuel dealer selling a contract for $189 per year really only wants to be out once a year doing the conventional cleanout,” Nazzaro said. “Otherwise, a dealer’s service department risks running at a deficit. Additives, used effectively, can reduce the additional service calls.”
Other suppliers market products designed to achieve similar results.
“The needs are still the same,” said Ted Burke, president of Dennis K. Burke, Inc., Chelsea, Mass. “Additives are needed to address sludge deposits and cold flow operability.” Burke noted that his company distributes Fuel Advantage Marketing’s Avalux, a multifunctional additive that contains a fuel stabilizer to minimize fuel degradation and sludge formation; a dispersant to gradually dissolve sludge and disperse water to retard bacterial growth; detergent to clean the supply system, including nozzles; a corrosion inhibitor to protect storage tanks from rust and corrosion; and a metal deactivator to keep metal particles, particularly copper, from causing chemical reactions. Burke said his company also uses Surrephyre 3000 from Fuel Treatment Specialists.
Utility markets a biocide under the name Petrocide.
The additives, which can be added at a distribution site or to the truck tank, are designed to clean nozzles and keep filters from jamming. “Dealers see significant drops in service calls,” Burke said.
Nazzaro, like many in the industry, has been campaigning for the greater adoption of bioheat. He hopes that an effort to amend ASTM 396 – the official definition of heating oil – to include two percent to five percent biofuel will succeed at the next ASTM meeting in December 2007. “Then we’ll have B5 and biofuel mainstreamed,” he said.
If that happens dealers will still need to attend to many of the same handling and treatment issues, with some wrinkles thrown in. For example, don’t look for an additive that will significantly enhance biofuel’s cold flow operability in higher concentrations. “There’s really no additive that’s ready for primetime to address cold flow in biofuel,” he said.
But there are commercially available stabilizers suited for biofuel, Nazzaro said. Also, there are additives – biocides – that can be used when heating oil that contains biofuel is suspected of having biological growth. However, Nazzaro advised against “arbitrarily pouring an EPA registered biocide into a tank,” saying the fuel should be field-tested or sent to a lab for analysis. Otherwise, “it’s throwing good money after bad.”
“If you keep feeding the system that biocide, it becomes like giving penicillin to a person until it doesn’t work any more,” he added. “The bugs will build up an immunity.”
Aetna Chemical Corp., Elmwood, N.J., which provides a range of additive products for treating heating oil, including sludge dispersant and stabilizers, is marketing Actene HR Bio. “It’s a haze reducer,” said Val DeAppolonio, Aetna’s vice president of sales, “designed to cause water in heating oil and biofuel to drop to the bottom of a tank.” Aetna also markets biocides, DeAppolonio said.
For general operability, “there is no specific additive that works on the soy portion – the biofuel – in heating oil,” said Burke of Dennis K. Burke. “For heating oil that contains biofuel it’s best to use the same additives as for No. 2 heating oil, keeping in mind that it won’t treat or affect the soy-based biofuel.”
When a problem with biological growth does occur, the precise cause is often difficult to pinpoint, according to Audie Kranz, president of Utility, an additive manufacturer in Westbury, N.Y.
“The most significant problem that has cropped up in the last six months to a year is biological growth in fuel oil,” Kranz said.
There was a notable outbreak on Long Island last winter, in which fill and vent pipes were found to be clogged with biological growth. “A lot of the fuel oil deliverymen found out about it because they were having trouble making deliveries,” Kranz said. “The vent pipes and the fill pipes were getting clogged. We got a lot of reports from the end of February into April. We don’t know if it’s attributable to biofuel or not, but we’re recommending much higher use of various biocides.”
Utility markets a biocide under the name Petrocide. Kranz recommended treating all fuel oil with biocide as a preventive measure, but advised, “If you don’t want to treat everything, you should at least treat tanks that are on the north side of houses.”
The theory is that condensation can be more of a problem in tanks on the north side of buildings because of a lack of sunlight. The oil grows cold overnight; during the day when the air warms, the oil remains cold because it is not getting direct sunlight resulting in condensation, which provides the water necessary for biological growth.
Still, the cause of the outbreak on Long Island has not been determined. “It’s always been a little problem, but last season it was much worse,” Kranz said.
“Whether the cause is the quality of fuel oils, biofuel or some third factor we can’t put our finger on it and it may never be determined.”
By “quality of fuel oil,” Kranz explained he meant “various contaminants, water included, as well as some of the heavier distillates that should be removed with more careful refining.”
As for biofuel, Kranz added, “We believe it can support biological growth by itself. It has some ingredients that enable such growths. For example, it contains humectants” – substances that promote retention of moisture.
Biocide treatment using Petrocide, a Utility product, involves using 2.5 fluid ounces per 100 gallons of fuel as a “shock treatment.” For maintenance treatment, the prescribed ratio is 1.25 fluid ounces per 100 gallons.
The fuel oil can be treated in the truck tank. “If you have the opportunity, put in the dose first and then put in fuel oil. It mixes very well.” Utility sells the biocide in bulk sizes, Kranz said, “because we feel it should be added to fuel oil by the fuel oil companies.”