Three Steps to Better Fuel Quality

Three Steps to Better Fuel Quality

Today’s heating oil is cleaner, but vigilance and treatment are still required

By Jerome P. Sava, C&S Scientific

We are all aware of how the chemistry and properties of home heating oils have changed significantly in recent decades. Lower sulfur contents, bioblends using at least 2 percent of an accredited B100 component, new variations in crude sources, and a continual upgrading of refining processes have all had a positive impact.

The end result of these changes is the production of a higher quality, cleaner, and more efficient, heating oil product. Unfortunately, despite the improvements in quality, oil still requires constant, proactive attention to prevent the type of problems inherent in any petroleum product, regardless of its developmental history. Without such precautions, the desirable image of a new generation of heating oil can be quickly eroded – and the homeowner can be confronted with problems that they assumed had been resolved.

It is incumbent on the oil dealer, therefore, to maintain his oil supply in top quality so as to minimize the potential for poor oil heat handling and combustion performance. But first we have to recognize that the primary drivers of eventual fuel quality deterioration are beyond the oil dealer’s control. When considering the many uncontrollable variables that fuel is subjected to as it moves from refinery to supplier to consumer, the need for adequate quality control – and the difficulty of providing it – becomes apparent.

Such variables include the inherent nature of the crude; the method and extent of cracking and distillation during the refining process; and the degree of co-mingling and cross contamination during oil pipeline or motor transport to terminals and eventually to the fuel oil dealer.

Obviously, all the dealer can do to influence quality upon receipt of fuel is to demand honest and representative loading specs from their major suppliers, in order to help identify any areas of concern. Beyond that, since the dealer is usually on his own once the fuel delivery is accepted into his facility, it is necessary to develop an effective quality control regimen in order to help prevent problems tomorrow.

But how? Dealers can greatly reduce the incidence of fuel quality problems by following the following three steps and caring for your tanks and fuels.

Step One: The Storage Tanks

One effective way to initiate a quality control program is to take periodic samples directly from the storage tanks, since it is during the storage phase that most future handling and firing problems originate. By using a simple device such as the “bacon bomb sampler,” you can collect small but representative samples at bottom and near-bottom levels, where any sludge, water, or algae would tend to settle. You can then subject the samples to laboratory analyses that can identify the presence of various contaminants as well as quantitative totals for each contaminant present.

Independent oil testing labs routinely do such testing, and commercial companies like mine, C&S Scientific, may also provide complimentary sampling and testing for their customers.

And while there is no substitute for laboratory tests for providing accurate analysis and evaluation, there are some basic guidelines that you can use in the field to help make an immediate appraisal of the oil quality. Since most critical contaminants tend to precipitate and settle toward the bottom of the tank, samples taken below the suction level can be telling. If they are clear and exhibit no discoloration, sediment, water or cell-like floaters, then chances are that the fuel is of acceptable quality. Of course, this preliminary appraisal should ultimately be confirmed through lab analysis, since many latent problems due to possible off-spec or comingled oil, and the early nucleation of microbial cells, can only be detected through laboratory tests to determine the specific physical properties of the fuel.

If the sample testing reveals that a tank contains significant concentrations of contaminants, then the tank should be pumped out and physically cleaned. Lacking such corrective action, the contaminants in the fuel will act as a “seed” for the accelerated formation of further contamination. This critical effect is especially prevalent with living fungi growth but occurs even with inanimate sludge residues. In addition, the potential for sludge, fungi and corrosion is greatly enhanced should water be present and not removed.

At the very least, the bottom levels of the tank, up to the suction point, should be pumped out to remove the majority of any contaminants present. However, if the contaminants are not deemed to be at a critical level, then it is possible to chemically shock-treat the oil with additives specifically developed to inhibit, control, and eliminate the contaminants.

Step Two: Incoming Oil Deliveries

Assuming that Step One has indicated a clean fuel being stored in a clean tank, then we should attempt to do as much as possible to ensure that only equally clean oil will be added into that storage tank. To do this, dealers should monitor incoming fuel transports for quality control of the oil supply. It is advisable to obtain oil samples right at the start, in the middle, and near the end of the unloading process because various types of contaminants will tend to rise to the top, while others will remain dispersed throughout the oil, and still others (most) will settle at the bottom.

Obviously, this step is not usually practical to perform in the normal course of doing business, especially during the peak of the heating season. However by pulling these samples while the truck is unloading and then simply observing their appearance, one can have greater faith in the purity of the incoming product. Also, it is a good idea to keep the samples (even a pint would be sufficient) for at least a few days in order to observe any changes such as overall appearance, clarity, or the gradual formation of previously unseen sediment or water.

Step Three: Housekeeping and Preventive Maintenance

Now that the good condition of the existing stored product has been confirmed and you are making every effort to be certain of receiving only acceptable quality future oil shipments, the next step is to help maintain and extend the high quality of this product – not only in the terminal tank but also in the homeowner’s tank.

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This program must first concentrate on preventing any water buildup in the oil, since it has been well established that water, especially in the presence of dissolved oxygen, can generate a multitude of problems – and in a relatively short time. Obviously the periodic bottom sampling and, if necessary, pump-outs of any water or other contaminants, is most important. Also, the routine inspection of the physical structure of the tank, pipes, and fittings is essential to minimize any potential source of water entry and for any detection of either generalized or localized (pitting) corrosion.

These procedures will go a long way in maintaining short-term oil quality at the terminal, but what about maintaining this same high level of quality at the homeowner level?

The most economical and consistent way to maintain – and even extend – fuel oil quality during delivery and storage in the homeowner’s tank is to establish a proven, consistent, multifunctional, and cost-effective chemical treatment program, whereby every drop of delivered oil has been treated specifically to protect the fuel and the tank from any potential problems.

Products such as the C&S Scientific fuel conditioner “Treat Now” are produced using critical components including antioxidants, stabilizers, water and corrosion inhibitors, antifoulants, and combustion catalysts. These are specially developed and formulated to provide the cleanliness and the efficiency that every homeowner expects from his heating oil.

In summary, oil does heat more effectively than other fuels do, but to ensure better oil heat, the fuel oil dealer must take strong, positive steps. First, sampling the quality of the currently stored oil and physically or chemically remedying any adverse conditions. Second, making every effort to ensure that incoming oil supplies are of acceptable quality. Next, instituting housekeeping procedures that include periodic inspection of both the tank integrity and the condition of the stored oil. Finally, so as to maintain and extend the fuel quality, initiating a consistent chemical treatment program with a reputable chemical supplier like C&S Scientific, who is dedicated to advancing the concept of heating oil as a high quality, consistent, trouble-free heating fuel.

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