Now that many of the Northeastern states are recipients of lower sulfur heating oil, fuel dealers are asking what precautions they should take to protect the heating oil which they sell their customers. The answer is simple, the same that they should have been taking when handling 3000 ppm, 2000 ppm and any sulfur level including levels that eventually will include 15 ppm. There is a fair amount of confusion at the dealer level that ultra-low sulfur heating oil, once implemented, will be the panacea for the industry, that service challenges will be a thing of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is true that ultra-low sulfur fuel including the 500 ppm now in the system will help improve the performance of heat exchangers and offer the customer a cleaner burning fuel. Add to that, biodiesel which currently gets blended up to 5% at the terminal and the industry is poised to sustain itself as the natural gas industry continues its oppressive attack on the industry. Why is establishing a prevent defense necessary? Another simple answer, because without investing time to ensure that the fuel which you sell meets and exceeds the highest standards as it is stored in the harshest environments you will be doing a disservice to both your customers and your business.
Some of the misconceptions I have heard recently mirror those which I have heard since the industry committed itself to move towards lower sulfur heating oil blended with biodiesel, which as you are aware is referenced as Bioheat® fuel. The most prominent concerns dealers have and continue to express is how do they treat 500 ppm or lower sulfur fuels? Well that has more to do with what they are trying to accomplish which can include improving fuel stability, protecting trucks, tanks and customers tanks from corrosion, reduce sedimentation disruption post-delivery or simply reducing the pour point of the heating oil to ensure it flows from tank to burner during the harshest winter temperatures their respective region may encounter. Regardless of what you’re trying to protect, you and those that you serve can be the recipients of solutions that are available through interaction with competent and professional fuel treatment specialists that understand the mechanics behind these noted deficiencies.
Bioheat® fuel will be a healthy addition to your operation and isn’t complicated or difficult to maintain or service. Essentially, Bioheat blended with any sulfur level high, low or ultra-low should be treated with the same care and technical skill required for handling traditional heating oil. There are technical and service aspects of Bioheat, like material contamination factors and cold flow properties that should be considered. When you think about the fuel properties of heating oil, storage stability is on top of the list probably because leaving a tank of oil idle from May through November unprotected is like leaving a banana on the kitchen table when you go to the Bahamas for a vacation. I think you know what you’ll see when you return home. Simple implementation of a proven stabilizer in your heating oil will establish a prevent defense protecting the fuel from premature degradation. If you’re extending the shelf life of the heating oil (regardless of the sulfur blend and biodiesel blend), you will prohibit sedimentation fall out which leads to filter, strainer and nozzle fouling. Further, if you stabilize the fuel and consider adding a corrosion inhibitor, you will be protecting the entire fuel system from corrosion. Corrosion is what challenges the structural integrity of the tanks which store the oil. Without protection of the metal surfaces, the tanks life expectancy is sure to be shortened.
Because biodiesel is a renewable energy resource made domestically from esters of long-chain fatty acids found in soy and other vegetable oils, recycled restaurant oils, and animal fats, the misinformed suggest that it will increase biological activity commonly found in middle distillate fuels nationwide. The fact is if a tank contains moisture, which they do, is subjected to temperature swings which they are microbial contamination is sure to follow. Bugs love water, temperature and feed off the hydrocarbon. If possible, all participants in the supply chain need to focus on protecting their tanks and those that they serve from the negative consequences associated with water. Because 275/330 gallon home heating oil tanks are manufactured with no provisions to access the tank’s interior, fuel treatments containing stabilizers, corrosion inhibitor’s, dispersants, detergents and metal deactivators are your only prevent defense to ensure that mother nature won’t ravage your customers product. The other element of concern by dealers has been that biodiesel is a good solvent so it will increase filter plugging by way of cleaning the tank. It is true that biodiesel is a good solvent. However, if the biodiesel is on specification, blended correctly at the terminal and a prevent defense is put in place at the homeowners tank, blends of heating oil at any sulfur grade with biodiesel will not wreak havoc as those misinformed have suggested.
You see, low sulfur fuel, ultra-low sulfur fuel combined with biodiesel a/k/a Bioheat® fuel is simply the single best option we have as an industry to protect our businesses and more specifically, to help us grow our businesses. The contamination factors that have existed in fuel oil since the beginning of time remain air, water and dirt. Sulfur levels may be changing but the phenomenon surrounding how our core fuels work, have not. Air enters through vent pipes and brings in large amounts of moisture especially on hot summer days like those we are enduring right now. This moisture increases oxidation of the fuel, any fuel, not just biodiesel blends. Poorly constructed or deteriorating vents and seals may also allow water to infiltrate storage tanks. Moisture accelerates corrosion and fuel degradation, so extended storage requires the use of fuel treatment. If stabilizers aren’t used, the stored fuel “will” degrade and form sedimentation. Sedimentation can cause plugged filers, fouled nozzles and fuel system corrosion. Contaminants such as dirt and sand may also be introduced with fuel deliveries. Recognizing what is happening in our system regardless of the sulfur level, biodiesel blend level or fuel source, you must decide what you’ll do to establish your prevent defense!
Not to be overlooked is managing fuels in cold temperatures. Where a fuel dealer is situated in the petroleum supply chain, places them in a challenging position as it pertains to electing what biodiesel feedstock is used in making Bioheat or what crude source is used to refine a gallon of home heating oil. Bottom line, it’s not a democratic process where your vote actually counts. Biodiesel producers and petroleum refiners are proficient when it comes to gathering, processing and producing finished fuels that meet ASTM minimum specifications. Once those products are pulled from your regional fuel wholesale terminal you are charged with the responsibility to ensure that the fuel which you provide your customer is exceeding those standards. Why should you commit to upgrading minimum specifications on your customers behalf, why shouldn’t you? You’re placing product into environments that require upgrading to ensure they can sustain challenges associated with time and temperature. For decades heating oil has been used in trailer parks or homes that for whatever reason store their oil outside the confines of the basement. If you are a dealer that serves that customer you need to monitor the cloud point and pour point of the heating oil you are selling in 2014 and beyond. The best and most proven strategy specific to cold flow management of heating oil is to know what you’re buying from the rack and be prepared to depress the pour point relying upon proven pour point depressants that are commercially available. The cloud point which is of paramount importance when storing fuel in outside oil tanks cannot be depressed with fuel additives. In this case if you are delivering your heating oil to those tanks subjected to the cold of winter, you need to consider blending kerosene into that oil to ensure that you can bring the cloud point of that fuel into alignment with the expected ambient temperatures your region is subjected December through March. A final note on cold flow management on any fuel, any sulfur level and any biodiesel blend, don’t stick your head in the sand hoping that someone is looking at this on your behalf, they need not because cold flow is not an ASTM specification. Normal rack heating oil will be 0F pour, +15F cloud point so attention to these criteria is of paramount importance to both you and those whom you serve.
As I draft this communication, Bioheat® fuel is approved to be blended up to 5% in generic home heating oil. The Bioheat Technical Steering Committee has recently presented ASTM a compilation of testing and data developed over the past eighteen months to seek approval to move 5% to 20%. The initial ASTM vote was not successful but the committee is now reviewing the no votes and will be prepared to resubmit to ASTM in December. It is not uncommon for the first vote on any ASTM issue to fail. The team remains confident that in the end they will prevail and that our home heating oil will be B20 ultra low sulfur grade. If you are planning on attending the CEMA event in September there will be a business track dedicated to this strategy.
A final word on why ultra-low sulfur heating oil blended with biodiesel is the future, its cleaner by virtue of the reduction in sulfur, good for the heat exchangers, reduces brush and vacuum time, enhances efficiency, reduces acid emissions, particulate emissions and allows you the dealer to share a positive story about the fuel which you sell. Be confident that this lower sulfur biodiesel blend will not drudge up sedimentation, increase tank leaks or become a breeding ground for microbes. If you haven’t adopted a plan to establish your prevent defense you got those issues already however, for the proactive fuel dealer that took the initiative to plan and protect his fuel and customers, its business as usual.
For more information please contact Paul Nazzaro, Advanced Fuel Solutions, Inc., 978-258-8360 x 301, or write firstname.lastname@example.org. Information specific to Bioheat® fuel can be found at www.bioheatonline.com.