By Paul Nazzaro, Sr.
Just when we thought the price of oil couldn’t slide any further, here we are. As I write this, crude oil prices are woefully low at $18.84 per barrel. Few imagined that prices would be where they are here in 2020. And even fewer (fuel hedgers aside) budgeted so. A surplus in the fuel budget can provide a much needed boon to the bottom line. But viewing it as such — money to be put back in your company’s pocket — can also be shortsighted. Why not reinvest those dollars back into your fuel? I don’t mean suddenly going long in the futures market. Rather, I’m talking about shoring up the quality, performance and efficiency of the fuel you have now. If you haven’t already, investing in a year-round fuel quality and management program is a wise and cost-effective use of your surplus dollars. Over time, the increase in your fleet’s fuel efficiency, power output, service interval duration and reliability will more than pay for the cost of the additives themselves. There seems to be a misconception out there that fuel additives are necessary only in the winter. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While cold flow additives are indeed necessary to prevent fuel gelling in cold weather, there are countless other fuel deficiencies that many don’t even realize they’re experiencing. The common response, if any, is to self-medicate with aftermarket bottled products or decrease their service interval duration — neither of which is a cost-effective measure. Today’s advanced diesel engines — featuring high-pressure common rail injection systems, high-efficiency particulate filters and other next-generation components — simply will not function optimally on yesterday’s fuel. Most assume that because the fuel they buy at the rack meets ASTM specifications, it’s of perfectly good quality. This is another common misconception. ASTM specs are simply minimum standards of fuel quality to ensure that the product leaving the refinery can be used safely for its intended purpose. Without proper additive treatment and diligent housekeeping at every stop in the supply chain, fuel quality issues are not a matter of if, but when.
Water, for example — the most common and most harmful contaminant to distillate fuel — can enter the fuel during refining, storage, transportation and/or delivery and is virtually impossible to eliminate completely. Common scenarios include rainwater seeping in through the roof or vent of a tank, or humid air carrying moisture in during a fuel withdrawal. Once in the tank, water promotes the proliferation of microbial life — bacterial cells or fungal spores known in the industry as “bugs” — which will live in the water at the bottom of the tank and feed off the hydrocarbons at the fuel/water interface. Bugs also will consume rubber gaskets, O-rings, hoses, tank linings and coatings in an effort to obtain their mineral content. The waste from this process produces more water, sludge, acids and other harmful byproducts. Under the ideal conditions of a warm spring or summer day (68-86 degrees Fahrenheit), bacteria can double in population every 20 minutes, forming destructive, gel-like colonies known as biofilms. If not addressed, the proliferation of bugs will clog fuel filters, fuel lines and gauges; corrode pumps, injectors and tank bottoms; cause washers, hoses and connectors to swell and blister; degrade fuel, and cause poor fuel economy. There is not a bottled additive in the world that will treat that. Fortunately, as rapidly as engine developments have been proceeding in recent years, so, too, has diesel additive technology. Today’s advanced additives can be custom packaged to meet the specific needs of a fleet, no matter what the time of year. Cold flow improvers, pour point depressants, de-icing compounds and wax anti-settling agents prevent fuel gelling to keep systems running smoothly through the winter. Detergents keep tanks and injector systems clean and free of carbon deposits. Combustion catalysts and cetane enhancers improve ignition quality, increase fuel efficiency and decrease emissions. Corrosion inhibitors protect tank linings and system components. Water control treatments and biocides control microbial contamination, fuel degradation and other water-related issues. That’s why original engine manufacturers — facing constant legislative pressure to develop higher-efficiency, lower-emission engine systems — recommend additives to help achieve their intended result. But unless you have a firm understanding of the latest additive technology, appropriate treat rates and diesel operability points, it’s imperative to work with a fuel or additive supplier who does.
The proper application of an advanced multifunctional additive package, for winter, summer or year-round, ultimately will lower your fuel consumption, decrease maintenance and repair costs and maximize the uptime of your fleet. With the cost of fuel so low, there’s no better time to make that initial investment in your fuel. While fuel efficiency may not be at the top of your mind with diesel at $2.43 per gallon, when the price of oil rebounds — and you can be sure it will — the return on your investment will only grow, reducing your fuel and maintenance costs when you need to find savings most.