By Mark Smith, National Sales Manager, Advanced Fuel Solutions, Inc.
In a recent series of Bioheat® fuel workshops in New York state hosted by the Clean Fuels Alliance America, the question posed by attendees was no surprise: “Will Bioheat® fuel flow in cold temperatures without hesitation? The answer is an unequivocal “yes.” One may wonder how that can be possible, since some biodiesel made from more saturated feedstock may have cloud and pour points approaching 46 degrees Fahrenheit. Even ultra-low sulfur heating oil (ULSHO) has cold-flow temperatures that are near 15 degrees F. So, what can or must be done to ensure service technicians are not called out in the middle of the night to thaw an outside tank?
To better understand this, let us first revisit the history of biodiesel and the exhaustive work performed over decades to rate cold-weather performance and countless other parameters. In large part, these efforts were made to help facilitate a successful oilheat-industry renaissance with Bioheat® fuel. Biodiesel blends have been studied since the term Bioheat® was first introduced in 2003. In the following 20 years, hundreds of millions of gallons of biodiesel meeting ASTM D6751 have been blended into ULSHO throughout New England and Mid-Atlantic states without incident, save the routine hazards associated with improperly prepared tanks exposed to extreme temperatures.
Yes, it’s true that the cloud point of biodiesel can range from 32 to 46 degrees F, depending on the feedstocks used to manufacture this high-quality, low-carbon fuel, while ULSHO’s cloud point is approximately 15 degrees F. So when blending a 5% blend of biodiesel featuring a cloud point at 32 degrees F with 95% of ULSHO whose cloud point is 15 degrees F, the cloud and pour points of the blended fuel will obviously creep up ever so slightly. If the blends increase to 20%, 30%, or even 50%, then the math exercise is the same, and the cloud and pour points may likely surpass those of ULSHO alone. However, u
Before delving into the science or approaches to success, it is imperative to offer a reminder that blends up to 50% biodiesel—even those manufactured from used cooking oil, the temperatures of which rate even higher than soy-based biodiesel—are being managed ratably, competitively and successfully throughout New England and Mid-Atlantic states. If proof of this is needed, call me and I will happily share names of well- and lesser-known fuel dealers that have successfully addressed cold flow while enjoying the benefits associated with transitioning to low-carbon Bioheat® fuel.
First and foremost, regardless of what the fuel is—whether it is ULSHO, biodiesel, or a varying blend of both to create Bioheat® fuel—success starts with knowing exactly what fuel is
being bought, what feedstock was used to make the biodiesel portion of the blend, and precisely what blend level is present in the purchased fuel. Having knowledge of the posted cloud and pour points is equally important because unless an additive-induced product is being purchased, it will be the responsibility of the dealer to optimize the fuel’s cold-weather operability by blending a field-proven treatment to provide the final line of defense for Bioheat® fuel customers. Another change to consider is preparing outside tanks for the highest level of cold-weather protection through year-round treatment. In other words, don’t wait until December or the first cold snap to begin the treatment process,
Activity in the trucking industry offers a comparable example of this proactive and early application of fuel treatment. Many nationally recognized trucking fleets have elected to implement this approach to ensure their trucks are ready for winter before they need to be. After years of simply waiting for the first cold snap to approach before dumping jugs of cold-flow additives into their tanks upon receiving the transport delivery, they now start in October by using water-management additives that dry the system out before adding winter protection. Some even address microbial growth following the tank-dry step. Then, in early November, the first batches of diesel fuel begin to receive the appropriate level of cold-flow additive to start the seasonal adjustments for winter operability.
This same approach can be taken by the home retail Bioheat® fuel dealer, provided they own and operate bulk storage tanks. If not, then the treatment process can begin from rack to customer tank. Consider also working with a treatment organization that promotes random field testing to be certain the chemistry is in fact doing the job. As the prudent saying goes, “measure twice, cut once.” In this application, the adage should be “start early and stay the course.”
Finally, determining which winter-operability additives are best can be challenging. A bottle at the parts store will rattle off an endless list of benefits associated with its contents. But the label may not disclose what percentage of each element of this important chemistry is contained within that bottle, and unfortunately knowing whether that purchase was the right choice may not be learned until the rigors of winter are encountered. Historical success dictates the long-term playbook when it comes to treating, so ask lots of questions about the additive-package makeup, core cold-flow effects, synergies, wax anti-settling agents, alcohol-free water management, and more, all of which are important once winter arrives.
Managing cold flow is not as simple as unscrewing a bottle and tossing its contents into the tank. Did it mix properly? Was it added early enough? Was that cold-flow additive used before the fuel reached its cloud point? If that mark was missed, then the additive may not mix properly, rendering it useless and potentially bringing about a negative outcome. Achieving adequate cold-weather protection is a science, and understanding climate expectations is important to prepare for the worst-case scenario. But remember this: Countless fuel dealers enjoy satisfactory winter operability with high blends of biodiesel because they know the facts and they are vigilant in tank management, water removal, and reviewing their certificates of analysis that are always available by the fuel wholesaler. Responsible fuel dealers do all of this so they can pay attention to what’s even more important than the fuel’s cold flow—their customers.
Mark Smith, National Sales Manager, Advanced Fuel Solutions, Inc. — firstname.lastname@example.org — CELL: (978) 494-2494