Sample, Stick & Print - A Simple Guideline to Assessing Fuel In the Field
Today's diesel fuel has a limited shelf-life, and what's more, it's highly susceptible to microbial contamination. The quality and condition degrades over time, so it's important to regularly check your fuel for signs of contamination. Laboratory analysis is the best way to understand the chemical composition of your fuel, but there are some simple steps you can take in the field to get an idea if your fuel quality is showing signs of contamination.
Sampling - Collect a tank bottom sample for visual assessment. The heaviest and worst of the contamination will be resting on the tank bottom. A sampling tool the industry called a "Bacon Bomb" is a simple device that collects fuel samples from your tank. The Bacon Bomb is lowered into the tank and as it hits the bottom, an interior pin is displaced, allowing fuel to enter. Upon pulling the Bacon Bomb out of the tank, the fuel is captured and retrieved.
This is a Bacon Bomb pictured on the left, with a tank bottom sample on the right. Color, clarity and the presence of particulate and water can be seen from tank bottom samples. Samples are great for visual assessment of the condition of the fuel, but it does not help significantly for quantifying the amount of contamination present.
Stick and Print - Comparing water paste measurements to Automatic Tank Gauge (ATG) readings. Managers of fuel systems often use ATG readings to monitor for the presence of water in tanks. One particular issue is that diesel contamination often gums up the probe floats that sense water, which causes ongoing inaccurate readings and a false sense of security. If the ATG reading goes several months without change in water readings, it's a good idea to check the probe to see if it's working properly. A probe that is not reading accurately due to contamination is an indicator that other components in the tank system may also be compromised.
Below are photos of a tank bottom sample and corresponding ATG reading of 0 inches of water. The probe for the tank which when pulled was non-functional due to contamination. The sample on the left clearly shows a significant layer of free-water, yet the monitoring system did not detect it.
Water-detection paste is used to quantify how many inches of water is currently in the tank. The paste is usually white, and when it comes in contact with water, will turn a bright color. The paste is smeared on a fuel measuring stick and is lowered to the bottom of the tank. Generally, the paste should be left at the bottom of the tank for 30 seconds. Fuel with heavy microbial contamination will sometimes encapsulate the water, preventing contact with the paste, resulting in false readings.
Sampling tank bottoms with water detecting paste while comparing the ATG readings is a good start to evaluating the condition of the fuel. It's not a replacement for laboratory analytical data, but it's an indicator if corrective action needs to be taken to improve fuel quality. Plan on assessing your fuel by this method on a monthly basis or after fuel deliveries, and if you ever need assistance or have questions, contact FuelGuard for help.
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