Text Box:          Understanding Fuel Bugs

The Spring and Fall of the year is a smart time to examine your fuel systems. Spring and fall with the hot days and cold nights create a lot of condensation in your tanks.† This can mean only one thing for your fuel system: FUNGUS!

†† Microbes, or bugs, in your fuel can create tremendous problems for your fuel system in either Gas or Diesel. One of the main problems in dealing with this issue is the lack of education of the public. Although there has been a lot of research and articles written about microbial problems mostly for diesel or bunker fuel, the ones who need to see the information are not getting it. Most of the information is written without the normal consumer in mind. Even if you had access to it you need 4 years of latin to understand it. My hopes are that this information will help those out of the scientific loop.

†† In some cases microbial problems are very noticeable. In others the problems are not apparent. Just because your engines arenít spewing protoplasm does not mean youíre in the clear.† Donít fool yourself into thinking it wonít happen to me. Chances are it will.† You can check for contamination yourself with our do it yourself microbial test kit.† Check your filter yourself with our filter-cutting tool, itís quick, easy, and clean.†

If you have a major bug problem in your vehicle you will see significant problems quickly. These range from frequently pluged filters and rancid smelling fuel to increased stack temperatures. Severe smoke and loss of performance or even regular injector or injection pump and fuel tank replacement can result. If you are having any of these problems you need to look closely at your fuel.† First check out the element in your fuel filter as well as your filter housing. In diesel fuel you will see or feel a slime build up. If so you have a problem. The slime will usually be black, but can be green or brown. In gasoline it is usually clear or almost a jelly consistency.† This could change as the gasoline problem has just become apparent.† Be sure you also check your bulk fuel storage. You can check the smell of you fuel; it may have a pungent odor such as rotten eggs, but not always.† This is a good idea even when you are filling your tank to see if the fuel you are getting is contaminated.

†† You may be under the impression that fueling at a large volume station is cleaner than the fuel at your local mom and pop station. This could be an incorrect assumption. Having tested hundreds of bulk tanks I can tell you that the high volume tanks I have tested are without a doubt the ones with the most problems. Every time they get fuel they also get the garbage that comes with that load. More fuel, more garbage. They also have a tendency to get fuel from a variety of sources making them more susceptible to problems. Donít let your guard down; it could cost you thousands of dollars.

†† Low-level microbial contamination can be every bit as costly as a major infection, maybe even more. It can go unnoticed forever if it is not looked for.† Microbes in your fuel cause a wide assortment of problems even in low levels. These bugs produce what else, but little baby bugs. Over 90 percent of the foods the bugs consume become byproducts such as slime and sludge and acids, which corrode and rust your tanks. The rest becomes little baby bugs. With many companies replacing old storage tanks with the new vaulted tanks to meet the 1998 federal guidelines, you want to get as long of life out of these costly tanks as you possibly can. It was once thought that tanks lined with or made completely of resin materials such as fiberglass or PVC were immune from

biodegradation, but recently that view has changed. The July, 1997 issue of National Petroleum News sites a number of different studies documenting the deterioration of a number of different types of resin material. In all cases, the microbes are actually using the carbon structure of the resins as food sources. Another problem is that the enzymes these bugs manufacture destroy the quality of the fuel itself and create corrosive deposits that score your critical fuel components. With the incredibly tight tolerance of todayís new electronically controlled fuel systems, they are just that much easier to damage and that much more expensive to replace. A problem injector not only leads to poor performance but also to excessive deposit build up in your combustion chamber, causing permanent damage. It also contributes to the soot and fuel dilution in your engine oil.


Why Do We Have A Problem:

These pests occur naturally in fuel but certain fuels and conditions promote their growth.† Several things have changed over the last few years that have increased the problem dramatically.

†† Because they are living organisms, they grow better in a warm climate. Many new diesel vehicles now have fuel returns approaching 200 degrees Fahrenheit. This means your fuel tanks are hot all year long. These bugs are constantly enjoying a day at the beach. The large use of fuel heaters for winter operation and the amount of water accumulation through condensation and many other factors is also one of the culprits. If this isnít enough the new low sulfur diesel promotes the growth of algae.† Reducing the sulfur reduces the aromatic content of a fuel. California requires the lowest aromatic level. The problem with this is that the microbes eat the aromatics and are satisfied quickly, producing little waste. If however the aromatics are reduced the bugs eat constantly. They become very proliferate and create excessive amount of byproducts.

†† In gasoline applications the problem has surfaced in larger quantities and appears to be linked to the new types of gasoline. We now have oxygenated gas, which may or may not include the ethanol-based gasolines.† With many places mandating oxyfuels the problem is only going to get worse. For some reason the makeup of these fuels appear to spur on the growth of these critters.†

†† To complicate the problem these microbes now appear to become tolerant of the biocides used to poison or kill them. The problem is that some of these critters eat very rapidly and some eat very slowly.† If a system is poisoned with an inadequate amount of biocide the faster eating microbes eat most of the poison, killing them, while the slower eating bugs only get a taste. Not enough to kill them, but enough to realize that they do not want anymore of that stuff.† The next time the system is treated, these bugs secrete mucus around themselves protecting them from the poison. Only a massive dose of biocide can then penetrate.† It is important to completely sterilize a system when a problem is found. Donít cut any corners with this problem.


What Can You Do:

First of all, the normal fuel testing that you may have done usually does not test for this problem; it must be asked for specifically and not every lab does it. You should also have a monitoring and maintenance plan to avoid a critical problem. I you are not seasonally using a biocide I would suggest you have it sampled at least twice a year. Anytime is a good time to start. If you pull a sample, test the water phase of your fuel, (the area between the water and the fuel). That is where the microbes are growing.† Laboratory testing is not that expensive. A less common test can actually test for problems with just a fuel sample containing none of the water from the tank.† The U.S. Armies Southwest Research Institute of San Antonio, TX. has one of the best ways to test for a potential problem. They are now using a Catalase Activity Test. This test looks for enzymes that occur with some types of bugs. Bugs that do not produce these enzymes cannot live without the bugs that do and vise versa, so if the enzymes are not present you are in the clear, for now.†

†† If your fuel sample has water in it you can check the pH of the water yourself. If the pH is 7 or lower this indicates a corrosion problem and suggests strongly that you may have problems.

†If you do have a problem, how you handle it depends on the type of problem.† If it is severe with lots of debris,† you may need to drain your tanks and have them cleaned whether itís on a vehicle or a bulk tank. Otherwise, you may fight filter and buildup problems for years. If your problem is less severe chances are you have an easier option. Simply use a biocide and follow it up with the specific PFS fuel treatment for your Gas or Diesel application. PFS Fuel Treatments contain a detergent dispersant additive to remove the byproducts and water safely. We do not use alcohols or solvents to clean in any of our products. Alcohols and solvents may claim to clean effectively, but the damage they will do far outweighs what cleaning benefits they may have. In many cases alcohol can promote the problem. No matter if† you clean your tank or use a milder solution, you need to use a biocide in your fuel and assassinate the little creatures in their own home. This is the only way to kill them. PFS† recommends the use of a biocide at least 2 times a year.† Like everything else, not all biocides are created equally. Donít try and save a couple of dollars on something cheap. Get something that works instead. One thing to keep in mind is that biocides are designed to kill. Think of it as rat poison. If you have enough poison to kill 50 rats but you have 51 rats, when the poison is gone you still have a problem; rats.† Biocides work the same way. One quick dose will probably not do the trick.†† Following up with a good additive to help with† the cleanup will be beneficial.

†† Be patient and keep your eyes open. Stay ahead of the game and remember, if you prepare for the worst, its downhill from there.†††† †††††††††††††††††††††††