The Fuel Measure
What you need to know about fuel conditioners, additives, and stabilizers.
By Capt. Ken Kreisler
Let’s get a few basic facts down before we open up the fuel fill and dump some mystic conditioning brew into our tanks.
Oil, the result of the detritus of once living organisms, has spent millions of years ‘cooking’ under intense pressure beneath both land and sea. Fast-forward a couple of thousand epochs, eras, and millennia…well, you get the idea, to when the first oil well finally popped the cork.
It’s a dirty business getting the dirty product refined and to market in its many forms to run the world as we know it. During the refining process at those expansive plants with their cloud-spewing towers, seemingly miles of above ground pipes, and fields of storage tanks, the crude oil is processed into the lifeblood of just about everything we use in our everyday lives. And, among all the other products that come out of the spigot, there is the stuff that we are most concerned with: gasoline and diesel fuel.
The ‘problem’, and the reason why you might want to use a fuel additive or conditioner, begins with the refining process. “Because the refiners are trying to get as much out of a barrel of crude that they can, today’s aggressive process of splitting open the molecules, using catalysts and high temperatures is far different that the distilling methods of years ago, and can create more instability in the after products,” said Barry Sprague, chemist and consultant to NJ-based Technol Fuel Conditioners (www.technol.com).
But wait, as said in those obnoxious infomercials, there’s more! Moving downstream from the refining process are a host of ills waiting to be visited upon our precious gasoline and diesel.
For example, with those of you who use gasoline in your inboard and outboard engines, the government- mandated fuel contains oxygenated additives, offshoots of methyl and ethyl alcohol. Add some heat and moisture along with the sometimes lengthy storage time the gasoline is sitting around, from refinery tanks to tanker trucks to your marina tanks, and not only are you liable to get less efficient fuel but a bit on the dirty side as well. “With those who run gasoline engines, you might want to consider a treatment with every oil change,” said Sprague. “You really want to help control that moisture as the alcohol can separate out with only the minimal amount of water.”
For diesel fuel oil, and along with the same issues associated with gasoline storage, there are the low sulfur levels—also courtesy of the EPA—combined with the products’ affinity for water, sludge, and bio-growth (bacteria and fungi), that can also present problems. “What we want to do here is even out the playing field for performance, how the fuel is handled once it gets to the end user in regards to its stability, and trying to control any contaminants,” said Sprague.
So, here’s where our additives, stabilizers, treatments, and conditioners come into play. The first thing you want to do, is keep a careful watch on your primary and secondary fuel filters. Drain your Racors or similar systems should any sign of water be present. If you have to change the elements a bit more often, or if you begin to notice a drop in rpm levels, you more than likely have a fair amount of gunk in your tanks that is getting roiled up as you use your boat and is clogging the free flow of fuel to the engine(s). “With severe problems in this area, such as obvious plugging, it’s best to take some time out and have those fuel tanks professionally cleaned,” suggested Sprague.
For you diesel users, this filter problem can be a direct result of using a biocide additive. As the juice begins to do its work and kill the ‘bugs’ at the water/oil interface, which is where the organisms live, the accumulated buildup of dead bodies will be added to the already sludgy bottom layer of the fuel tank resulting in a Stephen King-like, totally non-combustible mass getting sucked up into the fuel system. “If you think you might have something growing, you should use a biocide treatment but be aware of the consequences,” offered Sprague.
Fuel stabilizers do their work by scavenging and removing oxygen that may get into the fuel by several means including the ever-present motion and agitation as the boat moves through the water. “Even trace amount of oxygen present in the fuel can cause problems,” said Sprague.
To simplify the chemistry, the additive can help repair the hydrocarbon chain that was ‘damaged’ at the refinery and/or chemically remove most of the trace oxygen making it more stable and therefore, more efficient. They also work to emulsify, or blend, any water droplets present in the fuel oil thus helping to impede the growth of bacteria. Other positive results include breaking down of particulate matter that can be safety filtered out, and the shattering of larger contaminants that can be burned off during combustion.
However, there is a caveat emptor attached to using any fuel additive: Make sure you check with your engine manufacturer before adding any of these products to your tanks as they can void a warranty that is currently in effect. In addition, many OEM’s offer a recommended product line for use with their power plants and fuel systems. And as with any product such as additives, always follow the directions on the container or bottle as to the correct amounts that need to be added per gallon. Should you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact the manufacturer.
With today’s highly advanced engines, and because of the aggressive refinery processes that result in a more unstable end product, using a fuel treatment can help you get the best possible grade of gasoline or diesel fuel into your system and have you running more efficiently with the added result of a positive effect on the environment.