Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 8

Most Diesel Engine Failures - Originate In The Fuel Tank - The Real Story of Bad Diesel Fuel

Frequent diesel fuel filter changes and the expensive and time consuming task of cleaning diesel fuel tanks have
become acceptable periodic maintenance instead of a warning signal for diesel engine failure. Diesel fuel filter
elements should last a thousand hours or more, and injectors some 15,000 hours. However, since diesel fuel is
inherently unstable, solids begin to form and the accumulating tank sludge will
eventually clog your diesel fuel filters, ruin your injectors and cause diesel
engines to smoke.
Clogged and slimy filters
The solids that form as the result of the inherent instability of the diesel fuel and
the debris formed in the natural process of fuel degradation will accumulate in
the bottom of your fuel tank. The sludge will form a coating or "bio-film" on the
walls and baffles of the fuel tank, plug your fuel filters, adversely impact
combustion efficiency, produce dark smoke from the exhaust, form acids that
degrade injectors and fuel pumps, and impact performance. Eventually fouled
diesel fuel will clog fuel lines and ruin your equipment.

Dark, hazy fuel

Floating debris in tanks
Sludge build up in tanks
Loss of power and RPM
Excessive smoke
Corroded, pitted injectors
Foul odor

Filter plugging, often the first symptom of a problem, can have several causes and often critical consequences. For
example, low temperatures can cause wax crystallization, which can lead to fuel filter plugging. An example would
be using untreated summer diesel fuel in cold weather. Wax or paraffin is part of the diesel fuel. This can be quickly
be treated by changing to winter grade fuels or by using an additive made to lower the fuel pour-point and improve
cold flow filtration properties.
Contaminant build up resulting from excessive microbial growth and bio-degradation of diesel fuel can cause fuel
filter plugging without regard to temperature. Micro-organisms, bacteria and enzyme activity, fungus, yeast and
mold cause diesel fuel degradation and the formation of waste products. The process is similar to milk turning into
cottage cheese, a different form of milk. (To understand the "Rest of the Story about microbial and bacteria in fuel,
CLICK HERE.) Of all the microbial debris and waste products in the diesel fuel tank only about .01% is "bugs". Even
though microbes may cause and accelerate the process of fuel degradation, it should be clear that the waste
products clogging your filter are not the microbes but fuel components which have formed solids.
These waste products can float in the fuel, being visible when looking into a fuel tank, but also coat the sides,
bottom, baffles, and even top of the tank - wherever the fuel touches. Most service personnel are quick to
recommend the application of a biocide product to the fuel to address the problem. Unfortunately, by the time you
realize you have a problem, the effectiveness of biocides are limited. If a heavy bio-film has accumulated on the
inside surface of the tank or other fuel system components, the biocide may not be able to penetrate to the
organisms living deep within the film. You may see short term relief, but the problem quickly returns as the
remaining organisms further reproduce.
Frequently, the application of a biocide aggravates the situation and turns bio-film into solids, creating a
real fuel filter nightmare. As a further complication in the use of biocides, the removal of water from a tank bottom
that was treated with biocides must be disposed of appropriately because biocides are toxic.
Bio-film develops throughout the entire diesel fuel system. As most organisms need water to grow, bio-growth is
usually concentrated at the fuel-water interface in the bottom of the tank. The organism colony feeds from
nutrients in the fuel additives. It takes time for the organisms to grow to produce enough acidic byproducts to
accelerate tank corrosion or biomass sufficient to plug filters, so a problem may not show itself for months. If you
have a problem now, its genesis was likely 6 or months ago!
Keeping the water out of the tank is the first and most important step. Water often enters the tank
through badly fitting or missing fuel caps. But even with good housekeeping, water still gets into tanks on a regular
basis. Fuel used is replaced by air drawn in through vents. This air often brings moisture with it. Temperature
fluctuations cause droplets to condense on the inside walls of fuel tanks and accumulation of water over time
provides the habitat for the organisms to reproduce. Also, an unlucky end user may be filling up his fuel tank and
getting water, organisms and this debris delivered as a part of the process of taking on diesel fuel, for the same
price as the diesel fuel, This is less common than many folks think, but it does happen.
Contaminated Fuel Can Wreck Havoc On Fuel Delivery Systems
Although cases involving contaminated gasoline are relatively rare nowaday they still occur. In many cases, the
technician has replaced the fuel pump or mass air flow (MAF) sensor to address a P0171/P0174 lean-condition
DTC with no result. In all likelihood, the technician didnt consider the possibility that the vehicles fuel might be
contaminated with E85 gasoline, diesel fuel, stale gasoline, or, to a lesser degree, sugar and water. The fact is that
the first three fuel contaminants tend to lean out the air/fuel mixtures, while sugar and water generally cause
intermittent cranking, no-start and stalling complaints.

In total, and depending upon the percentage present in the fuel tank, contaminated fuel can mimic the symptoms
produced by defective fuel pumps, fuel injectors and fuel control components like MAF sensors.

Because organic chemistry is the study of incredibly complex fossil-fuel hydrocarbon compounds left behind by
living things, I will likely simplify to the point of error in the following text. Nevertheless, as the name implies,
hydrocarbon fuels like gasoline are composed of hydrogen and carbon atoms generally obtained by refining animalbased fossil fuels like crude oil. Oxygenated hydrocarbon fuels like ethanol and methanol include oxygen atoms in
their chemical make-up and are obtained by fermenting a plant-based biomass.
Since oxygenated fuels contain part of the oxygen needed for combustion, oxygenated fuels require less
atmospheric oxygen to create a stoichiometric air/fuel ratio than does pure gasoline.
During our discussion of the various fuels, Ill use the term stoichiometric to indicate when all of the oxygen and
hydrocarbons contained in an engines cylinders are completely consumed during combustion. Well also look at
differences in specific gravity, heat output in British Thermal Units (BTUs) and octane rating. Specific gravity simply
compares the weight of a fluid to the weight of an equal volume of water at room temperature. Since hydrocarbon
fuels are lighter than water, their specific gravities will be less than one. BTUs are a comparative measure of heat
produced by equal weights of hydrocarbons when combined with oxygen. Octane ratings are the tendencies of
various hydrocarbons to self-ignite when mixed with a stoichiometric volume of air and compressed in a closed
cylinder. Octane ratings are important because gasoline engines require a fuel that will not self-ignite under
extreme levels of compression.
In direct contrast, diesel engines require a fuel that will self-ignite under the same compression extremes.
Consequently, the Research Octane Number (RON) of some diesel fuels is about 25, whereas the RON of most
regular-grade gasoline sold in the U.S. ranges around 87 RON. Last, but not least, the lack of fuel volatility (Reid
Vapor Pressure) becomes an important consideration when diagnosing fuel contamination issues at freezing or subfreezing operating temperatures.
Major symptoms of contaminated fuel can include cranking no-start, hard starting, stalling, loss of power and poor
fuel economy. Because symptoms of fuel contamination generally appear immediately after refueling, the fuel
gauge needle pegged on full should always be a diagnostic red flag. And, because some drivers simply add fuel
rather than topping off their tanks, its doubly important to ask if the vehicle has recently been refueled. With those
precautions in mind, lets look at some of the symptoms associated with the following fuel contaminants.
Although its hard to think of E85 gasoline as a fuel contaminant, its important to remember that E85 is designed
for use only in flex-fuel vehicles. Because pure ethanol requires approximately 150% more volume to support
Although water contamination is rare, it can result from something as simple as using an old, rusty gas can to refuel
a vehicle. In any case, small percentages of water will be absorbed by ethanol gasoline, while large percentages
can absorbed by using an isopropyl alcohol additive. Greater percentages of water will quickly settle to the bottom
of the tank or in-line fuel filter, where the fuel pump can pick up a few drops, causing an intermittent stalling or
cranking, no-start complaint.
Draining the contents of the in-line fuel filter is perhaps the quickest way of confirming water contamination.
Testing on single-line fuel systems with no Schrader port or in-line fuel filter can be difficult. Here again, the best
test procedure is to try starting the engine on a substitute fuel source like propane. If the vehicle starts, it most
likely has a fuel contamination problem.
A Simple Ethanol Test
This inexpensive, 100-milliliter (mL) graduated cylinder is available from any major on-line speed equipment
company. The first step is to add water to the 50 mL mark. Note that lighting in the photograph causes the fluid
levels to appear slightly higher.
Stoichiometric combustion than does pure gasoline, some early flex-fuel vehicles use an ethanol sensor in the fuel
line to estimate the volume of ethanol in the fuel.
Later flex-fuel vehicles simply use data inputs from their air/fuel ratio sensors to adjust fuel injector pulse width to
accommodate increased volumes of ethanol. Most flex-fuel vehicles can be identified by an exterior flex-fuel
emblem and, in many cases, a yellow gas cap.

Many motorists inadvertently top off their fuel with E85 because they are unaware that E85 gas pump nozzles are
generally equipped with yellow covers. Immediately afterward, they begin experiencing lean-fuel driveability
symptoms such as hard starting and loss of power accompanied by a P0171 or P0174 DTC, depending upon the
application. At this point, lets note that ethanol and methanol are distinctly different alcohol compounds.
Methanol is used in racing applications because its high latent heat of vaporization keeps the engine cool, and
because it produces slightly more horsepower than gasoline. But, even with those advantages, methanol has a
major tendency to corrode metal surfaces and degrade fuel hoses, O-rings and other soft fuel system components.
Because the specific gravity or density of diesel fuel (0.825) is higher than gasoline (0.787), it contains about 15%
more heat energy. Diesel fuel also contains wax-like paraffins that tend to gel in sub-freezing ambient
temperatures and clog the engines fuel filters. And, since winter-blended diesel fuels flow much better at low
ambient operating temperatures, their effects as a fuel contaminant might vary at sub-zero temperatures. Another
diagnostic issue with higher-density diesel fuel is that it doesnt flow well through low-pressure fuel injectors found
on gasoline engines.
The symptoms of diesel contamination depend greatly upon the percentage present in the tank. A lower
percentage might result in a minor power loss while, thanks to a lack of volatility, a greater percentage might result
in a cranking, no-start condition after an overnight cold-soak. One basic test for diesel fuel is to place a few sample
drops of gasoline on your fingertips and rub them together. If an oily residue is left, suspect diesel fuel
contamination. If the cranking, no-start vehicle has fuel pressure, but acts as if it has a fuel delivery problem, try
adding a substitute fuel like propane to the air intake. If the cylinders begin to fire, again suspect diesel fuel
The symptoms of stale gasoline are caused by a loss of volatility, which means that the gasoline has lost its lightend components and will, therefore, not vaporize well enough to support ignition. Case in point, I was called to
diagnose a vehicle with a poor cold starting and cold engine performance complaint. The symptoms would vary
according to ambient temperature. The diagnostic red flag was a fuel gauge needle pegged on full.
Draining the tank and installing five gallons of fresh gasoline resolved the complaint. Afterward, I discovered that
the driver had filled his tank from an above-ground tank containing gasoline that was 1-1/2 years old. Exposure to
extreme day/night temperature changes had long ago driven most of the highly volatile, light-end hydrocarbon
components of the fuel into the atmosphere.
While many myths continue to circulate about how sugar in fuel tanks will ruin an engine, keep in mind that sugar
will not dissolve in pure gasoline. It can, however, dissolve in trace amounts of water created by normal fuel tank
condensation. Case in point, a high school teacher had his Isuzu Rodeo towed in for a cranking, no-start complaint.
According to the teacher, his Rodeo had progressively run worse during the previous two weeks. It didnt take long
to discover that no fuel was flowing through the throttle body injectors. Removing the fuel tank revealed that the
bottom of the tank was coated with a thick, cola-type syrup. Evidently, a disgruntled student had poured a sugarbased cola drink into the fuel tank, and from there it gradually migrated to the fuel injectors and stuck the fuel
injector pintle valves closed.
Next, add the sample gasoline to the 100 mL mark. Cover the top of the cylinder with your hand and gently mix the
water with the gasoline. Be careful not to spill the fluid or expose it to an open flame.
Allow a few minutes for the water to settle from the gasoline. Since ethanol is hygroscopic, it will migrate into the
water. As indicated by the photo, the water level has risen from 50 mL to 55 mL, indicating that the gasoline
contains 9 to 10% ethanol.
What are the Symptoms of Diesel Fuel Water Contamination?
Diesel fuel water contamination is something you want to avoid at all costs. But how do you know if your diesel fuel
is contaminated with water? The initial symptoms of fouled diesel fuel include:

Slimy, clogged filters

Hazy, cloudy fuel
A build up of sludge in the fuel tank
Excessive smoke
A loss of RPM and power

Foul odour
Corroded injectors
If you dont have much knowledge of cars, the loss of power and RPM will probably be one of the first things you
notice. Checking your fuel should be the next thing on your list; if it is hazy or cloudy your diesel fuel is most
definitely contaminated with water.
So how do you remove water from your diesel tank?
There are many ways you can remove water from your diesel tank, but the easiest and most effective solution is to
use Coval Aquasolve. It works by allowing the free water to bond with the fuel, creating a stable solution that
actually improves your engine performance and helps to clean engine components.
Coval Aquasolve is also an effective diesel bug treatment, which forms as a result of water in your diesel fuel tank.
In many cases, the sludge and slime present in your fuel is a by product of diesel bug. If left, diesel bug affects the
quality of your fuel and can seriously affect the running of your engine, so its vital that you use a diesel bug
treatment as soon as possible.
An effective diesel bug treatment
Because Aquasolve removes all traces of diesel fuel water contamination, it is the ideal diesel bug treatment and
solution to water in fuel problems. Please feel free to contact us for more information, or buy Coval Aquasolve now
in preparation for the long winter months!
Newer Diesel Engines Have More Water Problems Than Older Ones
Many newer diesel engines utilize common rail injector systems. A poor description of such a system would be that
the diesel fuel is cycled through a rail system that fits over top of the pistons, with the injectors hooked into the
rail. A computer controls which injectors fire at what time, for how long, and how much fuel they're injecting.
Common rail injection systems operate at very high pressures. if you get a little bit of water in them, it can cause
big problems, not the least of which are blown injectors.
Water Contamination in Fuel: Cause and Effect
Water exists in three physical states and depending on the surrounding conditions it finds its way to the fuel
Water exists in three physical states and depending on the surrounding conditions it finds its way to the fuel
systems like the high pressure common rail (HPCR) fuel systems on diesel engines. The important point thereafter
is to provide the best possible on-engine protection by securing the fuel injector systems from severe damage. As
the environmental challenges and emission regulations become more stringent, the fuel systems become even
more efficient. All this indicates that the effective removal of water and solid contaminants from fuel is vital.
One of the most commonly thought of sources of water contamination is through condensation of atmospheric
moisture to form liquid water. A research study shows that an empty 200 gallon fuel tank could contain a maximum
amount of 22.8 grams of water vapor at 86F, and 12.92 grams at 50F[1]. These values do not account for all of
the water observed. Condensation is only one of the many ways in which water can contaminate fuel tanks. Fuel
travels through several intermediate facilities prior to reaching the end user. It travels from refineries, is pumped
through pipelines, is shipped via truck and is stored in tank farms before reaching the fuel stations.
What is the impact of the water contaminating the fuel? Microbial growth and bio-degradation of diesel fuel can
cause filter plugging and more serious damages within the engines fuel system. Problems like holes in the fuel
tanks and fuel injector failures are observed if water removal is inadequate over long periods of time. A modern
diesel engine consumes only a small portion of the fuel it draws, the rest of which circulates back to the tank. Fuel
water separators help in reducing the water content by separating water from the fuel in every cycle. Depending on
the size of the water droplets, it is characterized as free water, emulsified water, and/or dispersed water. The water
droplet size, fuel type and engine operating conditions affect the performance of the fuel water separator and thus
the amount of water retained in the fuel tanks. A fuel water coalescer and/or fuel water separator with tailored high
efficiency composite filter media has the ability to remove free and emulsified water with >95% efficiency.
Diesel fuel is more dense and less volatile than gasoline which allows air and moisture to infiltrate the diesel fuel.
When comparing diesel fuel, biodiesel can hold more water than ULSD (Ultralow sulfur diesel). Due to the presence
of ester bonds, biodiesel has a higher polarity than petroleum diesel which means higher affinity towards water. The

nature of the fuel will also influence the amount of water contamination due to changes in thermodynamic
properties like Interfacial tension. The thermal instability of fuel during recirculation, exposure to pumps and hot
surfaces causes fuel breakdown, polymerization and formation of agglomerates and particulates in the fuel stream.
A highly efficient particulate filter with 99% efficiency at >4 microns, will protect the engines fuel system at all
operating conditions, while proper filter system design will provide the needed water & particulate protection while
balancing filter service life.
Water is the Enemy of Diesel Engines
Water has always caused rust and corrosion of fuel system components and infrastructure. Modern fuel systems are
so much less tolerant than lower pressure systems, that manufacturers now specify zero free water must reach the
Water causes damage to both fuel tanks and engine parts. Rust and corrosion in the tank create hard particulate
that is passed along in the fuel, causing engine wear. Component life is also shortened by water etching, erosion,
cavitation and spalling, such as:
Rust: In contact with iron and steel surfaces water produces iron oxide (rust). Rust particles that get into the fuel,
like other hard particulates, will cause abrasive wear to parts. Premature wear can cause part failures.
Corrosion: Corrosion is one of the most common causes of injector problems. Water combines with acids in the
fuel to corrode both ferrous and non-ferrous metals. This is made worse when abrasion exposes fresh metal
surfaces that readily corrode. The injector shown on the left was installed new but failed in under 300 hours due to
rapid corrosion.
Abrasion: Water has lower viscosity than diesel, therefore providing less of a lubricating "cushion" between the
opposing surfaces of moving parts. This leads to increased abrasive wear.
Etching: Etching is caused by water-induced fuel degradation which produces hydrogen sulfide and sulfuric acid
that "eat" metal surfaces.
Pitting and Cavitation: Pitting is caused by free water flashing on hot metal surfaces. Cavitation is caused by
vapor bubbles rapidly contracting (imploding) when exposed to sudden high pressure, which causes them to
condense back into a liquid. These water droplets impact a small area with great force, causing surface fatigue and
Spalling: Occurs due to hydrogen embrittlement and pressure. Water is forced into microscopic cracks in metal
surfaces. Then, under extreme pressure, it decomposes and releases hydrogen in a mini-explosion which enlarges
the cracks and creates wear particles.
Ice: Free water in fuel can freeze, creating ice crystals that behave just like any other hard particulate. They can
create wear in fuel systems and (in large volumes) clog fuel filters. A fuel filter's job is to protect the engine by
stopping hard particulate. Engines and filters do not differentiate between dirt and ice. Damage caused by ice can
be hard to correctly diagnose since the ice will melt and disappear long before a lab examination can occur.
Water also contributes to or aggravates a number of additional issues, like the following:
Soft Solids: Water is polar. Certain chemicals in additives are polar. Hydrocarbons are non-polar. This means that
water and polar chemicals are attracted to each other. In the presence of free water, the chemical molecules will
sometimes disassociate themselves from the hydrocarbon chain of the additive and combine with water molecules
to form a new substance. The new material is a soft solid that precipitates out of the fuel and can rapidly clog filters
or create engine deposits. See additive stability for more information.
Microbial Growth: Like most living organisms, bacteria and fungi (molds) need both food and water to survive. If
free water is present microbial growth can proliferate, creating slimes that foul your fuel and acids that corrode
your tank and fuel system.
Fuel Oxidation: Free water accelerates the oxidation process and encourages the formation of acids, gums and
sediments known generally as fuel degradation products.
All diesel contains some percentage of dissolved water. The water molecules remain part of the fuel until there are
too many of them. The point at which the fuel can hold no more water is called the saturation point. The quantity of
water in fuel is measured in ppm (parts per million). As long as the water stays below the saturation point as
dissolved water it is typically not too much of an issue. Significant problems start when water separates from diesel
and becomes free or emulsified water. Emulsified water is another form of free water; the droplets are simply so

small as so well mixed into the fuel that they remain suspended rather than dropping to the bottom. There are no
"droplets" when water is fully dissolved in fuel.
Water can come from a wide variety of sources, some of which can be extremely difficult to control.

On delivery from supplier

Free water fall-out (beyond saturation point)

Condensation in tank

Leakage into tank (rain, pressure washing, ground water...)

Ingress from atmosphere (humidity)

Human error (unprotected vents, fill ports, seals...)

Diesel Fuel Systems - Precautions

Your vehicle's diesel fuel system needs to be maintained in 1st class condition, free of foreign debris and water.
The fuel system in the modern motor vehicle will not operate effectively if contaminated. Contamination such as
water, algae or other foreign debris in the tank or any other part of the system will cause poor performance,
increase fuel consumption and eventually total failure of fuel system components such as pumps, injectors, fuel
rails and lines.
Modern common rail fuel systems will fail prematurely as a result of water or other contamination in the system.
Common Rail systems operate at extremely high pressures and have very fine mechanical tolerances. It takes only
a very small quantity of water or other foreign material in the tank to cause an expensive and catastrophic failure
of the fuel system. Typical repair costs for the repair of water damaged components in the common rail system are
$7,000 to $12,000.
Note: Water and corrosion inside the fuel rail and on pump
This damage was caused by less than a cup of water in the fuel
An example of water in fuel drained from the fuel filter All of these parts are unserviceable, damaged by less than a
cupful of water in the fuel system, total cost in excess of $8000. Tips to maintain your vehicles fuel system in good
Keep the fuel tank topped up especially when not using the vehicle. A low fuel level in the tank for extended
periods of time has consequences. Common Rail fuel systems run at quite high temperatures and rely on
the circulation of spare fuel in the tank to assist in keeping the mechanical components of the fuel system
at the correct operating temperature. Tanks with a low fuel level also leave a large exposed surface area
inside the tank for condensation to form as daily ambient temperatures fluctuate up and down. Eventually
water will build up in the tank and cause problems.
Maintain and change the fuel filter regularly according to the manufacturer's recommendations. When
changing the fuel filter it is beneficial to empty the old filters contents into a clean container and inspect for
evidence of water and foreign debris (old ice cream containers are ideal).
If you suspect fuel system contamination, change the filter more often and have the system cleaned and
checked by a qualified diesel technician.
If filling from Jerri cans or drums be sure to clean all dirt and loose material from around the lids before opening
them, also use a funnel that has a fine filter to keep out foreign particles that may be in the drums. Pay attention
and look for evidence of water when filling from Jerri cans or drums.
Regularly check for water in the fuel system by opening the filter drain (if available), catch the drained fuel and
check for water or debris. Some vehicles have glass filter bowls so a visual inspection for water or other
contamination is possible. If any sign of contamination is obvious DO NOT DRIVE the vehicle until the fuel system is
checked and cleaned.
A common source of water getting into fuel tanks is from service station storage tanks. If you happen to fill up
while a tanker is on site delivering fuel, it is possible that any water in the underground storage will be stirred up
and in suspension. This water can be delivered through the fuel bowser to your vehicles tank.
If you expect to drive through deep water where the fuel tank may be totally or partly submerged ensure that the
filler cap seal is in good condition and all fuel lines and connections to the tank are in good condition and tight. A

fuel tank that is hot from continuous driving will suddenly be cooled if submerged in cold water and will cause a
slight suction back into the tank. This will allow water to enter the tank through any loose or leaking seals, hoses,
fuel level sender unit gaskets etc.
Diesel tank contraction can
water in through bad and loose
Keep an eye out for excessive smoke from the exhaust of your vehicle, especially when under full power.
Excessive smoke can indicate problems that may cause a lack of power and excessive fuel consumption. Exhaust
smoke may indicate a number of different problems with your vehicle and can be caused by, faulty or leaking
injectors, bad timing or pump settings which may require adjustment or servicing are just some. Any smoke
problems should be checked by a qualified technician, not all smoke is caused by fuel system problems.
Regularly inspect around the engine compartment and under the vehicle for fuel leaks. Leaking fuel is not only
dangerous but may also indicate more serious problems with the vehicle's fuel pump or other components. Early
detection and repair of fuel leaks may save more expensive problems.
Keep fuel hose clamps tight and ensure anti vibration clamps on injector lines are tight, with the rubber
insulators in the correct position. Check that the fuel hoses are not rubbing or chaffing on other engine
Never top up a diesel tank with petrol, if you do top up with petrol by mistake do not start the engine.
Starting the engine will result in the failure of injection system and cause expensive damage. The fuel must be
drained and the tank refilled with clean diesel before restarting.
Prevent mistakenly filling your tank with petrol by fitting a Diesel Key device to your filler cap. This device will
not allow the fuel nozzle of a petrol bowser to be inserted into a diesel fuel tank.
Water Management Techniques
Diesel fuel will always contain a certain percentage of water. The goal is to keep water levels within acceptable
limits, well below the saturation point. Removing excessive water from fuel can be a challenge; therefore, the most
effective approach is to take every reasonable measure to prevent water from entering your tank and monitor it
regularly. This way the need for water removal can be kept to a minimum. In order to develop a good water
management strategy, it is important to understand how to measure water content and evaluate the results.
There are several methods for measuring water content in fuel. Some are done in a laboratory, some can be done
onsite. It is important to understand the type of information these different tests can provide. Perhaps the most
common method for testing for water in fuel tanks is to "dip" the tank using a special indicator paste on a long dip
stick. This method is fast, easy and can be done on site, it will tell you if there is free water in the tank bottom.
Water monitors (sensors) can be installed inline and give reliable real time results. They measure the dissolved
water content in fuel and return the relative humidity of the diesel as a percentage. The maximum result is 100%,
meaning that the fuel has reached its saturation point and can hold no more water in solution. This test method will
not tell you how much free water there is in the tank.
The Karl Fischer titration method is a laboratory test used since 1935 for determining water content in a fluid
sample. The test is highly precise and requires only a small sample size. It detects even small amounts of dissolved
water, down to about 50 ppm in diesel fuel. It can measure water content both below and above saturation level
(dissolved and free water). In laboratory practice it can be used to determine water saturation level of fuel under
different conditions. While laboratory tests are typically more precise than field tests, they can be much less
accurate. This may seem confusing. The reason that the laboratory test may be less accurate is that the sample
itself may have changed between the time it was taken from the tank and the time it is tested in the lab.
One of the characteristics of diesel is that it holds more water in saturation when it is warm compared to when it is
cold. If the diesel in your tank is cold it may be over the saturation point. In this case there will be free water
entering your equipment, which can cause huge problems. If you send this same sample to a lab, it will likely be
warmer in the lab than in your tank. The fuel will warm up, the water will go back into solution, and it may look like
you have no problem at all. The same sort of diagnosis difficulties can happen with ice crystal problems. The
"evidence" goes away at room temperature.
The easiest answer would be none. But this is neither practical nor realistic. All diesel contains some percentage of
water. The most important thing is to keep the water below its saturation point so that it stays dissolved rather than
entering your equipment as free water. Equipment manufacturers specify that ZERO free water must reach the
engine. Saturation points vary from roughly 50 ppm to 1800 ppm based on temperature and on the petro
diesel/biodiesel ratio. As you can see on the chart above, biodiesel can hold significantly more water in saturation
than than its petro equivalent. Blending bio and petro diesel together, however, does not result in a mathematically
proportional moisture content. The blend will hold less in solution that the sum of the parts, meaning that free
water precipitation may occur when the two are mixed.


In order to understand how to keep water out, one must first understand how it gets in. Water can come from a
wide variety of sources, some of which can be extremely difficult to control.
On delivery from supplier: Diesel is relatively clean and dry when it leaves the refinery, yet diesel deliveries will
include variable amounts of water. The quantity of water you receive from your supplier depends largely on
circumstance and handling practices. What can you control? Beyond potentially switching suppliers or negotiating a
contract which puts the burden on the distributor, you can try the following:

Be delivered first, you don't want the water & contaminants that settle to the tank bottom.
Install a water removal system at the inlet to your bulk tank.

Ingress from atmosphere: Just like the air, diesel has a relative humidity, and the two tend to equalize. Meaning,
if the air is more humid than the fuel, then the fuel will absorb moisture from the air. If, however, the air is dryer
than the fuel, then moisture will evaporate back up into the air until the relative humidity of both is equal.
Free water fall-out: Diesel holds a certain amount of water in solution (i.e. dissolved water). When water content
goes over the saturation point, the excess water will fall out as free water. This occurs when the total water content
increases or when the diesel cools. Your diesel may hold 90 ppm dissolved water when warm, but only 60 ppm
when it cools down due to colder weather. The 30 ppm difference falls out as free water and settles to the bottom
of the tank.
Condensation in tank: When it is warmer outside the tank than it is inside, condensation will form and this
"sweat" will enter the fuel. This can occur over and over, creating more free water each time.
Leakage into tank: Rain, pressure washing or ground water can all be sources of water getting into a damaged or
improperly sealed tank. Inground tanks (at filling stations, for example) can sometimes have inlets below grade.
The area around the cap can easily fill with rain water. If the water level is above the cap when removed, gravity
will cause the water to flow right down into the tank.


Water removal is easier in regions with over 500 ppm sulfur diesel than it is with ULSD (under 15ppm sulfur). The
filter skid to the left, for example, was designed for use in South Africa, where where it is quite effective. Coalescers
and water separators function much more effectively in higher sulfur fuels. This is because higher sulfur diesel
needs much less additive and, subsequently, contains far less surfactant.
Surfactant is a soapy substance that coats over coalescing/water separating medias, severely compromising their
The increased amount of surfactant in ULSD disables coalescing media, rendering its effectiveness questionable at
Manufacturers publish filter efficiency based on the current industry test standards. The current standards were
developed a number of years ago and are designed for lab comparison testing using a consistently treated fuel.
This works well for comparison testing, but does not necessarily reflect filter efficiency in real world conditions. To
treat ULSD fuel for lab testing, the standards require the removal of all surfactants. In the real world, ULSD with
surfactant removed (AKA additives) would destroy engines. All ULSD that is fit for use in equipment contains
additives and surfactant, therefore the fuel itself effectively disables coalescing filters.
So while you will probably not see a decrease in published coalescer efficiency levels, what you will notice in
literature is the increased mention of water absorbers. Companies that still market coalescers to ULSD areas very
frequently now mention the necessity of adding water absorbers after the coalescer. There is no other way to
ensure that free water has been removed.
Unfortunately, the best way to remove large volumes of settled water is to drain the tank. Very straightforward, but
not cheap or convenient. Ambient moisture and condensation can be prevented from entering the diesel through
the use of good desiccant breathers in combination with a blanket of dry air (or nitrogen) fed into the tank's
headspace and out through the breather. As explained earlier, the relative humidity of the diesel will tend toward
the relative humidity (or "dryness") of the air. Moisture in the diesel will, with time, be released back into the dry air
until the diesel is just as dry as the air.
The key to good fuel water management is to minimize dissolved water content and eliminate all free water.