The heating season is starting and oil technicians will need tools to identify problems and then choose the best additive solution. Below we will give the technician a quick and easy method to determine the problem and choose the right additive or corrective procedure.
There are a number of times a technician must use his intuition and experience to evaluate the problem. The technician should first check the tank for water by using TESTMASTER water finding paste if he suspects icing. If water is present, it is most likely in the lines and, therefore, pooling in low points in the system.
Ice in the tank will not give a positive reading on the water finding paste indicator. TESTMASTER water finding paste must contact water in order to react. It is easy to determine if the problem is ice provided a sample of the blockage can be obtained. The technician should take the sample and drop it into in a clear glass jar or bottle filled with warm fuel oil. When the sample melts, the ice crystals will form water droplets that will appear in the bottom of the container.
If there is ice in the line, how does the technician get the deicing additive to the blockage and quickly unblock the plug? This cannot be accomplished by pouring the additive into the tank unless there is a small amount of flow through the line to the oil burner. The quickest and best way to unblock a plugged line is to use deicer under pressure. This product type injects a large amount of deicer directly to the ice plug utilizing KLEAR-O-LINE. The ice plug will melt within 5 to 10 minutes after injection. Also, the water absorbents in the deicer will allow the plug to be burned with the fuel.
It is possible to deice by using a deicing agent added directly to the tank when there is ice in the tank. Several bottles may be required for a severely iced tank. The deicing agents will drop to the bottom of the tank and begin melting the ice. It can take up to 2 to 3 hours or longer to effectively deice a tank. The length of time is dependent on outside temperature and the amount of water in the tank.
Problem: No Cold Flow
There are situations in which it can be difficult for the technician to differentiate between no oil flow due to icing in the line and a cold gelled oil. A fuel oil that has poor cold flow properties looks almost like “granular” Vaseline. The material when placed in your hand or on a warm surface will quickly turn back into a liquid. If placed into warm fuel oil, the gelled material will re-dissolve and leave no residue.
The reason fuel oil has a cold flow problem is due to the fact that it contains wax. Depending on the refinery and the oil feedstock, different heating oils will have different wax contents and crystal formations. Kerosene contains almost no wax, and therefore, it naturally has extremely low pour points. Burning almost pure kerosene will ensure no problems in cold weather.
There is one system that can get the oil moving again and help break up the gelled oil in the tank. A quick way is to inject a deicer and sludge solvent with a KLEAR-O-LINE through the feed line back into the tank. The deicer must be added downstream of any check valves. The solvents, deicing additives, and the motion will break up the gelled oil. If the tank temperatures do not increase within an hour, the oil will re-gel.
Adding at least 15 % of the tank volume with kerosene containing a cold flow improver will keep the oil moving through declining temperatures. Many additives claim pour point depression. However, if the additive is a multi-use product, it does not contain enough pour point depressant to be effective. The one product “cures all” will not work under these conditions.
Problem: Copper Gelling
It is a known fact in oil refineries that copper and distillate fuel are not compatible. These incompatible materials form a copper mercaptide gel. Mercaptides are sulfur based organic compounds found in trace quantities in distillate fuels. The reaction of mercaptans in the fuel with brass or copper forms an oil insoluble gel. Also, this gel is unaffected by ambient temperature and is actually an insoluble grease. In addition, the gel tends to stick to non ferrous metal parts and will plug brass fritted filters quickly. A quick test is to take some of this gel and drop it into clean warm oil. If it doesn’t dissolve, it is probably a mercaptan gel. Once a gel has formed, it can only be removed by hand cleaning system components using a good degreaser. The use of a pressurized solvent cleaner will help force the copper gels through the system so they can be burned.
Future formations of mercaptan gels can be prevented by using SEASON OIL that contains metal deactivators or stablizers and water coupling agents. This class of additive specifically targets the copper and brass by reacting with the metal before the fuel can deteriorate. It further prevents fuel deterioration by keeping these metals “tied up” and not allowing them to interact with the fuel. Water definitely contributes to the gel forming process by freeing up copper ions. As a result, an additive must be used year round to prevent mercaptan gels from forming. This action is particularly bad in the summer when fuel is laying stagnant in the oil lines and pumps.
There is a myth that microorganisms or “bugs” can grow in oil. This is not true. The bugs actually grow in the water phase of the oil tank and feed off the oil. You cannot get microorganism growth if you do not have water in the tank. Thus, the oil is only a food source. The microbes’ waste products include large amounts of acidic materials which are capable of corroding tanks, pipes, pumps, and fuel lines. The microbial bodies can plug filters and screens. Therefore, the key to preventing bugs in oil is to keep water out of the oil tanks.
There is no quick and easy test to determine if microorganism growth exists in the fuel oil tank. Slimy and stringy masses on filters and screens may be an indication of “bug” growth. If you determine you have microbial growth in an oil tank, you should pump out the water. This will reduce the body count by 90 to 95%. Killing the bugs with a microbiocide and not removing the water will lead to serious filter plugging problems. There is no chemical means to remove the dead bodies. Therefore, they must either be removed mechanically or they will breakdown into finer filter plugging particles over time.
Once the water has been removed from the system, an EPA registered microbiocide may be introduced provided that the directions are followed accordingly. A good microbiocide will prevent future contamination. However, boron-based biocides tend to concentrate themselves in the water phase of the oil tank. Thus, continuous use of a microbiocide is suggested because this will disperse greater concentrations of biocide in the system.
Once a system has been contaminated, it will always be prone to future bug attacks. No biocide can truly sterilize a system. A few surviving organisms will always be present to re-contaminate the oil as soon as conditions are advantageous. It is important to control the infiltration of water to help prevent recontamination. A diligent program including water testing with a water finding paste and year-round usage of an additive will prevent future problems. For serious water infiltration problems, it is suggested to use some water dispersant to redistribute the water.
Problem: Sludge and Varnish
Sludge is a general name for a complex of organic and inorganic material. This matrix of sticky, oxidized by- products accumulates in tanks, lines, filters, and burners which can lead to oil burner and oil system plugging as well as outages. Sludge and varnish are constantly forming in a system and the amount of sludge and varnish accelerates with time.
To determine if you have sludge, take a small sample of the sludge and mix it with one ounce of a good commercial sludge dispersing product. If the sludge breaks up or re-dissolves within several minutes, you have chosen the right additive. In order to maintain a satisfactory degree of cleanliness in an oil system, it is important to continually use a fuel oil additive designed for year-round usage.
When you encounter a newly formed sludge problem in the oil tank, we recommend using SEASON OIL which is designed to remove and disperse gross sludge problems. Initial treatment usually requires a double dose to get the fastest response. If the oil line is plugged, use KLEAR-O-LINE under pressure to clear and dissolve the sludge and varnish in the oil feed line. Doing so will immediately restore oil flow. It is suggested that an aggressive fuel oil treatment program to prevent future outages.
A comprehensive additive program will save time, money, labor, and aggravation. In addition, it will enhance your “customer retention” programs and convert ordinary heating oil into a premium fuel. If service and performance are primary to your corporate vision, then the proper use of additives must be part of your service plan. The wrong additive or the improper use of an additive promotes wasting of valuable dollars.