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Diesel Generator Sets Susceptible To Premature Wear From Dirty Fuel

May. 07, 2022

Generators are an essential part of all oil and gas power supply chains, from upstream applications such as drilling and pumping operations to refineries and other downstream producers, especially those located in remote locations. While most operators are aware of the importance of regular maintenance, in our experience many do not place enough value on burning the cleanest fuel possible and keeping the tank itself free of impurities.


Diesel engines are especially susceptible to premature wear and damage from "dirty" fuel. Additionally, when the fuel filter becomes clogged with impurities, restricted fuel flow can negatively impact filter and engine performance. Users may think that newer engines are better at solving fuel problems because they are more advanced. In fact, the opposite is true.


Technological advancements in recent years, including high-pressure fuel injectors and pumps, have made the use of clean fuels even more important. The reality is that with all engines, especially newer ones, a wide variety of harmful substances, from water from condensation to oxidized particles from the fuel tank itself, can cause serious problems. In this article, Jiangsu Starlight Electricity Equipments Co.,Ltd. will detail some of the advanced processes and procedures operators can use to ensure their diesel is as pristine and clean as possible when it enters the engine.


Why does diesel degrade and how does the fuel and tank interact?


Diesel engine

Diesel fuel can be stored for six months to a year when kept clean, cool and dry, however, this is not the fuel stored in the tank under frequent use, it will be a recirculated fuel, Water, microorganisms and spoilage.


When a diesel engine draws fuel from the tank, the fuel passes through a high-pressure fuel pump into the injectors, which work under extreme pressure and high temperatures. Any fuel that is not drawn into the injectors by the engine is returned to the tank. As a result, most of the fuel in the tank can be continuously recirculated and exposed to extreme pressure and heat.


This behavior leads to the condensation of asphaltenes, dense molecular substances composed mostly of carbon but also containing hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and sulfur, as well as trace amounts of vanadium and nickel. More simply, asphaltenes are a sticky, black, highly viscous form of petroleum.


Asphaltenes are great paving materials for roofing and waterproofing coatings, but they are very hard on the engine. Over time, these asphaltenes can aggregate into larger clumps and solids that make it difficult for the engine to burn. They can grow so large that they can't get through the fuel filter and instead build up sludge build-up and clog the filter completely.


Compounding the problem, the hot fuel returning to the tank raises the temperature of the remaining fuel, causing condensation, turning into water (and eventually algae due to microbial contamination), and mixing with the fuel. Heating also accelerates fuel decomposition. The result is fuel fouling and a buildup of sludge and acid in the tank. Water and acids can cause rust and corrosion in the fuel tank, further fuel deterioration.


Most of these contaminants settle to the bottom of the tank, but only temporarily. Every time you refuel, they get agitated and may be suspended in the fuel.


Most engines cannot tolerate more than 15 mg/L of persistent particulate pollution (before fuel filtration). The injector can become clogged and damaged by particles at a rate corresponding to the particle size, but some damage is certain. Injectors damaged by impurities also cannot maintain the correct fuel droplet size, which can cause the fuel to not ignite properly as it enters the combustion chamber. Degraded fuel, especially if it's acidic, which is almost always the case can also lead to corrosion of fuel system components.


Regarding water, the life and performance of the ejector begins to degrade when the water content reaches a tiny measurement of 0.05%. Water-contaminated fuel (where the water component turns into steam when heated in the engine's combustion chamber) can damage the fuel injectors, reduce flammability and negatively affect the diesel's ability to lubricate the engine. In cold climates, especially when block heaters do not provide sufficient heating, moisture can also promote the formation of ice crystals in the engine.


Simple solutions to avoid major problems.


So what should a diesel generator operator do to counteract all these negative factors? The following are the suggestions of the generator manufacturer, Jiangsu Starlight Electricity Equipments Co.,Ltd.:


Fuel Analysis: Every six months, operators should conduct a contaminant analysis of their fuel.


Fuel Screening: If contaminants are found during fuel analysis, or at least once a year, the fuel should undergo a heavy duty screening process to remove large amounts of sludge, rust and other contaminants from the fuel tank.


Bulk Fuel Filtration: After each heavy duty screening, the fuel should undergo bulk filtration, water separation and fuel conditioning.


Introduction to Fuel Catalysts: Depending on the severity of the contamination (prior to screening and filtration), a technician may recommend adding fuel treatments and catalysts to the tank to remove engine deposits and prevent them from forming in the future.


Biocide introduction: After removing asphaltene residues, rust and corrosive particles, water and other chemical agents, the addition of biocides is also beneficial for killing microbe-producing algae and fungi.


Value-Added Benefit: If you replace the fuel filter assembly and injectors prematurely, this is usually a sign of poor fuel quality. (The injectors should last about 15,000 hours and the filter element should last 1,000 hours or more.)


Regular fuel cleaning and polishing not only improves engine performance but also reduces wear and premature failure. Keeping the fuel as clean as possible also reduces fuel consumption by up to 10% and reduces exhaust temperatures, leading to fewer breakdowns. A final benefit is that asphaltene sludge and other toxic particles that do not enter the engine also do not form part of any emissions that enter the atmosphere.


Founded in 1974, Jiangsu Starlight Electricity Equipments Co.,Ltd. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Jiangsu Starlight Power Group. It is one of the earliest manufacturers of generator sets in China. Starlight Power has 64 sales and service departments, which provide users with long-term technical advice, free debugging, free maintenance, and free training services. Looking forward to your inquiry, for more details, please contact us with sales@dieselgeneratortech.com.

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