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Fuel Management for Your Backup Generator Fuel Cleaning/Polishing & Capacity Planning

4000 kW Caterpillar Generator Prepping for ShipmentIndustrial and commercial backup power generators serve an important purpose. They provide a reliable source of standby power to businesses of all types and sizes. No matter if your establishment is a hospital, data center, grocery store, manufacturing plant, food processing operation, oil well, or any other type of facility, backup power is essential to keep things running on schedule and in full force under all circumstances. Backup power allows an establishment to retain power in the event of a black-out, brown-out, or any other type of emergency situation that results in a power loss. Diesel generators are designed to kick into action on a moment's notice with very minimal interruption (when combined with an automatic transfer switch) so that operations can continue as normal. Diesel power generators are known to be both dependable and trustworthy, especially when they are maintained properly.

Diesel Generator Preventative Maintenance and Fuel Management

When diesel generator maintenance is discussed, the conversation often revolves around load bank testing, timely removal of worn out parts or upgrading the generator's components, checking fluid levels, battery inspection and cleaning of connections, and verifying control panel readings and indicators. However, just as important as all of these preventative maintenance factors is diesel fuel management. In order to fully protect your organization in the event of a power failure, you should have at least these three things:
1) reliable backup power generator
2) well-maintained backup power generator
3) on-site supply of clean fuel to run that generator during an outage

Diesel Fuel Cleaning

Diesel fuel can often last for 6 to 12 months without any maintenance and even longer in some applications but it certainly does not last forever. In years past diesel fuel had exceptionally long shelf life but the latest EPA regulated diesel fuel has changed that.  While it may be cleaner on the CO2 output, the unintended consequence was we now have fuel that has many additives, that cause fits with engines not built for that, and requires much more management and monitoring than ever before because it is more susceptible to bacterial growth and sludge build up. All diesel fuel deteriorates over time, and the longer it sits inside of a storage tank or within your idle diesel generator, the more likely it will begin to degenerate. When a diesel power generator runs on dirty diesel fuel, the result can be sludge build-up, clogged filters and numerous other problems. Sludge build-up and clogged filters inside a diesel generator can cause the generator to function inefficiently or not at all during a power outage. The result of a dysfunctional power generator can be extensive - causing damage to the unit, not enough power to cover all primary systems and even threat of downtime during an emergency.

The overall condition of the diesel fuel located in the fuel tanks of your diesel powered generator should be an area of focus and definitely not overlooked. Diesel fuel is an organic substance that naturally begins to degrade over time. This process cannot be avoided, at some point water typically finds a way in either during fuel delivery or condensation and that is what starts the bacterial growth. The only defense against the breakdown of diesel fuel over time is regular fuel evaluation and cleaning - often referred to as fuel polishing.  Fuel polishing usually involves fuel sampling, testing, and analysis plus sterilizing and cleaning particulates, bacteria, fungi, and rust out with chemicals and filters and sometimes algae based solutions, depending on the product or provider you are using for this type of service.

Benefits of Clean Diesel Fuel & Fuel Polishing

When a backup diesel power generator runs with clean diesel fuel, the following occurs:
• Cleans and lubricates the injection system
• Fuel injectors are far less likely to fail
• Maintenance expenses can be kept lower
• Sludge buildup (sediment, rust, water, etc...) becomes less of a problem
• The diesel power generator will run with less smoke
• More reliable fuel for outages and emergencies

Spotting Problems with A Diesel Generator's Fuel

If you have not had the diesel fuel in your diesel generator and/or fuel storage tank sampled, analyzed, and monitored, the following may occur either within the fuel tank or within the generator itself:
• The fuel inside the tank will appear dark
• The tank will emit an unusual odor
• Sediment will develop at the bottom of the tank
• Exhaust from the generator engine will be dark in color while running
• The generator's fuel lines and/or filters will appear clogged
• Starting system damage (battery, relays and electrical components)
• Fuel injection pump and injectors clogged or damaged
• The generator output and engine performance may be intermittent

Dirty vs. Clean Diesel Fuel

The point at which 'good' fuel turns 'bad' is not always readily apparent. In other words, the transformation is a gradual process that occurs over time. It is critical that a diesel generator's fuel be periodically sampled, tested, and maintained to ensure its integrity. The quality of the fuel is directly correlated with the reliability of the diesel generator.

Natural Gas Considerations

Fuel Tanks Can Serve as Generator Pedestal

One advantage natural gas generators have is they often do not require fuel storage, the utility typically stores that for you and you draw the gas out as needed.  This can be very convenient especially on residential generators when you have access to a reliable gas line.  However, for larger industrial applications or operations without a direct gas line the logistics become much more challenging and a lot of factors should be considered.  While it has not happened often, if there is a major storm and the gas line gets cut or is somehow disrupted then you are out of luck.  It can take up to a year or two to have a new line installed in remote locations.  There are some companies in the market that offer to bring compressors and trailers full of piped in natural gas to your location now so that may make sense in certain cases.  There are also some interesting dual fuel options (bi-fuel that runs both diesel and natural gas) making waves as well lately that may make sense especially in prime power applications.  

Propane Considerations     

Propane generators are less common in large commercial operations for logistical and cost reasons but for smaller gensets it can be a good option to consider (typically up to around 200 kW).  These are no different than a propane gas grill you have most likely used at some point. You simply have a tank that the propane gas is stored in connected to the genset.  Propane has a higher boiling point than natural gas so it can be delivered via truck and kept in tanks on site. 

Fuel Capacity Planning & Service Providers

One other important aspect of fuel management is determining how you will get fuel during an extended outage.  Some key questions include:
• What is your on-site fuel capacity and plan to utilize that fuel during an emergency? 
• Do you need more local on-site storage or a larger fuel tank? 
• Will you need electrical system rationing to conserve fuel during a crisis (shutting down non-essential systems, limiting high wattage device usage, etc.)? 
• How close is your current fuel provider to your location? 
• What is your fuel providers plan for severe outage coverage (major storms, blackout, etc.)? 

If you do not know answers to any or all of these types of questions then we would recommend contacting a local fuel service vendor for assistance to help you get started.  Various diesel fuel service providers located around the world offer fuel analysis, maintenance, and fuel delivery services. Fuel service providers are not only able to assess the condition of the fuel that is currently stored inside your diesel fuel generator's fuel storage tank but they are also able to provide your establishment with fuel deliveries, adequate fuel storage tanks (if you don't already have them), and all other maintenance services necessary to keep your diesel fuel and your generator in top condition.

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