Farm Show Questions: Biodiesel Gelling

Published on 6 Mar 2015, 12:26 PM • by: Jayne Godfrey

A few weeks ago, we posted an article about the top three questions we were asked at the Northern Illinois Farm Show. Along with those questions, there are certain topics that seem to be brought up at every farm show we attend, and one of them is biodiesel. We hear sometimes that people have issues with biodiesel gelling up and are hesitant to use it again. “Gelling” can refer to fuel thickening due to wax crystal or clumping from extreme cold temperatures.

The problem here is likely not due to the biodiesel itself, but a problem with the equipment, handling or environment.

Besides being sustainable and friendlier to the environment than other fuel options, today’s biodiesel is made with very high quality standards. In fact, 96% of all US biodiesel comes from plants that receive a BQ-9000 certification, and all fuel is tested at various points throughout production before shipping. While it does have a slightly higher gel point than diesel fuel, both petroleum diesel and biodiesel will gel if it gets cold enough. Fuel suppliers should properly additize diesel and biodiesel blends to perform well in cold weather.

Here are some factors to consider when using biodiesel:

Temperature: Temperature is the biggest factor in gelling. The first thing to know is that the temperature that biodiesel gels at is highly affected from the feedstock used to make it. Using biodiesel that is made from soybean oil manages well in cold temperatures, where biodiesel made from animal fats or more saturated feedstock will gel at higher temperatures.

Shelf life: Similar to petro diesel, biodiesel has a six-month shelf/tank life, but can be extended with proper storage, handing and stability additives.  Shelf life is affected by light, water, heat and air. Whether you are storing diesel or biodiesel in your machinery, it is recommended to either fill your tank completely or empty it completely to avoid mixing air, moisture and fuel.

Filters: If you are switching to biodiesel from another fuel you may need to change filters more frequently. Biodiesel has better detergent-like properties compared to petroleum diesel, so solvents will clean the fuel delivery system. Broken-down deposits will then be caught by the filter. This is a good thing, but depending on the cleanliness of the fuel system, you may need to change filters more than once to completely clean the system up.

Water: Like with any fuel, water can be an issue, so tanks should be clean and free of water. Your fuel supplier can test for this if you are having issues or you can contact ISA or the National Biodiesel Board.

Do you have questions about biodiesel? Let us know in the comments section below.

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