By Paul Nazzaro
The New England Fuel Institute’s North American Heating and Energy Expo last month provided a great opportunity to catch up with fuel dealers from across the region and hear about what’s happening in the field. As a fuel quality professional, my business centers on educating dealers on how to identify and eliminate fuel problems, while maximizing the performance and dependability of their product. After a few conversations at the Expo, it became clear to me that there’s one area in particular where education is essential.
There’s an alarming amount of misinformation out there regarding ultra-low sulfur heating oil (ULSHO). With state mandates taking effect over the next several years, it’s absolutely paramount that fuel dealers know the facts about our soon-to-be industry standard product.
Several dealers at the NEFI Expo expressed the belief that ULSHO will resolve any and all fuel quality issues, rendering their premium heating oil programs obsolete. Nothing could be further from the truth. While ULSHO is certainly a cleaner burning, more efficient fuel—especially when blended with biodiesel—it is not a fix-all for every common fuel problem, nor does it come without its own set of operability concerns.
The first thing to remember is that while the physical properties of the fuel may be evolving, the supply, storage, and distribution chain down which it travels—where most fuel contamination occurs—remains the same. In fact, because higher sulfur fuel had possessed natural lubricant qualities ULSHO will require our attention to provide the necessary boundary lubrication required by fuel pumps. Like biodiesel, ULSHO can also be prone to increased levels of entrained water and more susceptible to water and microbial contamination.
The refining process used to remove sulfur also removes oxygen, nitrogen, and other functional elements, yielding a fuel that is more paraffinic, or waxy, to the detriment of its cold flow operability, and less stable in storage. ULSHO like biodiesel is more soluble, and liable to loosen filter-plugging deposits in tanks. Lastly, just because ULSHO is “cleaner” than traditional heating oil, it is not any less corrosive to tanks, pipes, and system components if left unprotected. Sound storage, transportation, and general housekeeping practices—as well as additive treatment for lubricity, moisture control, cold flow performance, stability, and corrosion—are as essential as ever with ULSHO.
It’s an exciting time for the heating oil industry. With the emergence of ULSHO and higher ASTM-approved blends of Bioheat® (B6-B20), our industry has a compelling story to share with consumers. We can now offer a safer, cleaner, more efficient and more renewable alternative to natural gas. It’s up to each and every dealer to ensure that it’s more dependable.
Paul Nazzaro is the founder of the Nazzaro Group that provides consulting services, renewable energy, market analysis, fleet management, fuel quality assessments, supply chain management development, sales and technical training. He is also the president of Advanced Fuel Solutions, Inc. that provides insight on fuel quality and management programs. He also serves as the NBB petroleum liaison and program manager.