R.W. Beckett Corp., North Ridgeville, Ohio, is conducting ongoing testing of interaction of biofuels with storage tanks and heating equipment.
At the Eastern Energy Expo in Hershey, Pa., Craig Butler, product manager of residential oil burners and tank accessories for R.W. Beckett, presented findings of the research and testing that has been done so far. Long-term storage stability of biodiesel and biodiesel blends has been studied by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Butler pointed out, and in notes accompanying his presentation he wrote, “We believe this is the biggest issue that needs to be addressed.”
This article is by Stephen Bennett, editor of Fuel Oil News. R.W. Beckett provided a copy of the presentation and Butler discussed it with Fuel Oil News by phone the week following the Expo. The National Biodiesel Board’s response appears in the second half of the article.
“My presentation was basically more directed at the dealers so that they understand that the fuels are changing and there are differences between the traditional number 2 oil and these new renewables,” Butler said. “We just want to make sure that they understand what these differences are and make the right choices going forward.”
In his May 24 presentation, titled, “Overcoming Fueling Fears: Choosing Components for Dealing with Today’s Bio and ULSD Blends,” Butler pointed out, “We know that fuel oil continues to react in the tank. [The industry uses] additives to correct that. In biodiesel, it happens faster, and once started it can be slowed down, but not reversed. Chemical reactions take place that result in new compounds being formed, including non-volatiles that are difficult if not impossible to burn… What’s the take-away? Biodiesel when it ages gets acidic and creates stuff that doesn’t burn. It also means that if it met spec when you bought it, it may have deteriorated over time to the point that it may not meet the original spec.”
R.W. Beckett began its testing of fuels and pumps in the first quarter of 2016, Butler said.
For research on fuel, “we did some tests with what we had purchased as a B20 fuel,” Butler told Fuel Oil News. The latest version of ASTM D396 contains a section encompassing B6 to B20 with three different sulfur levels, Butler said. However, R.W. Beckett has approved only up to B5 for use with its equipment.
Butler said the tests of B20 “turned out pretty darn bad. Upon further evaluation of the fuels we found that straight vegetable oil had been added as a lubricity agent.” Further tests of a blend that was 99% No. 2 oil and 1% SVO resulted in “pretty detrimental issues with combustion,” Butler said. “It’s my understanding that some marketers are adding SVO as a lubricity agent for ULS heating oil and I wanted to point out that that’s not a good idea.”
Glenn Allen, another product manager for R.W. Beckett, said that tests also had been conducted on three burner brands. Similar combustion issues were found among all three, Allen said.
In the presentation Butler noted that R.W. Beckett engineers are working with others at ASTM to ballot a change to ASTM D396 that would essentially ban the use of vegetable oil as an additive. “By definition, it is already not allowed as a primary fuel source since it is neither hydrocarbon [nor] biodiesel by definition,” he said. ASTM D396 is the standard for heating oil used in residential and commercial burners.
The manufacturer also performed teardowns of 300 returned R.W. Beckett private-label pumps. Of those, 183 pumps, or 61%, had no apparent defect. The company found various kinds of damage, defects or conditions in the other 117 pumps, according to the presentation delivered at the Expo. Seized gear sets were found in 39 pumps; seized shafts were found in 28 pumps. The other 50 units were found to have a variety of defects or conditions, such as leaking or component damage.
Butler said a dealer at the presentation mentioned “having issues with pumps failing.” The dealer said he didn’t know why the pumps were failing, Butler said.
“Just like I wasn’t putting my finger on any one thing,” Butler said.
R.W. Beckett is in the process of developing a field retrofit kit for blends greater than B5, Butler said. It is currently projected to be available before the end of the year, he said. Longer-term, the manufacturer is in the process of developing a B20-compatible burner, Butler said.
Reports on two tests that R.W. Beckett conducted are available to anyone who would like to see them, Butler said. To request copies, email Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org. Butler added that he is seeking feedback and input from others in the industry.
The National Biodiesel Board, Jefferson City, Mo., provided the following statement responding to the R.W. Beckett presentation. The statement has been slightly edited. Scott Fenwick, NBB’s technical director, and Steve Howell of MARC-IV Consulting, Kearney, Mo., who is chairman of the ASTM Biodiesel Task Force, wrote:
The biodiesel industry is all about providing a fuel customers can be confident in due to the cleaner burning nature of biodiesel, lower carbon emissions that make B20 blends out-compete natural gas, and the large amount of research and testing that went into getting the ASTM Biodiesel Specifications.
R.W. Beckett Corp. was fully involved (through the good work of now retired Vic Turk, long-time R.W. Beckett quality manager, and chairman of the heating oil section at ASTM) in the research that went into the ASTM biodiesel standards. Some of the most prominent research institutions in the world, such as Brookhaven National Laboratory, Stony Brook University, and Penn State, provided convincing data comparing B20 to petroleum-based heating oil on elastomer compatibility, compatibility with copper, pump leakage, and use of fuel under the normal storage cycles of heating oil in a home.
We were disappointed that instead of quelling fears and providing constructive guidance and lessons learned and helping build confidence in biodiesel use, much of the presentation seemed to be dedicated to fueling those fears and revisiting questions or issues about biodiesel blends long since addressed through over six years of highly technical work and over 10 years of successful market experience that went into securing the ASTM Standards for B6-B20 in D396.
There were some aspects of the presentation, however, that were helpful. R.W. Beckett did purchase a “20% bio-blend” from a supplier that self-registered on a non-monitored part of the NBB web site (that supplier is now removed from the web site) for some of their internal research testing on B20. In the end, not verifying the quality of the blend before doing the research, a common scientific practice, was a good thing. Their testing indicated problems with that material, which was found later to contain raw vegetable oil that is not biodiesel. It is critical that only ASTM grade products be used, and changes are in the works to clarify that raw vegetable oil—or “viscous renewable diesel” as EPA calls it now—should not be used at any concentration and the material R.W. Beckett tested did not meet D396.
We applaud R.W. Beckett’s announcement they are developing new burners that will be specifically designed with the ASTM B20 specs in mind. The B6-B20 specifications passed in 2015 set the stage for all burner, pump, and boiler manufacturers to design and approve their new equipment with B20 or higher blends and we are hopeful that will happen industry-wide very soon.
R.W. Beckett indicated changing to materials known to be compatible with up to B100 (i.e. stainless steel, Viton™, Teflon™) which is certainly a move in the right direction, even though B20 and lower blends have been used successfully for many years in equipment with the current, existing materials.
R.W. Beckett also mentioned some recent heating oil fuel pumps problems for which a root cause has not been identified. Intermittent field problems and plugged filter, nozzles, strainers, fuel lines and heat exchanger issues were a part of the heating oil landscape long before biodiesel became popular. We are hopeful the new NORA research lab and fuel/equipment companies can work together to find and eliminate the root cause.
We agree the move to green, low-carbon liquid fuel is the future of oilheat. With the use of common fuel housekeeping practices and purchase of high quality ASTM grade B20 from high quality suppliers, we anticipate many others will join the thousands of happy homeowners who are reducing their carbon footprint with biodiesel blends.