Monday, April 9, 2018

Funny biodiesel story

Also in this week's C&EN, an story of an unusual use of biodiesel: 
I read your article about biofuels in the March 5 issue with interest. Since I retired, I have volunteered aboard a WWII ship located on the Ohio River in Evansville, Ind.: LST-325. LST stands for landing ship, tank. This ship landed tanks and supplies at Normandy, in addition to other beaches of Europe. It is an operational museum ship that transits the rivers of the Midwest annually, opening for public tours. 
I think it was in 2011 when the ship was going up the Illinois River heading for Henry, Ill., [that] we stopped in Beardstown, Ill., to receive a donation of 10,000 gal [about 37,850 L] of biodiesel. We added it to about another 5,000 gal [about 18,900 L] of conventional diesel we already had aboard. When we returned to Evansville from this cruise, we had a few thousand gallons remaining in our tank. 
The ship was inactive for about a year, but when we tried to restart its engines in 2012, we had great difficulty. After 11 months of storage, as your article clearly states, the biodiesel was a gelatinous mess. We had to clean our tanks, all the fuel lines to our filters, and then on to our engines. After flushing with conventional diesel fuel, we finally were able to start our engines. 
There needs to be a warning label on biofuels indicating that they need to be used almost immediately. It should not be stored. 
Robert J. Hargrove
Macon, Ga.
I can't imagine the mess that must have been to clean out a 10,000 gallon tank with a gelatinous mass of biofuel; did they just solubilize the mess and pump it out? Yuck!  


  1. It is the dark side of biodiesel - the microbes grow in it happily. In fact, there are microbes that will grow even in the regular diesel, too, turning it into a gelatinous mess over time. But the problem with biodiesel is far worse, thats why in the EU countries that mandate the use of biodiesel at gas pumps only a certain% of biodiesel is allowed in the blend, the rest is regular diesel. US Air Force tested biodiesel as a jet kerosene replacement for the transport aircraft, it worked fine as a fuel but again the long-term storability was an issue

    1. If I understand correctly (and that's a big if), microbial growth and gel formation aren't the only issues--I've heard petrodiesel tends to lubricate parts, while biodiesel does not.

      All of this is a shame: biodiesel is a neat idea, and I'd love to see it work.

    2. This was more of an issue when diesel fuel was allowed a higher sulfur content. The newer ultra-low sulfur diesel fuels typically have the sulfur reduced by processes that also reduce aromatic content, reducing lubricity. I believe additives are now blended into all diesel fuels, bio or otherwise, to improve lubricity along with other desired properties. Some marine duty fuels are still high sulfur, but environmental regulations for port cities have changed the calculus for fuel selection. If you want some fun reading about fuel switch-ups and the ensuing chaos, check out the issue with diesel fuel contaminating Jet A aviation kerosene fuel:

    3. OK, I've learned something today. Thank you, Hoppenheimer.

      About the contamination events in that report... how does one even begin to dispose of the 1.5 million gallons that Dulles had?

  2. To be fair, all diesel is biodiesel.....

    1. this isn't true, some diesel is Fischer-Tropsh

    2. Presumably CO used in FT is organic, so maybe still counts...


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