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Posted: 12/07/2015

Changes in Today’s Diesel Fuel for Compact Equipment

Back in your father’s day, compact equipment ran on diesel fuel that was cheaper, easier to store and performed better in cold weather. Fuel systems were much simpler and less sensitive to contaminants. Parts were relatively inexpensive to replace, and there was little concern about component deterioration or diesel fuel’s effect on emissions.

A machine operator’s measure of producing good power was the amount of visible black smoke — the more, the better. Despite the harmful effects of diesel exhaust, there were few incentives for the industry to pursue cleaner fuel.

Understanding how today’s diesel fuel is different, and how it relates to advanced engines, is crucial to everyone’s shared success.

Tier 4 Engines Require Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel

In 2010, ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) became the requirement for all U.S. diesel engines. It ushered in a new era of fuel chemistry that impacts all compact equipment manufacturers regardless of their Tier 4 engine designs.

Many diesel engines use high-pressure common-rail (HPCR) technology. In order to burn cleaner, hotter and more efficiently, these systems use extremely precise mechanisms that demand clean fuel for component longevity and to maintain emissions standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

New Era of Diesel Chemistry

Previously, diesel was produced with sulfur levels as high as 500 parts per million (ppm). Today’s ULSD is produced with sulfur levels less than 15 parts per million. This sulfur reduction enables diesel engines to use sophisticated control devices to reduce emissions. While this significant reduction in sulfur content was a necessary part of a lower emissions strategy, there are some trade-offs:

  • First, the process used to remove sulfur also increases saturates which raises the cloud point (CP) – the temperature where wax begins to drop out of fuel —  which can contribute to fuel filter plugging.
  • Second, much of the chemistry added to replace the beneficial properties of sulfur, nitrogen and oxygen has created a greater tendency for diesel to attract and suspend water, which can damage engine components.

Cold Weather Diesel Fuel Challenges

The chemistry and variations of ULSD compared to prior formulas also create several cold weather challenges:

  • Higher potential for fuel filter freezing due to water content
  • Increased tendency for gelling and fuel filter plugging
  • Varied effectiveness of existing fuel additives
  • These challenges make it critical to perform proper and timely bulk fuel storage procedures.

Other Diesel Fuel Resources

Using clean fuel is crucial to performance and longevity of the Tier 4 engines used in today’s equipment, regardless of brand. The Association of Equipment Manufacturers has developed a clean fuel resource guide and clean fuel flyer to help carry this message to customers across the industry. More information is also available on these industry websites:

Note: Bobcat Company does not necessarily endorse the views expressed or information provided on industry websites.

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