What exactly is diesel fuel?

December 1st, 2009

Carbon Distribution No. 2 Diesel FuelDiesel fuel is a very complex mixture of thousands of individual compounds with carbon numbers between 9 and 23 (number of carbon atoms per hydrocarbon* molecule) Most of these compounds are members of the paraffinic, naphthenic or aromatic class of hydrocarbons (HC). These three classes have different chemical and physical properties. The different relative proportions of the three classes is one of the factors that make one diesel fuel different from another. It influences fuel properties and affects its performance.

Refined Fuel vs Residual OilUp until about 15-20 years ago, refineries used only about 50% of a barrel of crude oil to make distillates such as gasoline, jet fuel and diesel. The remainder of the barrel of crude oil went to “residual oil”. Today, as a result of different refining techniques and additive packages, the refinery uses 90% or more of the same barrel of crude, which clearly has consequences for fuel stability.

More than 90% of the debris on filter elements and the sludge in our storage tanks is organic material, fuel and oil breakdown residue. In most cases, this debris is acidic and not good for your engine. It causes corrosion in injectors, pumps and storage tanks.

Solids forming in Diesel FuelThe solids that form as the result of the inherent instability of the fuel and the natural process of degradation will accumulate in the bottom of your tank. The sludge will form a coating or bio-film on the walls and baffles of the tank, plug your filters and impact combustion efficiency. Eventually it will clog fuel lines and ruin your equipment.

*Hydrocarbons are organic compounds composed entirely of carbon and hydrogen divided in four major classes: paraffins, naphthenes, olefins, and aromatics. These classes share common structural features but differ in size, (number of carbon atoms per molecule) and/or geometry. While hydrogen and carbon are the predominant elements in crude oil, small amounts of sulfur, nitrogen and oxygen are also present and referred to as hetero-atoms (other-atoms). Compounds containing hetero-atoms are non-hydrocarbons. Typical non-hydrocarbons found in diesel are dibenzothiophene and carbazole, which play a large role in determining certain fuel properties.

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