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AF Fuel Meeting – fuel filter issues and FAME

18 December, 2019
On Wednesday 11th December, AF hosted a meeting to enable our members to discuss with fuel industry experts the issues they are facing with fuel filters.

The meeting was attended by 60 of our members, and included a panel of:
Neil Ryding, Managing Director, FAST Exocet (Joined by his colleague Julia Mansfield)
Matthew Brown, HSE Manager, Watson Petroleum (WFS)
Malcom Dennis, Manager Speciality Fuels and Services, Certas
Alex Day, Technical Service Manager, Claas
Tony Brown, UKIFDA
Robert Epton, Business Support Manager, John Deere

The meeting was chaired by AF CEO, Jon Duffy.
Jon opened the meeting by highlighting that it was unlikely a solution would be found during the session, but it gave members an opportunity to discuss the issues with experts.

The issue that has been raised by members is that fuel filters are blocking too soon, causing machinery and vehicles to stop working. This has meant an increase in filter replacement, costing time and money.

It is believed that the issue has arisen since the increase in FAME content in fuel. From the 1st January 2019, in line with the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), the maximum bio-content within fuels increased from 7.25% to 8.5%. Further year on year increases are scheduled to a maximum of 13% but 2032. At this point however agriculture has been capped at 7% maximum.

The physical content of FAME in red diesel actually increased from an average of 2% through 2018 to 6% by Harvest 2019.

Further increases to a maximum of 13% are scheduled by 2032.

What is FAME?

Fatty Acid Methyl Ester(FAME) is a biodiesel mostly made from renewable and recyclable material, including recycled cooking oils, tallow (animal) fats and plant-based material.

Due to its makeup, biofuel is hydroscopic, a property that means it will draw water in from the atmosphere. It also acts as a solvent. As it is likely to hold a higher water content than petroleum-based fuels, this could lead to fuel contamination and much more serious complications if left untreated.

Questions asked to the panel

Q. The agriculture sector seems to be the most affected by the issue. The regulation for FAME has changed but there seems to be no regulation on the FAME content itself. Can this be clarified?
A. Tony highlighted that in fuel, there is currently a maximum of 7% FAME content, no higher. Malcom raised that anyone who uses red diesel will be affected by the FAME increase, with the bio-element of fuel reaching forecourts in 2008. It was also raised that it was more expensive for companies to buy-out of FAME than to add it.

Q. Why has only the agriculture industry been affected?
A. Malcom disagreed and listed both Marine and Road Haulage as other affected industries.

Q. Why are my tractors being affected but my white lorries and cars not?
A. Julia, who joined us from Exocet, highlighted that the RAC and AA have been delivering evidence of filter blocking in vehicles since 2012. From that point, a Filter Blocking task force was established for on-road vehicles, and will continue for off-road vehicles.

Q. Is the agriculture industry being used as a test for eco-friendly fuel?
A. FAME is also in white diesel, so this seems unlikely.

Q. It appears that the fuel industry has not kept up with the recent EU and emissions regulations for machinery. It feels like we’re using 19th century fuel in 21st century equipment.
A. Robert, from John Deere, spoke about how John Deere work with major manufacturers and that the equipment must go through emissions standards. To do so, machinery requires increased injection pressure systems. For this to work, fuel must be very clean and filtered at 4 or 2 microns. The EN 116 test is through a 45 micron filter, so fuel won’t be sufficiently clean.

Q. Are the industry experts putting the farmer’s case forward?
A. Robert stated that engine manufacturers are working hard to create the standards they want to see. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time to change fuel standards.

Q. Is this issue differing per refinery?
A. 60% of refineries are experiencing problems, Matthew says terminals report that the fuel is on spec, however.

Q. Is there a standardised process to adding FAME to fuel?
A. There is a standardised process but the guidelines of which are quite broad, so it does depend on the refinery. Refineries blend at approximately 25-30 degrees, whilst storage facilities will blend at an ambient air temperature.

Q. Why can’t the product be filtered before it arrives with the customer?
A. The fuel is filtered off the tanker at 50 microns.

Q. Will we face issues in the spring after fuel has been lying dormant in tanks over winter?
A. This is hard to answer as it’s not been experienced yet.

Q. What is GTL?
A. GTL stands for Gas to Liquid fuel, and is Shell’s new diesel. It is a more expensive, niche product and it’s not readily available.

Q. What would happen if we went back to old fuel standards?
A. Ultimately, the price of fuel would increase.

Q. Is rapeseed derived FAME a possibility?
A. The answer from the panel was that this question can be posed.

Q. Can a fuel comparison be made with other European countries which can then be taken to the government?
A. NFU are in conversation with British Standards about this. NFU has set up a portal for reporting fuel filter issues which can be found here. It is encouraged that you report every time you have an issue, so that a bigger picture can be made. Scotland have done something similar and have been able to reduce fuel content to 2%.
It appears that the root cause of this issue has been found – the FAME content in the fuel causing blockages in filters. This is not always present in other countries, as the type of FAME used derives from a different oil, such as rapeseed.

At present, the renewable content of fuel is due to rise to 13% by 2032, and so the issue could worsen, unless a solution is found or a change implemented.

In the short term, farmers need to do what they can to ensure that fuel is kept at the best quality and tanks avoid contamination.
To help the industry come to a conclusion quicker, it is recommended that issues are reported to the NFU via their portal, here. The data can then be taken to the Department for Transport and the British Standards Institute to push for change.

AF commits to do all we can to keep the industry talking with our members to find a solution.
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info@theafgroup.co.uk 01603 881881Honingham Thorpe, Colton, Norwich, Norfolk NR9 5BZ
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