Problems with Bio-Diesel

Switching to bio-diesel fuel for log-handling equipment is not always trouble-free, according to some. December 28, 2006

As an environmentalist from the 70's, I decided to try my hand at burning biodiesel in my diesel equipment - two trucks, two Volvo loaders, and one Kubota loader. Well, I thought I was saving the earth (cause it's the only planet with chocolate) by buying biodiesel, but I have since learned otherwise.

It would appear that biodiesel, even though the tailpipe smells of Chinese food or French fried chicken, has some major downfalls. It creates a sticky goo that will mess up diesel injector pumps.

I purchased my biofuel from a reputable source, not made in an old water heater - it was clean filtered and looked good. Since my new best friend is the diesel injector shop, where I have spent over $1000.00 on parts and pieces for the 7.3l diesel engine, not to mention all the filters, etc. for the other power units, I have regretted the switch to biodiesel. I thought you all might need a forewarning. My injector shop is flooded with biodiesel repairs. School busses with blown engines as a result of biodiesel, and the number of pump failures… Seems that biofuel is corrosive to some metal parts. My pump metering rod looked as if it had a light sandblasting (mechanic said that's from biodiesel; my pump is only 15,000 miles old). So enjoy the smell of the fried foods, but prepare your checkbook.

What have your results been with using biodiesel?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor R:
Wow. I've been tempted to try it myself. Not anymore. Thanks for the warning!

From contributor A:
At the risk of sounding argumentative, I would disagree with this thread. Biodiesel has more of a solvent effect on a fuel system then petro does. You have to replace fuel line, filters and sometimes pumps because of this solvent nature. Solvent isn't the term I want, but I think corrosive is a bit overboard. It is something else - I just can't think of the term. If you ran petro, then switched over to bio, there are going to be issues because the bio is trying to clean the residuals left behind by the petro. You are the first person I know of to have any serious problems by switching. But I will take it from the lion's mouth, since I have never actually used it. There are quite a few vehicles up here that burn it without any problems that I am aware of. I am thinking of switching, but I think I have more research to do yet. Thanks for posting your experiences.

From the original questioner:
Yes, it was a surprise to me too. After researching the bio-diesel issue, I actually made sort of an investment in the production of the stuff. It does create a goo. Just let it touch the paint on your truck - it will eat into the paint. Put it in a jar and leave it in the sun for a while and you will end up with goo in the bottom of the jar. I ran two tankfuls and then had to replace all filters, primary and secondary. I did this twice. Lots of crud in the filters. It is a great solvent. I have used it for cleaning parts. However the injector shop has shown me the goo that was in the pump, and in other pumps that he has repaired. It's sticky, like a sugar mess with a bit of grit in it. He said that the grit gets through the filters and as it is under high rail pressure, it will "sandblast". I have had three years of no problems in my Volvo loader, 201 hp and 100 hp, but the 7.3l International diesel has been in the shop four times and they still have not cured the ailment. The next issue is that I need to drain and clean out the dual fuel tanks.

From contributor C:
This is the first problem I've heard from the stuff as well, as I've heard nothing but good from it so far. Could be the way they make it and clean it. By the way, if you switch from gas to ethanol, the alcohol will clean all the gunk out of the vehicle the gas caused and you'll go through a few filters at first.

From contributor H:
Which grade of bio-diesel do you use?

From contributor T:
I know a lot of folks using biodiesel in all kinds of vehicles. Know of one guy who runs straight waste vegetable oil (WVO) with a heater. He switches to regular diesel when starting and shutting off the vehicle. Runs it in an old Toyota diesel pickup and drives all over the country. There's a local guy who manufactures biodiesel using alligator fat (he owns a processing plant). Uses it in his trucks. When transferring an older vehicle over, perhaps a go-slow approach is in order. Start with a 10:1, and move up from there.

From contributor A:
That goo is probably the glycerin in the diesel. After the diesel is washed, it is allowed to settle and the glycerin settles to the bottom of the container. The glycerin is removed and the diesel is washed again and allowed to settle. The is repeated until no glycerin is left. The diesel should have a nice pale gold color. I wish I knew more about is, but I don't. The gunk could of course be something I am not aware of.

From contributor E:
"You have to replace fuel line, filters and sometimes pumps because of this solvent nature. Solvent isn't the term I want, but I think corrosive is a bit overboard. It is something else - I just can't think of the term. If you ran petro, then switched over to bio, there are going to be issues because the bio is trying to clean the resides left behind by the petro. You are the first person I know of to have any serious problems by switching."

The above is what I'm seeing around here, too. Numerous guys here are using it, and once the fuel system is cleaned out, no more problems. The filters are catching all the crud and they need to be changed a couple of times.

From the original questioner:
I have cleaned and replaced all the filtering devices I have on the diesel setups. The manufacturer of the bio-diesel is really reputable, however, he has admitted that some of the earlier stuff he was producing was being pumped into a tank that had not been properly cleaned. He thinks that it was the fault of a shift change and someone not doing their job. He swears that he set his pump to be 10 inches off the bottom of the 5000 gal tank. The blend I was using was from 30% to 60%. I even ran a tank at 100%. (Was told it would be no problem in the summer.) Don't get me wrong, I think it's a great idea, but so far I have spent way too much money, lost time and production fussing with the changeover. The pioneers had it tough.

Now I am pulling fuel tanks, and cleaning them with jet fuel, the only known solvent to clean out systems. Jp5 is preferred but I will settle for jp4. Tomorrow the truck goes back into the shop.

From the original questioner:
All my woodworking equipment is diesel powered except my Lucas 825. Anyone else with diesel should beware, biodiesel ain't what it should be, until specs are formalized and set in stone. My problem engine had only 10k miles on it when I started using biodiesel. The second pump in, now a total of 20,000 miles. The injector shop said that the first pump was put together poorly, not to spec, but he said that's common with dealership supplied injector pumps.

Well, the jp4 was added into the fuel system after a visual inspection of both tanks - both tanks were clean and no crud whatsoever. After 80 miles with a mix of 20%+/- jp4, my low end response improved, and when I come to a stop or take my foot off the foot feed, the truck wouldn't die. But this morning the shop said that the truck wouldn't stay lit when you take your foot off the foot feed. I told him let it warm up. Hopefully they will figure out the problem. Going on week 2 without my work truck.

By the way, if you run straight jet fuel in the diesels, it will require additional lubrication… Don't forget. But it will clean out any gunk.

From the original questioner:
Well, finally I have my truck back. Jp4 really picks up the ponies, and burns really clean. Too bad it's $3.50/gal. At 30% mixture I would get really improved power. Tire spinning pulling a 2 ton trailer. So, biodiesel is good, just change filters often, and don't store it for long periods of time. It absorbs water faster than regular diesel.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor D:
I have had similar problems with bio-diesel and had to religiously change my filters every 5K miles. I tried the product Econal and the filter life more than doubled. It also keeps my bio-diesel from gelling.