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Heating oil investigation in the Northeast

Issues with bio-blended heating oil have recently arisen in the Northeast, and work is underway to dissect the issue and determine the cause, which could have been a bad batch of petroleum fuel oil and not related to biodiesel.
By Ron Kotrba | March 16, 2011

A meeting of the Oilheat Council of New Hampshire occurred Monday, March 14, to assess recent issues experienced in the region with biodiesel-blended heating oil. Robert Sculley, the council’s executive director, tells me that some of his organization’s members have had issues with coking of burners and getting product that “looked like asphalt.”

He says initially the perception is that the problems were thought to be caused by the bio portion of the fuel, a common scenario when problems occur with biodiesel-blended fuel. However, there has been no determination as of yet as to what the problem really is.

Sculley said at the end of the meeting the question was still, "Is it the biodiesel or could it be a bad batch of petro fuel oil?" He said Advanced Fuel Solutions’ Paul Nazzaro, who also works with the National Biodiesel Board, was at the meeting. Over the next couple of weeks, fuel sampling and investigation of equipment will occur, and more definitive answers should be available soon.

Other sources tell me unconfirmed information about at least one Northeast supplier who rejected a shipment because it tested at the 7 percent biodiesel level (the heating oil spec allows up to 5 percent biodiesel, and there is no B6 to B20 spec for heating oil yet).

Also, some dealers have reported smells indicating animal fat biodiesel and maybe rancid product. One source tells me suppliers acknowledge animal fat product at low levels. Regarding use of animal fat biodiesel in the Northeastern winters, the source said, “While it’s easy to handle in summer, the product hangs around until heating season, and it is very cold in Northern New England.”