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  • BIOHEAT® – “What shade of green” energy?

    Bioheat® is a blend of synthetic and distilled petroleum compounds being marketed as a “green fuel” alternative to traditional #2 Heating Oil. Functionally it is nearly identical to its transportation fuel equivalent, biodiesel. The two have been historically interchanged as a diesel fuel under controlled conditions, to the chagrin of regulators. Hence heating oil is dyed red to distinguish it from its “twin” and prosecute users to recover the taxes avoided.

    Bioheat® is currently labeled as B2, B5, B20 and B100, indicating the maximum percentage of synthetic “bio-material” content in each. You may be receiving B2 or possibly B5 without identification or knowledge, but the effects, both positive and negative, must be noted.

    Heating fuel oil is less than an ideal combustion product. It has contaminants included that reduce its operating efficiency, the primaries being nitrogen and sulfur combustion. The “Specific Heat” of nitrogen effectively “steals” heat, reducing the combustion temperature. Sulfur generates less desirable combustion byproducts in sulfurous oxides that reduce atmospheric quality. Thus these “bio-products” are marketed as having a lowered sulfur content to improve our air quality. However, sulfur has a very desirable attribute that must be compensated for.

    Sulfur is a natural lubricant that enables simplified design and operation of pump pressurized transportation and heating fuel delivery systems. Low-sulfur fuels reduce lubricity with predictable results ….. ask any older diesel trucker! We had a GMC P-30 Service Van at the time that “biodiesel” was being introduced. Our fuel supplier did not advise his customers of the change. One fill-up was all it took ….. a ruined fuel distributor and injector pump. We scrapped the vehicle!

    With the introduction of Bioheat® there is the presumption that the heating trade will incur similar introductory pains to biodiesel. This week we received a New Product Notice from The Beckett Corporation, the preeminent Heating Oil Burner Manufacturer, of a “Bioheat® Retrofit Kit” for their standard burners. They allowed that B20 Fuel has not yet been UL Approved, but obviously they are anticipating the inevitable. Our 60 years experience tells us that it is likely already here in degree.

    Bioheat® and Biodiesel Fuels feature low sulfur content as promoted. They do not publicize reduced lubricity, nor the corrosive effect upon copper, nor the “cleansing effect” upon fuel storage and transmission components. The “Bioheat® Retrofit Kit” includes a new Suntec® Stainless Steel Fuel Pump and a Stainless Steel Pressure Delivery Line. What it does not address is the release and packing into all filters of fuel tank and line debris by its chemical “scrubbing”. To quantify the monetary impact we quoted the “Kit” with our Trade Supplier. In our New England Area we estimate a $250+ billing, installed. If it doesn’t get installed prior to the fuel changeover, a series of service events are predictable.

    Further suspicion must be directed to the lesser concentration cleansing effect of Bioheat® such as B2 to B5, not currently regulated. Older fuel tanks and systems in particular are susceptible to sludge accumulation that will be affected by any bio-concentration. The resultant will be accelerated sludge accumulation in both oil tank filters, supply lines, fuel pump screens, pressure lines and ultimately nozzle screens to operational failures. It falls to we trade servicemen to both advise our customers and monitor its effect on their system(s).

    All biofuel products directly address sulfur combustion products and their atmospheric degradation, a noble and necessary cause! However our emerging experience with a heating variation begs clarification of its effects and quantification of its costs. Our signalling the “Bioheat® Retrofit Kit” and its implications are only the beginning. Reviewing much of the available material from Bioheat® Promoters and suppliers, there is no economic impact, positive or negative, offered other than being “green”.

    The disallowing of any impact below B20 as stated in our view bears qualification.  Our development experience of The Delta-T ECM Hydronic (FHW) Heating Appliance (Patents Pending) has highlighted fuel quality and delivery as THE reliability factor in system operation. Our multiple “Beta Sites” are approaching twenty (20) system-years of aggregate, flawless system operation, marred by two (2) incidents of contaminated fuel delivery stoppages. Both were on replacement installations with prior existent oil tanks. We employ a Beckett NX (Low NOX) Burner exclusively. Unfortunately we cannot correlate these with a biofuel content, but that one incident was due to a mid-winter fuel drop issue. It becomes logically apparent that any biofuel content would have exasperated the situation. Our direct experiences have piqued our interest and commentary.

    To summarize Bioheat®:

    1. Bioheat® is a beneficial, environmentally “Green Fuel”.

    2. Its introduction and use bears operational and economic scrutiny, as it did with Biodiesel.

    3. The Consumer Economic Impact has not been quantified. The market deserves real numbers!

    4. Trade Personnel need to recognize its possible effects and adjust service maintenance to suit.