Will your back-up generators work in the event of a power outage?

By Gary Hickey, Specialist Fuel Divisions Director

Clearly there are big challenges facing the public sector today. Ensuring continuity of power is of critical importance at this challenging time. Gary Hickey, Specialist Fuel Divisions Director, explains the issues of microbial contamination in back-up generator tanks, and how a focus on testing and storage integrity is critical.

As a result of heightened regulatory measures to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and reduce reliance on fossil fuels, the composition of the fuels we use has changed dramatically in recent years.

Traditionally when straight hydrocarbon fuels were used, you could have a back-up generator tank that was 50 years old and never been cleaned out, and as long as that suction point – the point where the fuel leaves the tank – was above where the water and sludge was sitting, there would be no issues at all. This means that in the event of a power cut, it would take over and generate power for as long as the fuel lasted. But when biofuels were introduced about 11 years ago, all those tanks started to fail.

The reason was, when these biofuels came into contact with water, they created a microbial contamination in the tank.

Microbial contamination of diesel fuel occurs when water finds its way into a tank as a result of condensation, rainwater penetration or from the air.

This kind of contamination not only accelerates tank corrosion, it can block lines and filters and significantly reduce the performance of the fuel itself.

Subsequently, as diesel is commonly used for emergency power generation, the potential for microbial growth exposes hospitals and other critical services to considerable operational and reputation risk.

If the event of a power cut, many hospitals have the facility to switch over to oil. A full tank of diesel fuel can maintain power for an entire hospital for about eight hours. But if that fuel has been sat there for years vegetating in the tank, the second it is put it into use, it will break down.

Once microbial contamination starts it can grow very quickly. From one year to the next you can have a clean bill of health to heavily contaminated fuel.

With even small amounts of water in a tank system, reformulated fuels can create a maintenance nightmare such as biological activity, increased corrosion, blocked filters and lower pump flow rates. Testing has therefore evolved from a best practice discipline to a critical part of the tank maintenance process.

Every time you put a new load of fuel through a tank, it’s adding another contaminant, but all of this can be avoided if you’re checking your fuel regularly and making sure it is water free.

If microbial contamination has occurred, experts can uplift the fuel, remove the residue from the tank and polish the fuel before returning it so that the generator will provide power when required.

However, with increased demand on capacity at this challenging time, the best course of action is prevention. We provide regular tank testing and maintenance, because an absolute focus on storage integrity has never been more critical for today’s back-up generator.

Back-up generator