Monday, June 06, 2011

The downsides of FAME

No, I do not refer to the tribulations of Cheryl Cole (who I have only ever seen on an advert telling girls they are worth it) which seem to have driven Afghanistan and Libya off the front pages. Nor do I refer to those rare occasions when an unknown person shouts hello and announces he reads this blog - that's actually quite nice.  No dear reader, I refer to the downsides of FAMEFatty Acid Methyl Ester, or biodiesel to you and me.

Now I'm not known for being a grumpy old man, quite the opposite, but this stuff makes me weep.  Biodiesel sounds green and lovely but it's a nightmare for boaters, and it seems most of us have to have it whether we want it or not.  Almost* all suppliers now include a percentage of it in the diesel they supply, and that percentage is due to increase next year.

According to the lady from River Canal Rescue (RCR), who gave an excellent talk on preventative maintenance at the Crick Show, the number of incidents of boats breaking down due to diesel bug blockages is rising very rapidly since FAME was introduced.  She said that last year, fuel related problems were the cause of 33% of their call outs.  That's a lot.  What's more, as I pointed out in a post some months back, the reduction of sulphur in the "new" diesel causes seals to fail.

What have we done to deserve this? How can "they" do this to us?  Is this what they call progress?

Boats suffer much much worse than road vehicles because we tend to buy diesel in larger quantities and use it up a lot more slowly, so it sits there gradually gaining in water content from tank condensation and the like and producing perfect food for the diesel bug to grow, eventually producing a black clogging slime in the fuel system.

So we have to buy some magic potion (Marine 16 is the favourite and RCR have found that it does work and the RNLI and the Royal Marines use it so there must be something in it) to add to the fuel to combat the problem at a cost of 17 quid for a 500ml bottle.  I reckon it effectively adds another 3.4p to the cost of a litre of fuel, as if that wasn't already high enough.

And as if that wasn't bad enough, there's another thing RCR have discovered.  Marine 16 and Fuel Set (another popular fuel additive not so effective with FAME) if in the same tank together can combine to cause further problems.  A white creamy suspension can form under high pressure in the injectors and block them.   And what additive had I had in the tank before changing to marine 16?  Don't ask.

Luckily I had let the tank get quite low before putting the next lot of fuel in so the old Fuel Set was very dilute,and the RCR lady says I should be alright.  Still us boaters could be forgiven for getting a bit paranoid.

Rant over.

*That was the bad news.  Now here is some better news (for me at least).  According to RCR, they know of only two boatyards /marinas who supply FAME free diesel.  And one of them is . . . Crick Marina!! Hooray!!  Rest assured I shall be filling Herbie's tanks with some before we depart on our forthcoming cruise.  I'll still add some Marine 16 though, just in case.  And I'll have a go at using the little drain tap at the bottom of the fuel tank to draw off any water.

More good news.  The RAC man who came out to us when our car broke down in Crick last week, diagnosed we needed a new starter motor, and he was right.  (All the symptoms were like that of a flat battery, but I knew the battery was OK). I had a reconditioned starter motor fitted today at a reasonable cost and things seem much much better.


Anonymous said...

The bio-diesel that sounds so 'green' is made with GM crops, grown on cleared rainforest land.
Interesting to hear it's not good in boat engines either - what a pain for you.
Btw, glad to hear you liked the Welford arm. I really enjoyed that little bit of exploring last year, so green and secluded. Did you find that little community garden past the pub? Really nice.

Neil Corbett said...

A pain for you too I would have thought, unless you've taken up rowing Blackbird!

I didn't get past the pub at Welford. Well, I wouldn't, would I.

I'll certainly look next time.