Although it's tempting to purchase the cheapest diesel fuel available, you really need to understand how it affects performance and operating costs. While No. 2 diesel fuel conforming to ASTM D-975 can have the appearance of a commodity, look more closely and you will discover important differences.
"The ASTM D-975 specification sets the requirements for a No. 2 diesel fuel," says Chad Pistulka, product manager, refined fuels, CHS, marketer of Cenex brand products. However, he notes that many OEMs and consumers would prefer to see even higher standards. "An operator can save money with a premium-type diesel fuel that provides higher cetane, better lubricity and contains a multipurpose detergent package."
Joe Fell, Ryan Central Inc., Janesville, WI, has actually given presentations on managing fuel costs at the Chevron Construction Symposium. Ryan Central ranks among the largest nationwide site work and mass excavation contractors.
According to Fell, much more goes into the fuel purchasing decision than price per gallon. "You have to look at your equipment rate right now," he advises. "Fuel continues to be a larger percentage of that rate."
On the surface, a cheaper fuel may appear to lower costs. But if it means more maintenance or less productivity, your overall costs may actually increase. "You have your people cost, your equipment cost and your fuel cost," Fell points out. "You have to weigh that balance."
Numerous factors can influence fuel quality. Doing a little homework can ensure you get the quality you need. "I try to stay up on all of the additives, different companies, different products," says Fell. "Know what products are available to you. Know what the options are - what they can and can't do. Then work with your fuel vendors to ultimately get it into the fuel that is going to be delivered to your machines."
Ryan Central evaluates fuel based on several criteria. "In our business, a big part of that is service," says Fell. The company wants the fuel supplied directly to equipment in the field, which keeps potential contamination from storage and handling to a minimum. It also looks at the energy content of the fuel.
"There can be a very wide variation in diesel fuels and their quality," says Dave Harvey, manager, fuels quality, technology & technical services, Citgo. He advises first consulting with the prospective suppliers to determine conformance to the ASTM standard. Next, take a look at the energy content of the fuel. "A higher British Thermal Unit (BTU) content of a diesel fuel translates directly into a higher energy delivery per gallon or pound of fuel." A key question is whether that energy is sufficiently high to deliver a noticeable improvement in work performed per gallon.
Cetane number, API gravity, cloud point and lubricity are just a few factors to consider when comparing fuels. "If a company is buying fuel from a supplier that has a good track record, they should ask the supplier to provide as much information as available regarding the additive package that they are supplying," says Roger Gault, Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA). "If alternate sources of supply are evaluated, the additive package can be compared in addition to price."
Likewise, when selecting winter blends or biodiesel, you need to compare options. "Biodiesel offers the same performance as regular diesel in blends of B20 and lower," says Amber Thurlo Pearson, National Biodiesel Board. "Biodiesel in its pure form, or B100, is said to have a 10% decrease in fuel economy. However, most biodiesel is sold to end users as a blend of B20 or lower, which has the same fuel economy."
Biodiesel is currently less regulated than regular diesel fuel. Ensure the fuel meets the biodiesel quality specifications addressed by ASTM D-6751. This can be accomplished by carefully selecting your supplier. "Request fuel from a BQ-9000 certified marketer, or from a BQ-9000 accredited producer," says Pearson.