Readying fueling system equipment for evolving fuels is a work in progress.
By Joe O’Brien
Lawmakers have introduced legislation that, if passed, could establish a mechanism for the increased adoption of higher ethanol blends within the next five years. The bill seeks to, among other things, capitalize on higher octane to reduce carbon emissions by 30%. NACS Daily reports the bill will require model year 2024 and later light-duty vehicles “to run on higher octane fuel and carry a warranty that covers the use of up to 30% ethanol.” The bill would also seek to reduce the use of certain aromatics.
If the bill becomes law, it signals a credible pathway for establishing higher ethanol blends as more mainstream products. With the 2015 federal underground storage tank regulations requiring all UST systems to be compatible with the regulated substances they store, and PEI estimating that 160,000 upcoming tank warranty expirations will spur tank replacements, fuel marketers need to ready their fueling system equipment for the compatibility needs of future fuels and understand how to meet regulatory requirements.
Since 1988, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has required UST systems to be compatible with the substances stored in them. However, not all fueling system equipment on the market, let alone currently in use, is compatible with biofuels. In fact, the EPA has reported that most older UST systems—and even some newer UST systems—are not fully compatible with biofuels and require modification before storing them. The EPA’s UST System Compatibility With Biofuels booklet reminds operators that while “generally, all new tanks and piping produced today are compatible with blends of up to 100% ethanol and biodiesel,” the same is not necessarily true for ancillary components.
During the regulatory update session presented at the virtual PEI convention, the EPA stated that UST components can swell, shrink, dissolve or become brittle if they are incompatible with the substances they are storing. Not only can this degradation result in a release but it also reduces the service life of the equipment. With respect to ethanol blends, there is not a universal threshold for compatibility issues. Some materials are more sensitive at the lower end of the blend rate, while others are more sensitive at a higher blend rate.
Notification and Proof of Compatibility
As part of the 2015 federal UST requirements, UST owner operators must notify their UST implementing agency no less than 30 days prior to switching to regulated substances containing greater than 10% ethanol, greater than 20% biodiesel or any other regulated substance required by the implementing agency. Although the federal UST regulations set the bar for biofuel compatibility requirements, UST systems in states with state program approval may face stricter regulations. Verify requirements with your implementing agency.
Additionally, owner/operators need to show proof of equipment compatibility for certain components that interact with substances containing greater than 10% ethanol or 20% biodiesel, or use an alternative approach to demonstrating compatibility that is approved by the implementing agency. The 2015 regulations require owner/operators to demonstrate that the following components are compatible:
- Storage tank
- Containment sumps
- Pumping equipment
- Release detection equipment
- Spill prevention equipment
- Overfill prevention equipment
The compatibility document needs to state the range of blend that the equipment is compatible with. The EPA has also cautioned in training programs that although a UL listing may exist for a UST component, operators need to make sure the listing or standard specifically states that it is approved for the biofuel being stored. To help UST operators access information about compatibility capabilities, the EPA and UL collaborated to create a UL Fuel Compatibility Tool. Access it at www.ul.com/resources/apps/ul-fuel-compatibility-tool.
Additionally, it is worth noting two things. First, although dispensers are not regulated for compatibility under the federal UST regulations, they still face compatibility concerns and in fact may need to meet other regulations, such as the fire code. Second, operators need to keep compatibility records for as long as the biofuel is stored in the system.
What the Future Holds
In addition to the bill that supports higher octane fuels, certainly other future government initiatives will influence what fuels are sold in the next five to 10 years. For instance, the EPA recently announced a proposed rulemaking that, if adopted, would make it easier for marketers to distribute E15. With the expansion of higher ethanol blends a plausible eventuality, and other additives like isobutanol already being approved for blending, fuels are not only currently evolving but will continue to evolve.
In conjunction with this evolution, manufacturers are introducing new products that are specifically engineered to be compatible with biofuels. For example, new submersible pump designs feature a protective coating that prevents corrosion, and stainless steel ball valves (as opposed to brass) in sump piping are proving to be a better choice for diesel and higher ethanol blends.
It is more incumbent upon UST owner/operators than ever before to work with their equipment suppliers and contractors to ensure their new equipment purchases will reliably handle future fuels. A trusted equipment supplier will explain potential hidden costs and longevity concerns that less expensive fueling system equipment options may yield. To that end, Source North America is helping educate operators about biofuel UST equipment at its Source University training center. Visit www.sourcena.com to learn more.
Joe O’Brien is vice president of marketing at Source™ North America Corporation. He has more than 25 years of experience in the petroleum equipment fuel industry. Contact him at email@example.com.