By Dwight Rutledge
“The only constant is change.” This saying is especially applicable to the fuel industry, where change is a way of life. Everything seems to be in flux—from regulatory requirements and vehicle technology to fueling equipment and even the fuels themselves. Today’s fuel retailers have to stay on top of an ever-evolving and increasingly competitive marketplace. One way to drive profits and remain competitive is to put an even higher priority on customer loyalty than ever before.
Part of this initiative should be a strong quality assurance program that originates at the pump. Fuel dispenser filters are often overlooked, but they are extremely important contributors to improved customer satisfaction. Their basic function is to prevent a variety of contaminants from being pumped into your customers’ vehicles. When you dispense dirty fuel, the consequences can range from reduced brand loyalty to significant revenue losses resulting from expensive remediation efforts and unplanned downtime.
That’s why it’s important for fuel site operators to educate themselves about dispenser filtration. Here are three things that every fuel marketer should know about dispenser filters:
1. How a Dispenser Filter Works
A fuel dispenser filter has three primary parts:
- The canister is the exterior shell that provides the structure of the filter.
- The core is the center tube in the central part of the spin-on filter.
- The element comprises the filter media that surrounds the core.
Fuel enters the filter, passes through the element where contaminants are absorbed in the media, and exits the filter through the core. The element’s filter media consists of two primary types of media: natural (cellulose) or synthetic. Each media type offers its own unique advantages.
Cellulose media is made from plant fibers that have a rough texture and vary in size and shape. This media restricts more flow than synthetic media. Filters with cellulose media are usually less expensive than those that utilize synthetic media.
Synthetic media is composed of synthetic fibers that create less flow resistance than cellulose media. Synthetic fibers are smaller than cellulose fibers, allowing for more filtration capability in the finite amount of space that is available in a filter. Synthetic media’s low-flow resistance and increased surface area achieves higher filtration efficiency.
As fuel moves from the storage tank into the dispensing system, it passes through a dispenser filter before it flows through the meter, the hose and the nozzle into a customer’s gas tank. This placement allows the dispenser filter to capture contaminants just before the fuel is pumped into a vehicle, providing fuel site operators with a final opportunity to prevent the distribution of contaminated fuel.
2. What Dispenser Filters Do and How They Protect Brand Loyalty
Maximizing fuel margins is the top priority for most fuel sites. Buying fuel at the lowest price possible is an obvious method of achieving this goal. Unfortunately, low price points don’t always mean clean fuel. There could be corrosion in the supplier’s storage tanks, low quality control standards at the terminal, dirty delivery tankers—the list goes on.
Particulates and water can damage today’s engine technologies that are powered by tiny, precision-engineered components. Even the smallest particulates can lead to abrasion and long-term performance problems. In addition, damaging amounts of water can lead to bio contamination and poor lubricity. Quality dispenser filtration helps protect engine components from these conditions.
The presence of water in fuel should be a top concern for any fuel site operator. Phase separation is a condition that occurs when gasoline and alcohol separate in a storage tank due to the presence of water. Last November, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that in 2017, refiners would be mandated to blend 19 billion gallons of biofuels into the U.S. fuel supply. Most of that quantity will come from corn-based ethanol.
Phase separation sets in when ethanol absorbs water in a storage tank. When the ethanol becomes oversaturated, it can’t stay suspended near the surface of the gasoline and creates a layer of water-saturated ethanol closer to the bottom of the tank. Because this layer is often located close the storage tank’s pump intake tube, the contaminated ethanol is more likely to be distributed.
This type of fuel contamination can seriously damage engines. In some cases, it can cause an immediate mechanical failure that requires the vehicle be towed from the station. Sites that pump phase-separated gasoline significantly jeopardize their credibility with customers. A dispenser filter designed to detect and react to phase separation can help preserve customer loyalty.
The corrosive properties of phase-separated fuel can also damage your dispensing equipment. There’s no easy fix for sites that dispense phase-separated fuel. They must shut down their pumps, bring in a vacuum tanker to pump out the tanks, expel the contaminated fuel from the lines by purging them with new fuel and finally dispose of the contaminated fuel. Phase separation can result in a two- to three-day shutdown and thousands of dollars in remediation costs to properly restore the system.
Dispenser filters also offer an indication of a fuel system’s overall integrity. For example, if you find debris in the filter that looks like coffee grinds, corrosion within the storage tank is likely. Frequent filter clogging is another symptom of trouble—either with the fuel or the tank. In either case, a thorough inspection from a fuel system service company is a prudent course of action.
3. How to Select the Right Dispenser Filter
Fuel dispenser filters are not “one size fits all.” They are specified for specific fuel types and functions, such as filtering particulate, sensing water or alerting operators to phase separation by significantly slowing fuel flow. They are also engineered to capture a certain size of particulate. Filters with lower micron ratings capture more particulates and reach their capacity more quickly as a result. Most fuel dispenser filter manufacturers recommend that fuel site operators use filters with a minimum of a 10-micron rating at their stations to protect customers’ vehicles and their own equipment.
Partnering with a reputable dispenser filter distributor or an experienced, knowledgeable service technician is a recommended course for fuel retailers who want to develop an effective dispenser filter maintenance program for the long term. Here are a few key discussion points to consider during the selection process:
- The type of fuel the dispenser filter will handle
- The filter’s specific function (particulate removal, water sensing and/or phase separation detection)
- Pre-existing filtering challenges in your operation
- Expectations for the filter’s capacity or service life in ideal fuel system operating conditions
- The ideal micron rating for the application
As the last line of defense against the distribution of contaminated fuel, spin-on dispenser filters provide operators some pretty big benefits from their relatively small packages. Fuel site managers who maintain a regular dispenser filter maintenance program protect their dispensing equipment, preserve customer loyalty, bolster their brand image and minimize financial losses resulting from contaminated fuel distribution. As competition in the retail fueling industry continues to grow due to changing market conditions, fuel marketers who prioritize quality assurance will position themselves for future success.
Dwight Rutledge is Business Development Manager at PetroClear, a Champion Laboratories brand dedicated to manufacturing fuel dispenser filters. He has over 35 years of experience in the petroleum equipment industry.