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Old 03-04-2006, 23:06   #1
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Flushing Fuel Tank

Just bought my first coastal cruiser, and fouled the fuel filter on the transit to home port. Ocean swells broke loose sludge from bottom of tank.

This tank is 20 gal. aluminum box, one 2" fill hose and two fuel lines (uptake and return). I'd have to take out the water heater to remove it, so I'm hoping to be able to do this in situ.

After I pump out the tank and get that filler hose off, what is the correct procedure to flush/clean the tank?

Is the fuel able to be cleaned, or just hazardous waste now?

Simple procedure, I know: just want to get it right.

Thanks!
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Old 03-04-2006, 23:17   #2
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Yes you can filter the fuel, but you are going to need a decent filtration system and it is expensive to build. So I suggest it maybe cheaper to dump the fuel. Otherwise, you need the following. You start with a water trap. This part can be cheap.Just any plastic container with an in and out. Water and some of the crap will settle to the bottom. The next is a corse filter. Like a washable metalic gauze. This will help seperate out most of the muck and will need frequent cleaning as it blocks. The next is a 20-25micron filter. This can also be washable, even though it is not supposed to be. You then go to a 10micron and a final 2micron. Do not wash the 2 micron. It's a throw away.
You can do nearly all this in one filter with a really big and fairly special Racor, designed for such a project. I used to use two of them in series, but they are darn aweful expensive. However, I had a high pressure gear pump moving the fuel around the tank stiring it up. the fuel was pumped throught the filters and returned to the tank. The system was run untill we had a clean system. But it was often large quantities of fuel and big tanks. Then the clean tank was dosed with an additive to stop future growth.
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Old 03-04-2006, 23:21   #3
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Jeff, do you have an access port that is accessable? Simply pumping the fuel out, and flushing will work, but not as reliably as scrubbing the tank in between. At the very least, I would pull the fuel tank pick-up and thoroughly clean the screen.
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Old 04-04-2006, 00:16   #4
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Hey Jeff.

Sorry to hear about your fuel filter. Congrats on buying yourself a Catalina 30 MkII !!
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Old 04-04-2006, 01:28   #5
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Scrub Tank, Not Fuel

Yes, Alan, that sounds expensive and cumbersome for such a small amount of dirty fuel. I think disposal might be better.

Before the thread drifts too much: my main concern is the cleaning of the (soon to be empty) tank. If I can accomplish this, one more new filter & a water trap cleaning, and I'm good-to-go.

Of course, I'll have to re-route the hoses. I cut them off the tank, pulled them out of their runs to free them, and after changing the filter (had the forsight to at least bring one of these along "in case"), jammed them into my jerry can brought down into the salon to use as a day tank: that and a wonderful WNW Force 3 got me home.

Casual inspection does not indicate an access port: I have the 2" filler hole, and what looks like two 9/16" or so tapped holes for uptake and return.

I'm sure this is simple, but I've never done it before. Using a pump to squirt fuel around the empty tank walls, pumping it out, then repeating, sounds like it might work. I was also thinking about a long-handled bottle brush or similar to physically scour the tank. I like the idea of physical removal of the sludge from the tank walls.

Of course, after filling, I'd change out the (new) filter and clean the trap again. Water trap was absoluetly sludgy/gummed up. The inside of the old filter is the same (had to pry it off by jamming a screwdriver through it (no filter wrench) while under sail, so I got to see the center element: no wonder it wouldn't run!

Any ideas, especially experienced ones, about cleaning the tank are appreciated.

Thanks, CapK: I'm thrilled w/ the new boat.
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Old 04-04-2006, 01:47   #6
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It sounds like you may have a Diesel Bug. Algae that is. You have to clean the tank really well to get rid of it and then you MUST dose the tank when you fill it fuel for the first time. Or it will come back as soon as you get water in there again. As for cleaning, don't be afraid to use water if you can get a high pressure hose in there. Even a water blaster. As long as you can drain the tank easily afterwards of course.
Another useful tip, if you can get a length of something down one of the larger fittings, and thump it with a large hammer to place a dent in the tank floor, then place your water bleed off tap at the lowest point of that dent, water will always run to the lowest point. Very helpful to get those last few drips of water every now and then.

If anyone is building a fuel tank and reading this, ensure you place a low point in the tank to allow water to drain. Why oh why don't boat builders do it. And why don't they make it possible to get decent access to tanks and and and.....
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Old 04-04-2006, 06:24   #7
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Filtration by recirculation, etc. is only a 'band-aid' that wont solve the problem.
When fuel starts to decompose it forms sludges and gums on the walls of the tank that need to be removed. These formations of gums and sludges are polymerizing decomposing fuel .... the other 'light weight' components have long vaporized out the tank vent. Diesel fuel has a relatively short 'shelf life' about 6 months at summertime temperatures and about a year at winter time temperatures. Once the sludges, gums and gels begin to form, these 'particles' begin to agglomerate into ever growing larger and larger particles. Once these altered 'fractions' of diesel fuel get into the engine they do not combust very well and simply 'coke' and form carbon deposits in such places as the water injection nozzle and other sections of the exhaust system. The best way to clean such a tank is to remove the fuel and either burn it in your home heater or simply burn it; then, mechanically go inside and scrub the walls to remove the goo, sopping up the debris with paper towels, etc. ... burn them. Typical tanks need to be cleaned out periodically about every 5 years or so.

A recirculation filtration system, once the tank is cleaned, will help to control such deposits. Its usage to clean a tank is not going to result in much benefit. How to check to see if the fuel has begun to decompose: take the fuel into a clear glass and hold up to strong white light; if you see any 'haze' in the fuel, this strongly suggests that the fuel has begun to 'particulate'. Buy only 'fresh' fuel from high turnover sources such as fuel depots that cater to 'watermen or fishermen'.
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Old 04-04-2006, 07:04   #8
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Noooooooo body knows the troubles I've seen ... fuel clogging lines and filters has plagued this boat since I bought it. I've been too cheap (up to now) to spring for a good tank cleaning. I've reached the point where I'm going to have to do this.

On my boat, I have a 120 gallon fuel tank that is stepped (sorta looks like one of those Tetris forms) at the bottom. There is a fuel gauge access port at the top of the tank, along with two pick-up and two return lines. Fortunately, there is a service in the area that does this for a fee. I've let this go on too long.

Thomas
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Old 04-04-2006, 07:15   #9
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Clogged fuel lines are a symptom ..... copper is reactive to diesel fuel. You probably should be using an inhibiter to prevent this reaction .... until you can replace with stainless steel tube (double flared connections).

Someone with a 'Steam Genny' that has a long wand that can pass through the baffles 'might' be able to clean the tank. Without a goodly sized access man-hole, tank cleaning is a 'bitch' to do right.
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Old 04-04-2006, 07:44   #10
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I don't know what algae growth would look like, but this felt like good old dirt/mud. I think talking about algael growth might be going off on a wild hare. But thanks for that caution, Alan.

I get the idea that agressive cleaning is fine, even with water, as long as I can pump/sop out whatever I put in.

Baffles: hadn't thought of that. I'll check for access port. Certainly isn't on the top of tank. Maybe a 3M pad on a stick, or similar, and get everywhere I can. Water blasting sounds good, too, but I wonder where I can get access to a portable machine: rental yard, maybe.

Okay, some of that was useful. Thanks, everyone. Now it's up to me
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Old 04-04-2006, 07:48   #11
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If you clean with high pressure water or steam be sure to use a 'starch filled' water absorbing filter in a recirculation filter set to remove all that water .... obviously suck out all the water you can; but, once you return oil to the tank run it through a 'starch filled' fillter a few times to be sure that all the residual water is removed.
Water (free water) is a problem that will promote bacteria and fungal growth to thrive at the interface of the oil and water layer. Algae, ... dont think so as algae doesnt 'eat' oil like bacteria does. Emulsified water, water that wont settle out by gravity, should be removed with an 'absorbing' filter. Once you get the 'system' back in pristine condition then 'regular' filters should suffice.
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Old 04-04-2006, 09:18   #12
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Not an expert on this by any stretch but I do have three diesel rigs. Clean fuel is critical. Someone has a tag line that says "If you don't have time to do it right the first time where are you going to find the time to do it again." If you have the $ I would think that you would want to pull the tank and have an access put in. The damage that can be done to engine by sludge and or water will be much more expensive than pulling and cleaning the tank now. If there is deep sludge in the tank and it can't be hit with high pressure water the winds and chop off of Long Beach are probably going to shake it loose and you'll need to clean the tank again. Sounds like it is time to do a full maintenance job on the engine and fuel system.

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Old 04-04-2006, 10:11   #13
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Glad to hear this is a common problem...

The ONLY truly effective way is to perform a mechanical cleaning. Spraying / flushing in any baffled tank will not get the dead critters inside. Fuel polishing helps, but a biocide must be used afterwards, then another polish to remove the newly-killed bugs... Repeat until you run out of $$. If you can reach any side of the tank - consider cutting an access plate. With the right gaskets even one on the side of the tank w/b preferable IMHO.

We pulled the 3" access plate / dipstick fitting in our tanks. Found a lovely brown mass clinging just about everywhere. I will soon cut a useable access in the tank top so I can get in there and do it right. In the meantime I know my new fuel is slowly breeding the same stuff that contaminated the tanks in the first place. At least I can run for more than an hour in rough seas and not clog the fuel lines as before.

Worst part is I have a 4-tank arrangement, and only 2 of them are accessible at all. Gonna hate to tear up that cabin sole, but I have bad dreams about how the fully enclosed tank innards must look...

Another lament about "why oh why do builders do this?!!"
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Old 04-04-2006, 10:11   #14
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FUEL POLISHING & TANK CLEANING:

Although it may be best to remove the tank, drain it, and perform a vigourous scouring & cleaning in the shop, this is seldom a practical solution. More often, tanks & fuel are cleaned in situ, at dockside

Look for a mobile (dockside) Fuel Polishing service, often provided by fuel delivery vendors (if not, they can probably refer you to someone).

The typical Fuel Filtering & Polishing process involves a continuous three-stage process:
1. Fuel is pulled from the bottom of the tank.
2. The fuel is then processed through four distinct filtration and/or cyclonic separation stages* to remove the free and emulsified water and particulate matter (i.e. sludge, microorganisms, rust, dirt, silica, etc.).
3. The cleaned fuel is returned to the tank under pressure, to power wash (scour) the tank interior.
This is a closed loop, continuous process that is run until fuel coming out of the tank is as clean as the fuel returning to the tank.

* The sediment and debris are removed from the tank, and are captured in the first stage filters. The final process of cleaning a tank (fuel polishing) will remove all bacteria and fungal growth from the fuel, by centrifuging, or filtering the fuel through a 0.10 micron filter.

[b]
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Old 04-04-2006, 11:28   #15
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Sorry Gord
Fuel polishing dockside is a big waste of time and money. Unless the polymerized and agglomerated particles (they are NOT 'bugs') are knocked free from the walls no amount of recirculation polishing will remove them. If you have an inaccessable tank or a tank that has no inspection/access ports then consider to put an onboard polishing system .... so when the 'slugs of crap' do come off the walls, the tank will quickly 'recover' to a 'normal' particulate count.
Recirculation polishers are typically very high flow rate ... typically a minimum of 5-7 times the fuel consumption rate of the engine ... 3-5 GPM for a 1 GPM fuel system and the retention rating of the filters is normally 5 to 10 times the target retention of the system .... if you are running a 2uM final filter, then the recirculation filter should be in the range of ~15uM. If you think 'intuitively' and put in a 2uM filter in the recirc. system ... the amount of fuel that get 'turned-over' in the tank is very small and the time for 'recovery' (back to normal particle counts) is VERY long. So what happens is this: a 15uM filter will have a small percent of 'pores' that are at or near the 2uM range, a 15-20uM filter will have 7-10 times (or more) flow rate ability (less differential pressure to operate) ... so what happens you fliter 7-10 times the amount of fuel, the 'resident' particle distribution 'in the tank' rapidly drops back to normal .... and you are only drawing 1 gpm for ~50HP engine.
Me, after being deeply involved in 'filter engineering' for almost 40 years .... I rely on a clean tank, have an onboard recirc. system in case all hell breaks loose. If I have a clean tank, NEW fuel, there is little need for 'filters'. Filters stop a symptom, if your filters are plugging its not the filters fault, its your fault for keeping old fuel in the tank, and not periodically maintaining/cleaning the tank.
I NEVER fill a tank for long term storage to keep the 'moisture' out of it ... I use a desiccant trap on the vent. I only fill with enough fuel to do job plus some reserve and I only buy from a high turnover source ... usually carry my fuel in from a truckstop because i KNOW its FRESH.
I dont have 'fuel problems'.
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