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Two Suffolk farms say they have eliminated filter blockages in machinery by changing the fuel and using a different brand. Switching to different fuel eliminates filter blockages

Two Suffolk farms say they have eliminated filter blockages in machinery by changing the fuel and using a different brand.

Like a number of farms in the region, blockages caused by higher levels of biological content in red diesel were causing a serious headache for F S Watts & Sons, Framlingham; and Home Farm Nacton, near Ipswich.

Problems began after recent changes to the levels of renewable content in red diesel under the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) led to farmers experiencing filter blockages in vehicles and fuel storage tanks.

The RTFO regulations require a certain percentage of fuel to come from renewables. As fuel suppliers must meet this obligation by law, many are blending a type of biodiesel called FAME (fatty acid methyl ester) into red diesel to achieve the higher targets.

FAME-containing fuels absorb and retain more than conventional mineral diesels. This means bulk fuel stocks containing FAME can be at more at risk of contamination that causes diesel bug, fuel separation or waxing.

Damage and downtime

Furthermore, as FAME is made from biological content, it has reduced storage stability, degrading more quickly than conventional fuels, leading to gum formation in storage, filter blockages and damage to machinery in operation.

FS Watts & Sons were suffering from significant machinery downtime during the busy autumn cultivation, ploughing and drilling period. Tractors would lose all power after around 150 hours of running time, requiring frequent maintenance call outs.

Home Farm Nacton experienced a similar range of issues caused by biological content in red diesel. Clogged filters were leading to tractors breaking down not only in the fields but also – on one occasion – in the middle of a road.

Since switching to Shell GTL Fuel, a cleaner burning diesel alternative supplied by Certas Energy, however, neither business has experienced a single fuel filter blockage or related breakdown. Both farms purchase fuel via Fram Farmers.

Worthwhile change

Roger Watts, partner at FS Watts & Sons, said: “When you factor in the downtime, maintenance and filters replacements we were having to deal with because of the problems with red diesel, making the change has been well worth it.”

With a shelf life of up to five years, a cold-filter plugging point of -20°C and zero bio content, Shell GTL Fuel is a cleaner-burning paraffinic fuel that reduces emissions of harmful nitrogen oxides and particulate matter to improve local air quality.

Gavin Prentice, field labour manager at Home Farm Nacton, said: “It’s cleaner burning, it lasts longer in storage and – most importantly – we’ve not had to change any of our filters since using it.”

Shell GTL Fuel can be used in existing heavy duty diesel vehicles and machinery without the need for engine modifications. It can also be stored in bulk fuel tanks and blended with red diesel for ease of use and handling.