Minnesota researchers ponder fuel filter problem

| 12/5/2005

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have something of a mystery on their hands.

This fall, numerous reports flooded in from farmers and truckers – especially in the western part of the state – who said the fuel filters on their tractors and trucks were becoming clogged.

Because Minnesota requires that all diesel sold within the state be a 2-percent blend of biodiesel, some speculated that the biofuel might be the root of the filter problems.

Kelly Strebig, a researcher with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Diesel Research, told “Land Line Now” that the solution might not be that simple.

“We’re not absolutely sure at this point yet,” he said. “There’s a combination of things going on.”

For one thing, Strebig said, the problem is predominantly in the western half of the state, with only one complaint coming from the eastern half.

In addition, Strebig said there have been similar fuel filter problems happening in North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa, states that don’t require biodiesel blends.

Strebig said that, while researchers have not yet been able to nail down a specific culprit, it is likely a combination of factors are to blame – including hurricanes, the fall harvest season and the beginning of home heating oil season. Strebig said the calls regarding clogged fuel filters started coming in at about the same time as all of those events were coming together.

“There was a tremendous shortage of diesel fuel,” he said. “So at all levels the petroleum industry ran its tanks down to the bottom. That just stirs up the bottom of all the tanks at different levels, all the way to the consumer.”

Strebig said that fuel tanks are seldom drained all the way to the bottom, so when they are, it tends to stir up sediment.

However, Strebig said that even that theory might yet prove to be untrue.

“To have the (fuel filter) problem, you need to have a number of things come together, and we’re not yet sure what all of those points are,” he said.

Minnesota did have a problem with its biodiesel in late October, when one of its major suppliers produced fuel that did not meet state specifications. The supply was temporarily suspended until the problem was resolved.

By Terry Scruton, senior writer
Staff writer Reed Black contributed to this article