The damaging effect on the fuel retailing infrastructure following the government’s programme to introduce biofuel into transport fuels was highlighted at an RMI Petrol gathering last month.

Phil Monger, the RMIP’s technical director, said he was concerned about the survival of smaller operators, who struggle anyway to maintain viability, but who now faced the added cost of ongoing and increased maintenance incurred since biofuels were introduced.

"There were no problems before biofuels. But for those who undertook tank cleaning and dewatering, it’s been expensive. For those who took the chance and tried to avoid these costs they have ended up with huge problems."

Monger said litigation had also been a major cost concern for retailers: "It’s very difficult for retailers because of having to find evidence that a problem with someone’s car was not due to their site. Retailers have been left exposed and vulnerable, often taking the blame for something that isn’t their problem.

"It had certainly happened as we saw terminals changing around the country moving over to biofuel. We had a whole section of sites all going down on the same day from the same terminal, even with sites that had done all the work beforehand, with contractors standing by checking immediately before delivery to make sure there was no water and ending up afterwards taking out 60-100 litres of water."

Future concerns

The RMIP has lobbied the government about its concerns for the future over biofuel use the increased risk of leakage and the consequent high cost of component replacement. He said that, following a report by Underwriter Laboratories in America which studied the effect of biofuel on components, the Energy Institute is now making its own investigations: "The report showed that over time the presence of ethanol leads to leakage. How soon that takes place is evident from high-volume supermarkets who have been selling ethanol blends for up to five years and are now beginning to get leaking. Over time that will affect all retailers."


Consequences for retailers

High cost of preparation: Tank cleaning and dewatering.

Increased maintenance: Regular tank inspection, fuel sampling, filter cleaning.

Incidence of contamination: Blocked filters, nozzle cut-out failures, microbial growth, phase separation.

Litigation by motorists: Costly to defend, leading to expensive tests.

Retailers left exposed and vulnerable: Taking the blame for others; lack of support from suppliers.

Future Concerns

Higher risk of leakage: Underwriters Laboratories reports on component compatibility.

Survival if problems persist: Ongoing maintenance costs; exposure to all risks: leaks, litigation, meter wear and more frequent calibration.

Fame instability: Ageing tests show degradation of fuel in stored vehicles and drums; high risk of failure in standby generators and heating systems.

Future blends: Lack of capacity to increase grades; more vulnerable to competition from larger sites.

Impact on rural sites: Not willing to take the increased business risk, therefore communities deprived of local amenities.

What if incidences occur?

Don’t be hasty to accept blame: You may not be responsible (cost, reputation etc).

Contact RMIP: Technical help is available (intervention, technical reports etc).

Maintain documentation: Essential to prove integrity.

Report incidents: Use RMI Incident Report form or email