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The Key To Long-Term Diesel And Gas Storage

storing diesel and gasWhen fuel such as diesel or gasoline is readily available, most people don’t think of the ramifications of storing it. After all, if you need more, just go to the pump and get it!

But in a survival situation, especially a prolonged one, fuel will be a prime consideration, mainly for two reasons – firstly, it will not be plentiful or available, and secondly, what fuel is left will be degrading. Most people don’t realize that fuel, being a refined product, has a finite lifespan. In fact, keep fuel too long, and at some point, the fuel will degrade to the point that it is no longer able to produce the combustion needed to power our cars, trucks, generators and other such equipment.

Fuel is broken down into two main categories for our purposes. Although there are many types of fuel oils, we care mainly about gasoline and diesel. These are far and away the most common fuels, fuels that we will desperately need during survival situations to power most anything. Let’s look at them both separately:

Number two diesel is a fuel oil that undergoes a relatively low level of refinement. To understand how the refinement process works, imagine a fractional distillation tower such as the kind seen at most refineries – a tall, thin spire. At the base of this spire, crude oil and tar products are added, and then heat is applied. The heat works to unbind the molecules found in the oil. As these molecules unbind, they rise up in the tower until their weight will not permit them to rise any higher – kind of like a helium balloon with a weight attached. Collectors placed at strategic elevations within this tower then collect these molecules, and they are condensed to form the fuels we know. Diesel fuel is harvested at a relatively low elevation in this tower, meaning it is one of the earliest byproducts of burning crude. As such, it is very stable, and its stability means that it will last the longest.

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Even without treating it, diesel fuel will last for a year with no problems at all. It’s just an inherently stable product. When treated with fuel stabilizer, the life of diesel fuel can be extended beyond five years. The main enemies of diesel fuel storage are algae and water. All fuels are somewhat hygroscopic, meaning they attract water molecules. This water not only waters the fuel down, it also provides a home for algae, which lives quite nicely inside of a diesel tank. Consider that both water and algae wreak havoc in diesel fuel filters and regulators, plugging them up to the point where the engine will die. Your main defense against water and algae is two fold:

  • Treat all fuel required for long-term storage with algaecide. Commercially available diesel fuel stabilizer is essentially algaecide which creates a hostile environment for supporting life. Lack of living organisms (like algae) means clean fuel.
  • Keep diesel tanks full. Keeping your diesel tanks full means no airspace to promote condensation within the tank, which adds water to the fuel. Water in turn provides a habitat for algae. Keep your tanks full!

Gasoline

Getting back to our fractional distillation tower example, gasoline is a very refined fuel that exits the collectors towards the top of the tower, and then must be further refined to create what we know as gasoline. Unlike diesel, gasoline is a highly refined substance with complex molecular bonds, which means that over time, these bonds break and the fuel reverts back to an earlier, unusable state. Gasoline comes in three main grades at the gas pump categorized by the octane rating. Octane is the “punch” that provides the energy for internal combustion. The higher the octane rating, the hotter the fuel burns, meaning the more power generated to drive the engine. In the United States, octane generally starts at 87 which is regular, then 89 which is mid grade, and finally 91 which is super or premium. Some individual states may have higher or lower octane ratings available for sale, but those are the averages.

Generally speaking, the problem with gasoline over time is that as the molecular bonds break, the octane rating falls to the point where the gasoline is no longer able to produce the energy required for effective internal combustion. Some devices, like two-stroke generators, don’t need octane rich fuel. Others, like modern car engines, will knock badly with even a slight reduction in fuel quality. What this means to you is that the clock is ticking on gasoline – it’s degrading right now in the fuel tank of your car. It’s not unusual for highly refined premium gasoline to lose significant amounts of octane within even 90 days, and low grade gasoline to lose octane within 6 months. If you are intent on preserving fuel, then use gasoline stabilizer such as Sta-Bil, which slows the rate of chemical bond breakdown, giving you up to a couple of years of life increase on your gasoline.

Both fuels should be stored in a cool, dark place, and should be in topped-up containers with as little airspace as possible. Lastly, treat your fuel before you store it – fuel additives are rarely capable of bringing dead fuel back to life, but they will extend the life of new fuel significantly.

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12 comments

  1. You have got to be kidding me! Adam C. better go back to class on what octane is ion gasoline. He completely missed the boat and worse yet, propagated the common myth that octane is a measurement of energy. Wrong! Octane is nothing more than a measurement of “anti-knock” properties found in the fuel, typically in the form of additives. Fuel with an octane rating of 95 has absolutely no more “punch” than lesser grades. None. You guys should have caught this one. For shame!

  2. To Adam C:
    For your info- octane isn’t “punch”. Octane is added to fuel to lower its volatility which slows down the burn. This prevents pre-ignition. 87 octane has more energy than 91 octane gas. An engine with 8.5-1 compression will have more power on the recommended 87 octane than premium 91.
    I believe where most people get confused is because a high output engine requires high octane gas. This is because high output engines have high compression- for example 12:1. With regular gas this motor would have severe knock and engine damage. The high octane slows down the burn, thus no pre-ignition.
    Use of lower volatility fuel [ ie- high octane ] in an 8.5:1 engine will cause hard cold start.
    I hope this clears up a common misconception.

  3. Dave S. – You sir, are correct. That is why less alcohol, which is less volatile and lower energy than gasoline, is added to fuel to raise its Octane.

    When I read an article such as this, with such glaring technical errors regarding things I do know, I consider the entire article suspect and won’t trust it to be correct regarding things I don’t know.

  4. I had 180 gallons of 89 octane gas stored for my 2 generators. I only bought the gas on days it was delivered to my local station. I promptly added Stabil, then poured it into my holding containers. These containers are hard black plastic, made for storing gasoline. I bought the gas 10 gal. at a time, added the Stabil to each 10 gal., then poured it into my containers. Six months later, we had to make a trip . We live a few miles out of town, but my wife as usual did not fill the tank. I did not think I would make it too town, so I used 5 gal of my stored gas. It did not smell like gas at all. It smelled like parts cleaner, with the lid left off a while.My wifes car, a Ford Focus, bucked and snorted all the way to town. On a hill, it barely made it up it, then it was a downhill racer. The gas they produce now is not storable for very long. I have used Stabil, and other high dollar products, they don`t do much better. The dirty little secret is: All the stuff that made gasoline storable, they have removed it all. All the good storable gas is sold to over seas countries, and we keep the crappy stuff for our citizens. That is the sorry truth. The police and military have the good stuff, but John Q. Citizen gets whats left. I`m a ham radio operator, and I have discussed this with many people on air. People over seas do not have this problem. Just my 2 cents worth.

    • Robert, you said you buy your gas on the days it is delivered to your local station. How soon after delivery? If you didn’t wait for the “crud” to settle out in the in-ground tanks first, you pumped that “crud” along with your gas.
      It seems that the new “gas” we have doesn’t last as long as real gas. (ethanol the cause?)
      The small engine people I have talked to recommend the marine grade Stabil, rather than the regular stuff. They said it works better.
      FWIW:Some also recommend SeaFoam. Others say stay away from it.

    • My personal experience does not indicate a need to add stabilizers. Several times I have had car parked for months or even a couple years, repaired, started up and drove without filling the gas tank or anything special other than making sure a cap was on the fill. Of course that was mostly before ethanol invaded our fuel supply.

  5. If I had the money I would get a lot more propane tanks and a propane fueled truck, but that’s just me…

  6. I don’t store huge amounts of either diesel or gasoline, due to space limitations, but have a workable method for insuring that my fuel is fresh. I use my diesel to fuel my 2 tractors, refilling my cans as needed and making sure that I go through the cans in order. I use the gasoline to fuel my wife’s car. With this method my fuel is never more than a few months old.

  7. When I was a mechanic they told me petrol was deliberately doctored so you couldn’t store it and ride out the fluctuating price cycles. Diesel used to have a fungal problem but they have fixed that now, but a little treatment never hurts. Don’t know all about the octane business but it was the sludging that caused all the problems.

  8. What I get from reading all this is, you can’t store gasoline at all. When TSHTF, I guess we’re screwed!

  9. I have been storing fuel for a couple of years now with good success. I have to use the Sta bil for ethanol. If you read the container closely you will see that the mix is double for storage than it is for use. On the front of the bottle it will say treats 50 gallons but it fails to tell you that it’s for use, small print on the back tells you the storage mix. I will only store 91 to 93 octane as it burns so much better. I use it in all my small engines and dual fuel lanterns and stoves with no problems. Hope this helps someone with this issue. Sea foam just stay away from it, it is note suited for storage.

  10. WOULD SOMEONE PLEASE SEND A LINK ON SOME READING MATERIAL ON BEST WAY TO STORE GAS AFTER BUYING MY NEW HOUSE I WANT TO BETTER PREP AND HOPING TO STORE AT LEAST 10GAL + OF GAS WEATHER IT BE IN CONTAININERS OR IN A SMALL UNDERGROUND STORAGE OR WOULD EVEN STORING GAS CONTAINERS BY PUTING THEM UNDERGROUND LOOKING MOSTLY FOR OPINIONS AND REFENCE MATERIALS .

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