Diesel Fuel Fire Hazards

Written by michael mackenzie
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Diesel Fuel Fire Hazards
A properly labelled storage tank for diesel fuel. (diesel storage tank image by Jim Parkin from Fotolia.com)

Diesel fuel is the general descriptive term for several petrochemical distillates. The most common fuel is Number 2 Diesel, used throughout the world in machinery, trains, ships, cars and trucks. These "middle distillates" (between lubricating oils and gasoline) are clear or light yellow in colour, and have a flash point of about 125 degrees C. In order for this fuel to burn in an internal combustion engine, it must be injected into the cylinder and subjected to high compression. That high flash point means that the fuel is relatively safe to store, transport and transfer at normal ambient temperatures. Nevertheless, there are serious fire hazards.

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Blended Diesel Fuel

Reducing the sulphur content and adding up to 20 per cent ethanol to diesel fuel may increase fire hazards. Cummins, a major manufacturer of diesel engines, has warned that such e-diesel blends are "an extreme fire hazard and under certain circumstances an explosive hazard."

An industrial refinery of petroleum fuels
An industrial refinery of petroleum fuels (Industrial Refinery image by Chad McDermott from Fotolia.com)

Static Electricity Danger

New environmental standards require refiners to produce "low-sulfur" fuels. Hess, an important refinery, reports that these fuels can accumulate static electricity, and can flash back and explode in the presence of gasoline vapours.

Explosive Vapors

Empty tanks should be managed carefully, since the diesel fuel residue may produce explosive vapours. Hess warns against heating, cutting, welding or pressurising empty fuel containers. Citgo reports that the vapours when mixed with air can result in an explosion.

Diesel Fuel Fire Hazards
When diesel fuel vapours reach a high enough temperature they can explode. (fire image by Dimitar Ivanov from Fotolia.com)

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