Beckett’s Technical Position On BioDiesel

The Beckett Position

R.W. Beckett fully supports the development of alternative sources of fuel for pressure-atomized residential and commercial oil burners. In this regard, R.W. Beckett is involved in the following initiatives:

  • Working with the ASTM Petroleum Committee to include B5 biodiesel in the national
    fuel standard.
  • Working with the UL Burner Technical Panel to approve Biodiesel for use in oil burners.
  • Testing alternate fuels both independently and in conjunction with UL to ensure the quality, compatibility, and combustion properties of biodiesel fuels for oil burner use.
  • Working with part manufacturers to ensure total component compatibility with alternate fuels.

Currently, ASTM D396, Standard Specification for Fuel Oils, defi nes the fuels approved for
use in oil burners in the United States (UL 296 and NFPA 31 both specify this fuel). Similar
standards exist in Canada (CAN/CGSB-3.2 for fuel and CSA B-140.2.1-M90 for burners).
These standards do not allow for blending fatty acid methyl ester fuels or Biodiesel at any
signifi cant level (i.e., greater than an additive).

R.W. Beckett cannot accept legal liability for failure attributable to the effects of operating
burners with fuels for which the burners were not designed and listed, and no warranties or representations are made as to the possible effects of running these burners with such fuels.

The use of fuel not compliant with ASTM D396 and UL296, as required by the appropriate
agencies having jurisdiction, will render the R.W. Beckett guarantee null and void. See Chart 1, on Page 4, for a summary of fuel characteristics and their possible effects and failure modes to oil burner systems.


Fuel additives such as Soybean Methyl Ester and Rapeseed Methyl Ester, collectively known as Fatty Acid Methyl Esters (FAME), are being used as extenders and replacements for petroleum oil derived fuels, in both the United States and Europe.

Any change in fuel composition requires a thorough evaluation prior to being made available to the public. In recent years, some performance problems with diesel applications can be attributed to fuel changes. The adding of red dye to monitor government tax compliance and the removal of sulfur from diesel fuels to reduce emissions are examples.

R.W. Beckett is aware of issues peculiar to fatty acid methyl ester fuels and is active in the generation of Standards for these fuels. Beckett’s goal is to protect their customers from potential premature failure due to the long-term effects of non-standard fuels. Just as petroleum fuel currently conforms to rigid standards of quality, home heating biodiesels
must also be controlled to perform to a high quality standard.

To date, biofuel experience in the U.S. has been limited to fuels derived from methyl esters of soybean oil and in Europe the experience has been based on fuels derived from rapeseed oil. Most uses for these fuels have been directed at highway diesel applications. Whether or not all fatty acid methyl esters (such as Tallow ME and Used Frying Oil ME) can be used in biofuel applications has yet to be determined. So far the testing performed on FAMEs appears to indicate at least good lubricity, low sulfur and a satisfactory heat content (heating value), regardless of source.

R.W. Beckett Concerns

Because FAMEs are derived from a wide range of base stocks, the characteristics of the finished fuels can vary greatly.

The following characteristics are among Beckett’s concerns with these fuels:

  • Free methanol
  • Dissolved & free water
  • Free glycerin
  • Mono- & di- glycerides
  • Free fatty acids
  • Total solid impurity levels
  • Alkaline metal compounds in solution
  • Storage and thermal stability

The basic FAME are generally less stable than petroleum fuels. In the event of an accidental spill or a leak, FAME fuels readily biodegrade. This characteristic, which is being used as a marketing tool, is a major concern to Beckett as the products of this natural process can be potentially harmful to the fuel system. Unlike transportation fuel, that is generally used within days, heating oil tends to be stored for longer periods of time (e.g., all summer), and is therefore more susceptible to degradation and instability. These characteristics can and should be controlled.

Additionally, testing by the Engine Manufacturers’ Association (EMA) indicates that fuel degradation can take place in the fuel supply chain as well as the vehicle fuel systems. The testing also indicated that degradation is accelerated by the presence of oxygen, water, heat and impurities. The products of biodegradation have been shown to be corrosive (e.g., formic, acetic and organic acids, water and methanol) and some will drop out of mixes with petroleum fuels to form deposits. During field trials conducted by the EMA in collaboration with end-users, the following equipment and engine problems were identified as being a direct result of fuel degradation:

  • Corrosion of fuel injection components
  • Elastomeric seal failures
  • Low pressure fuel system blockage
  • Fuel injector spray hole blockage
  • Pump seizures due to high fuel viscosity at low temperatures
  • Increased injection pressure

Due to the operating characteristics of oil burners and their components, not all of these problems are expected to occur, but there are enough similarities that warrant caution. EMA states that the incidence of these effects is likely to be increased when an engine is in irregular use, such as in stand-by generators and seasonally used vehicles. This is
also the case with oil burners that operate seasonally.

Fuel Quality Control Requirements

Initiatives are currently underway to develop specifications for biodiesel and “regular” blends of biodiesel in petroleum oil fuels. ASTM Committee D.02, Subcommittee E has responsibility for developing and maintaining these standards:

  • Standard D6751 covers Biodiesel Fuel Blend Stock (B100) for Middle Distillate Fuels and presents a comprehensive list of requirements for the neat (100%) biofuel material used for making blends with petroleum oil fuels. It does not include a requirement for stability, and this is of significant concern to both burner and engine fuel using communities.
  • Standards D396 covering Fuel Oils and D975 covering Diesel Fuel Oils are being considered for revision to include some level (probably 5% or less – a B5 fuel) of D6751 Biodiesel as standard fuels. This action is not ready for formal consideration at this time.

Standards for fuel oil blends consisting of up to 20% D6751 Biodiesel in petroleum oil fuel (B20) have been proposed, but these proposals are still under discussion.

The National Biodiesel Board promotes the use of a quality assurance program for the biodiesel industry (BQ9000) that covers the quality of biodiesel from production through marketing. However, like any quality assurance programs, these requirements are voluntary and do not in themselves guarantee conformance of biodiesel to appropriate specifications. Anecdotal reports of statements and questions from marketers and users of these fuels suggest that there is a significant misunderstanding of the standards and practices required for reliable and consistent use of these fuels.


Beckett believes that with proper testing and compliance to developing industry standards that a B5 biodiesel blend will be a viable heating industry fuel. This will have the long term benefit of moving America to renewable fuel sources directly in our control.

Chart 1. Oil burner, component or accessory – potential problems when using Fatty Acid Methyl Esters ( FAME) (non-exhaustive list)
Fuel Characteristic Effect Possible Failure Mode
Fatty acid methyl esters
Causes some elastomers, including petroleum resistant rubbers to soften and swell or harden and crack Fuel leakage
Free methanol in FAME Corrodes aluminum and zinc
Low flash point
Corrosion of components
Fire hazard
FAME process chemicals Potassium and sodium compounds as solid particles Blocked nozzles
Dissolved water in FAME Reversion of FAME to fatty acid Filter plugging
Free water in mixtures Corrosion
Sustains bacteria
Increases the electrical conductivity of the fuel
Corrosion of components
Free glycerine Corrodes non-ferrous metals
Soaks cellulose filters
Causes sediments on moving parts and lacquering
Filter clogging
Sticking of moving components, nozzle coking
Mono- & di-glycerides Similar to glycerine
Free fatty acid Provides an electrolyte and hastens corrosion of zinc
Salts of organic acids
Organic compounds formed
Corrosion of components
Filter plugging
Sediments on components
High viscosity at low temperature Blocked fuel flow No heat
Poor nozzle atomization
Solid impurities Potential lubricity problems Reduced service life
Aging products Effects Failure Mode
Corrosive acids
(formic & acetic)
Corrodes all metallic parts
May form simple electrolytic cell
Corrosion of components
High molecular organic acids Similar to fatty acid
Polymerization products Deposits especially from fuel blends
Lacquer formation in hot areas
Filter plugging
Sticking of moving components, nozzle coking or blockage