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Mixing Alcohol & Diesel?

Discussion in 'Technical Discussion' started by C4ENG, Aug 23, 2008.

  1. C4ENG

    C4ENG Senior Member

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    I was recently on a 120 foot fiber glass haul vessel helping out with some needed work. The captain on board wanted to dispose about 4 larger gallon jugs of denatured alcohol. He dumped the alcohol into a empty fuel tank that normally would hold about 1500 gallons of fuel, saying that it was good for the water accumaltion in the tank. I personaly did not like the idea not knowing if there could be consequences with the fiber glass tanks, MTU fuel systems, incapatable hoses, etc. But I was not planning on going out to sea in the vessel so I did not speak up.
    Does any one know anything about this and have some opinions?
  2. Fishtigua

    Fishtigua Senior Member

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    Normaly I would wait for K1W1 to confirm this but as far as I know, alcohol eats certain rubbers in fuel lines and seals within the fuel pumps.

    What a dumbass 'captain'.
  3. NYCAP123

    NYCAP123 Senior Member

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    Basicallly you're dealing with "dry gas", and the balance (4 gals./ 1500 gals) would probably be OK and maybe advisable if he has a moisture problem in his gas tank. I kind of assume though that he is diesel which tells me he is either real knowledgable or a fool. I'm interested to learn which because I'd be ****ed to experiment.
  4. C4ENG

    C4ENG Senior Member

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    Here's an experiment I would like to do next time in the ship yard. Find a cut out piece of trash fiber glass from a boat. Soak it in some denatured alcohol in a container some where for a few days and see what happens. That is a very safe experiment there.
    I remember reading some post in here in the past about the ethonols that they had been adding to the diesel fuel at some marina filling stations. The articles and post went on that it had bad effects on some vessels with fiber glass tanks causing failures...
  5. NYCAP123

    NYCAP123 Senior Member

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    That's a big problem. It turns the glass to muck that clogs the filters, but I think the rate of mix on that is 10%, and that's dealing with gasoline. DK if this was even dealing with f/g tanks, and at a rate of 375:1??? Does anybody know the effect on diesel fuel (if any) at this concentration. Good, bad, any? My guess is that he did no harm, but dk that I'd do it.
  6. Pascal

    Pascal Senior Member

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    ethanol has no effect on recent fiberglass tanks... the cutoff date will vary by manufacturer but for instance Hatteras tanks build after 1985 are compatible with ethanol.

    i woudn't have done it... but may be he knows someting i dont.
  7. Seafarer

    Seafarer Senior Member

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    He put it into an empty tank... so my concern would be that any residual fuel would now become quite flammable as well as creating volatile fumes. Not really enough to worry about lowering the cetane of the fuel, but left lying in an empty tank it risks softening the 'glass and any rubber lines/seals (as mentioned) in addition to promoting corrosion in any uncoated steel fuel lines, and/or stripping coated lines then promoting corrosion.

    Not the wisest idea I've ever heard.
  8. NYCAP123

    NYCAP123 Senior Member

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    Into an empty diesel tank?:eek: Is he nuts? DK why this diddn't occur to me earlier. Even forgetting the safety factor and what it may do to the machinery I just read an article that reminded me that most engine makers will void your warranty if you mess with the fuel. What's a new diesel motor go for these days?:eek:
  9. K1W1

    K1W1 Senior Member

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    Hi,

    From what I understand De Natured Alcohol is mostly Ethanol- Ethanol is quite often blended into Gasoline unbeknown to the end user till there is a problem in a few cases- this is well documented on the web.

    All I can find about adding Ethanol to Diesel is here:

    O2DIESEL™ DELIVERS SUPERIOR FUEL OPERABILITY & PERFORMANCE
    The benefit of adding oxygenates to motor fuels is well documented, and ethanol with 35% wt oxygen is recognized as an excellent, widely available fuel oxygenate.

    However, unlike gasoline, ethanol will not naturally mix with diesel fuel.


    O2Diesel's proprietary process blends 7.7% fuel ethanol with regular diesel and less than 1% of the company's patented co-solvent chemistry to provide a technical and commercially viable clear homogenous and stable fuel that can be utilized in unmodified engines and existing fuel delivery infrastructure. O2Diesel's ethanol-blended diesel fuel has made it a leader in delivering clean-burning diesel fuels to global markets. This ethanol-blended flexible fuel delivers premium diesel performance & operability enhancement in both on and off-road applications.

    The bold font is an important thing to consider, seeing as how the Alcohol will have less of an SG than the diesel and will form a highly flammable layer on top of the fuel that will eventually evaporate ( hopefully).
  10. Capt J

    Capt J Senior Member

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    I am no chemist, but wouldn't even think of adding alcohol to a diesel tank. I just underwent a rebuild on a customers 12v71TI, that was rebuilt by the dealer 5 months and 150hrs prior and the first they did was take a fuel sample and oil sample (to try to get out of covering it under warranty). Which is reason enough I wouldn't add anything other then what is made specifically for putting in diesel fuel.
  11. strat57

    strat57 New Member

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    Sounds like that "captain" needs a few lessons in chemistry not to mention the safe disposal of hazardous chemicals for starters! I by no means am a chemist or expert.... but as several pointed out, denatured alcohol is ethanol with about 10% methanol from my understanding.

    I can tell you this from experience.... I have owned a open wheel midget race car (team) for over ten years and they run on Methanol. Maintenance on these requires that the fuel system be cleaned after every race weekend. Methanol or Ethanol are corrosive to aluminium fittings along with drying out "O" rings, rubber fuel lines, crystalizing in fuel pumps as well as filters.

    As far as taking care of any moisture in the fuel tank(s)..... all boats with built in fuel tanks should have a filtration system including a water separator. On something the size vessel you referenced.... a fuel polishing/transfer system is a must and any fuel (fresh or old) should be polished prior to leaving the dock. I surely question your qualifications as these things should be quite familiar to you working on vessels the size you stated.

    So was this a great idea? Not in my book..... I'd be searching for a new captain if it had happen on my boat and I had found out. As far as you not mentioning it? Both safety and ethics come to mind.... can you post your name and the company you work for so we can "steer clear" of your services?

    By no means am I trying to be harsh here, just practical and a realist....
  12. NYCAP123

    NYCAP123 Senior Member

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    To be fair to C4ENG you can't tell another person how to do his job. Especially if you're not certain of the ramifications and especially if he's the captain unless you want to find yourself swimming or worse. That's his boat and whatever happens is between him and the owner. Hopefully others have learned by this discussion though that fuel tanks are for fuel; that today's motors are not as forgiving as those of yesteryear; That today's fuels are way more complex than the gas or diesel us old guys grew up with and that you don't want to screw with your warranty.
  13. C4ENG

    C4ENG Senior Member

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    Strat, this web site is a great place for bringing question on subjects that you are not familiar with. I don't know of any books that talk about the consequences of dumping denatured alcohol in diesel tanks. I don't find it right for you to step on some one becuase they do not know some thing. It defeats the porpuse of this sight.
    And on a proper level of dealing with that Captain dumping the alcohol in the tank, it would been very professional on my end to say " I do not sugest you preform that action becuase I have done research on this subject in the past and have found that X Y and Z to be as such.."
    But at the moment I did not have the research done and I could have said..
    "Hey maann... that soundss stupid.... I don't know what the consequences are.... and you should listen to me..."
    I am sure that would had gone far.
    Now I know more for future events.
  14. strat57

    strat57 New Member

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    NYCAP123..... Not trying to make waves here, but that old saying of "a captain is only as good as his crew" comes to mind. Anyone in a position of authority owes it to themselves as well as the people under them to listen.

    That includes times when a subordinate isn't sure of the "ramifications" when pointing something out. You should always speak up..... it's part of the learning process, shows prudent judgment, and should be an indicator of sound work ethic when done with tact.

    Even if C4ENG was hired by the captain.... he obviously is paid by the boat owner. With that said..... his first "obligation" is to the owner, not to mention his own business or that of his employer.

    Any "captain" who'd force a crew member/helper/subcontractor to take a "swim" isn't much of a captain if his own actions are questionable, dangerous, negligent, or the ramifications of his actions aren't thoroughly understood. The captain does not own the boat! And always remember... the "admiral" (read owner) is the top of the chain of command!

    As a business owner I owe it to myself as well as the employees to listen to all complaints, concerns, issues, etc. of everyone involved including the lowest man or the weakest link in the chain of command.

    As we all should know the risk of fire/explosion is a priority issue on any vessel. You can NEVER be too cautious or prudent in your judgment when it comes to fueling, handling fuel, or maintaining fuel systems.

    I wonder how C4ENG would feel if this owners multi-million dollar investment when up in flames at the dock due to the captains actions? Or God forbid at sea with who knows how many souls aboard at risk! That 4 gal. doesn't sound like much in an empty 1500 gal fuel tank.... but I'll bet the insurence carrier might not agree!

    Sorry..... I see no excuse for not mentioning his concerns to the captain! Bringing it to the owners attention, or at least his employer.... or maybe even the dock master anonymously.
  15. NYCAP123

    NYCAP123 Senior Member

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    Strat57,
    You are 100% off base here. Imagine any military commander having his actions and orders questioned by every private without a lick of sense or knowledge.
    My personal policy, which I announce to my hands, is that I welcome second guessing but that is not the norm. My way risks a breakdown in the command structure if there is ever an emergency. I feel I can handle that, but that is MY way. Who would C4ENG think he is telling a captain of a vessel how to do his job. He doesn't know if maybe the owner of the boat (who maybe is the chief engineer for the engine manufacturer) told him to do this. On top of that you've seen some very smart people here unsure of if or how much if any damage is being done. So basically he'd be talking through his hat. And you further suggest that he should rat the captain out to the boat's owner or the dockmaster over something that may or may not even be a problem? If he tried that with me going for a swim and having his career ended would be the least of his troubles.
    The captain is in command of a vessel. Period. The owner can fire him, but until that happens the captain is in command. He does what he does and accepts the consequences.
  16. Marmot

    Marmot Senior Member

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    I see the responses have ranged from the ridiculous to the mostly accurate so I may as well chime in as well.

    Come on guys, how do you let this sort of thing happen? There should be at least one professional aboard and in the engine room it had better be the engineer.

    First, the captain has no more business taking it on himself to dump stuff in the fuel tanks than the engineer does entering waypoints in the ECDIS. If he has hazmat to dispose of he should do it properly and in accordance with the yard's procedures.

    Second, the engineer, if one was aboard, had a responsibility to prevent any contaminant from being introduced into the vessel's fuel system. Failure to prevent an unsafe act that produced a fire and explosion hazard should be grounds for an action against the engineer's license as well.

    Third, the captain by performing such an ignorant and dangerous act should lose his license. There is no defence for such blatant disregard for safety and procedures which are, or should be, very well known by all ship's officers.

    As far as the wisdom of dumping alcohol into the fuel tanks, there are several issues. If the tank is empty, pouring alcohol into it will produce an explosive mixture. The LEL of denatured alcohol is around 3 percent by volume, the UEl around 19 percent, so even though the alcohol vapor is heavier than air, a considerable portion of the tank volume will contain an explosive mixture.

    Alcohol will mix with diesel. It will tend to separate when water is present however and will form a water/alcohol mixture which may or may not cause problems further downstream depending on the separation system in use.

    The tiny relative volume of alcohol is highly unlikely to cause problems when the tank is filled (or if it were filled) with diesel. There are alcohol/diesel blends on the market which include up to 15 percent alcohol along with cetane and lubricity enhancers to compensate for the loss of those qualities. The greatest risk with such blends is the reduction in flash point that may be so low as to make that blend illegal for marine use.

    Furthermore, the comment that "you can't tell the captain how to do his job" is ludicrous and belongs back in the 19th century where it came from. We are talking about a pleasure vessel, it is not a warship. If the captain is seen to perform or initiate an unsafe or illegal act it is the responsibility of officers and crew to speak up very clearly and prevent it from happening.

    I personally find it a little more than disconcerting to read examples such as this one in which an uninformed engineer lacks the professionalism and confidence to speak up against an illegal and unsafe act performed by an even more uninformed crewmember. There is something terribly wrong with the system that placed these two on the same vessel in positions of responsibility.

    In this case, had I been the engineer, I would have made every effort short of physical restraint to prevent the captain from pouring the alcohol into the empty fuel tank. If that failed I would have shut down the work being performed on the yacht until a marine chemist certified the tank as gas-free ... with full awareness of all that will involve. When the reason for this was questioned I would clearly explain my actions and those of the captain to the yard management, the vessel management, the owner and if necessary, to the captain of the port.

    Situations like this don't happen on professionally manned vessels. This reflects poorly on all of us but I am glad C4ENG had the courage to tell the story and hopefully everyone learns from it.
  17. C4ENG

    C4ENG Senior Member

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    I think what has Strat bothered is by the statement that I made to the effect of
    "I was not planning on going out to sea in the vessel so I did not speak up"
    I can understand how that can be taken wrong like some one who just doesn't care. The wild thing is and another purpose of me originaly posting this question, if there was some thing that would had been posted that would had been of major concern for the safety of the people or the vessel, I would had notified the captain who hired me.
    I was hired by the previous captain of that vessel, who was retiring. The new captain came aboard and on his second day on the job poured the alcohol down the pipe. I already knew he was not interested in my services and I was leaving in the next couple of days. He was master in comand and I certainly did not want to fight or argue with him on a subject that I did not have the facts on. I did however inform the original captain that hired me and told him about the new captain's action. I wanted to know what his opinoun was. He did not know the consequences either but did not think it was smart, and he saw no reason for that action. He even called MTU to see if they knew something. They did not have many facts either.
    So that should fill you in Strat just incase you really wanted to know.
  18. strat57

    strat57 New Member

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    Look.... as I stated in my original post I'm certainly not looking for an argument.

    But I will address your issues though...

    #1 We're not talking about the military or a military vessel. I take it we're discussing a pleasure craft, disposing of a chemical not intended for a fuel tank, the possible problems created, and whether it should have been questioned.

    #2 As you stated earlier "fuel tanks are for fuel"! Unless you are privy to additional information.... throwing up any number of hypothetical scenarios is a weak response at best!

    #3 Please re-read my post..... I clearly spelled out that if any captains actions are questionable, dangerous, negligent, or the ramifications of his actions aren't thoroughly understood, any mate, deckhand, dock worker, or guest should speak up.

    #4 You are correct in stating the captain is in charge and responsible for the souls aboard and the vessel. As we both know though..... many a sailor have been disciplined even when they followed the captains "orders" after things went "south" and it was discovered no one raised a issue or question. I can think of quite a few real life situations regarding this.

    #5 As far as, how'd you put it..... "rat the captain out" or how sending him for a swim or attempting to ruin his career, not to mention insinuate getting all redneck over it surely speaks volumes.

    What should concern any of us is the possible safety and/or mechanical issues raised. Not a captains ego or a possible warrented breech of the command structure.

    Again, as I stated earlier.... posing a question regarding such a matter should be welcomed! Not seen as a threat. As a captain you should be willing listen and answer with an open mind. Not to mention willing to share information or teach someone be it a mate, deckhand, subcontractor, or guest!

    BTW.... if your suggesting that the owner "(who maybe is the chief engineer for the engine manufacturer)" told the captain to do this.... it surely wasn't mentioned in the original post was it?! LOL

    Anyway, let's not get all worked over this.... we obviously have a difference of opinion and see this from two totally different prospectives! Jeez.... LOL

    (edit/add) I just read the post from MARMOT and I'd say he hit the proverbial "nail on the head" and you're right C4ENG it was the appearence of a lack of concern that threw up the red flags!
  19. NYCAP123

    NYCAP123 Senior Member

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    C4ENG said that he was 'helping out.... with some ... work.' He was not the engineer or even in charge of the work being done from what I read. He certainly was not the vessel's engineer. In fact he was not even a member of the vessel's crew. He saw an act that he felt was foolish, not illegal or blatantly unsafe. Bringing it to this forum for it's educational value is the right action, not telling a captain that he's wrong when he doesn't know that that is the case, and certainly not starting trouble for anybody when, again, he doesn't understand the situation. Even after all this discussion I'm not sure if this is a safety concern, a mechanical concern or a warranty concern. I know I wouldn't do it on a boat I was responsible for, but I doubt I'd go running down the dock screaming "fire". I certainly wouldn't screw with someone's job without knowing what I was talking about.
  20. Marmot

    Marmot Senior Member

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    “ Imagine any military commander having his actions and orders questioned by every private without a lick of sense or knowledge.”

    Like I wrote a few minutes ago, we aren’t talking about taking a warship into harm’s way. We are talking about a shipyard evolution where the captain is generally about as useful as a barnacle. In this case a barnacle would have presented less risk to the vessel.

    The chief engineer isn’t a “private,” he is a department head with full authority and legal responsibility for the safe operation of the machinery and systems onboard that vessel. On merchant vessels he wears the same 4 strips as the captain and has authority to match. One of his responsibilities is to prevent morons from threatening the safety and health of the crew and all aboard.

    “Who would C4ENG think he is telling a captain of a vessel how to do his job.”

    The chief engineer doing his job is how he had better think of it and perform accordingly. He has a responsibility to prevent dangerous acts and to advise the captain of the consequences of operational decisions made while underway. The captain has authority to destroy the machinery if he belives it will save the crew and perhaps the vessel but he does not have authority to risk lives or the vessel in a shipyard on his whim. Your attitude belongs in the 19th century and is the reason we now have bridge resource management and other crew management programs … that attitude has been proven dangerous and outmoded. It is a threat to crews, vessels, the environment and the marine industry as a whole.

    “He doesn't know if maybe the owner of the boat (who maybe is the chief engineer for the engine manufacturer) told him to do this.”

    He doesn’t need to. The chief engineer, just like the captain has been given the authority to make decisions based on his certification and position on the vessel. It is not the captain’s job to second guess the engineer.

    “ On top of that you've seen some very smart people here unsure of if or how much if any damage is being done”

    That is a sad reflection on the level of training and competence in the yachting industry. It is not a matter for determining the role and limits of an officer’s authority.


    “ And you further suggest that he should rat the captain out to the boat's owner or the dockmaster over something that may or may not even be a problem?”

    It is a problem. Not just a technical problem or one of chemistry, it is an illustration of a very serious problem in training, leadership, and operational safety. Calling it "ratting out" is rather telling in this context.

    “ If he tried that with me going for a swim and having his career ended would be the least of his troubles.

    The captain is in command of a vessel. Period. The owner can fire him, but until that happens the captain is in command. He does what he does and accepts the consequences.”

    Now you are harking back to the 18th century. We can only be grateful that you are not qualified or certified to command vessels in which the crew concept is excercised.

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