Data center facilities pro

Aug 20 2010   8:41PM GMT

How cleaning up diesel fuel affects the data center

Matt Stansberry Matt Stansberry Profile: Matt Stansberry

The EPA and state regulators have cleaned up diesel engine emissions by reducing the amount of allowable sulfur in fuel to less than 15 parts per million since 2008. This week The Uptime Institute published a technical paper on how biofuels are affecting data center operators.

In the new paper, The Institute also points out the problems reduced sulfur content is having on data center backup generators. According to Uptime, as the sulfur content in diesel is reduced:

-Biological growth in the fuel accelerates (sulfur is a biocide).
-The fuel holds more PPM of water.
-There is a reduced stability of oxygen in the fuel.
-And the fuel loses lubricity. The upshot? When using a biodiesel blend, the old McDonald’s fryer oil adds lubricity back into the fuel.

These are some of the tradeoffs data center operators are making for clean air. Bob Doherty wrote a tip about ultra low sulfur diesel’s affect on backup generators for in 2009.

Data center pros sound off on biodiesel

Data center manager Chuck Goolsbee wrote on Twitter: I run Datacenters, and run BioDiesel (in my cars) but I’d hesitate to run my datacenter on BioDiesel. At least right now.

In a follow up conversation, Lamonte Fortune, data center engineer at United Healthcare, wrote: “Just to be clear, I don’t think biodiesel is an evil (“Soybean-based fuels are fouling up the best-laid backup plans of some data center pros.”), just a fuel variation that people need to understand better to provide reliable operation for their generators. Misunderstanding petro-diesel usage can also get an operator in trouble. Biodiesel, however, does not need to be a bad word in fuel oil vernacular.

What do you think of biodiesel — better for Willie Neslon than backup generators? Weigh in on the comments, or on Twitter @datacenterTT.

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  • Goolsbee
    The primary issue here is the long-term stability of biodiesel compared to petro-diesel, and the mission-critical purpose of backup power sources. Biodiesel is amazing stuff, and I'm convinced my automotive engines run better on it than on D2. That said however I do have to tailor the blend based on season - B100 in summer, and B20 in winter, and straight D2 when the temps remain below freezing. In a generator application that may sit mostly idle for months at a time, this is not a viable strategy for obvious reasons.
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