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The Hard Truth About Storing Fuel
Article by J.G. Martinez from The Organic Prepper cross-posted with permission.
(The Organic Prepper)—We all have read the stories from our favorite post-apocalyptic authors where our hero has stored a huge amount of fuel for his or her vehicles in a facility. To keep warm in the winter, scout in the 4×4, looking for marauders, fueling the generator while a snowstorm outside roars without mercy.
Very romantic. As much as we can enjoy this idea, reality is way different these days. Truth is hard, as most of them are: we can´t store enough fuel for as long as we would like to.
The reality of storing fuel
No matter if it is diesel or gasoline or some sort of gasified product coming from an industrial facility. It´s economically very hard to do, and those who want to go down that path will find themselves at the end of the day with a huge empty tank they invested a fortune on. A quick calculation will show this to anyone. Sure, some people with the best of intentions will comment below their experiences using four or five years old fuel in some far away Alaskan forest to refill the snow motorcycle and run away from a furious gang of bears in the last second. But it´s something different to the scope of this writing.
Fellows, using fuel too old without proper storage conditions will have a devastating effect on any engine in the medium term. If your heating system relies on one of these engines, THEN you´ll be in trouble when it decides to fail at the worst possible moment.
But we already should know it won´t last for too long if a real disaster stops production everywhere. A couple of years, maybe? If you’re planning for this short term and believe that some sort of fuel will be available afterward, it’s your call if you still need to store it.
Just be aware of what happens when you are surrounded by people and have something valuable. I wrote of it here: Venezuela: Thieves, Fuel Shortages, Hunger, and the Black Market
After two years, most of the fuel will have gone rancid if it wasn’t stabilized, will be consumed or won´t exist if the catastrophic event that led to the production stopping was large enough.
Politics could play a part in this, too.
Unless someone owns a refinery and wells, production pipes and the money to pay for the specialized professionals to operate it for the next 50 or 60 years, and train the next generation of refinery workers, fuel and other derivatives for internal combustion engines, or ICEs, could become a rarity. Politicians are already, with or without reasonable motifs, working actively in the forbidding of manufacturing new ICEs in Europe. Mind you, if someone 30 years ago someone would have told you, “Cable TV is no longer going to exist” you would have laughed in his face. I see the cable TV companies around here mutating. They´ve all switched to Internet access via optics fiber service.
My take is that the car manufacturers are going to force the market to do as they please. This means the Western world bending and obeying the immensely powerful Asian elites in their pursuit to keep getting affordable products and keep the lifestyle of the masses that vote. Don´t underestimate the indoctrinating atmosphere the new generations are immersed in these days. Those who never identified the bond between the freedom and the roar of an 80 cu. in. Evo V-Twin or a small block Chevy V8 are lost forever.
Take this as you prefer, as I´m not a market researcher or a specialist. However, common sense makes me think this is what they want, and they don´t care what we the customer base want or need.
No matter how hard we try, it´s a matter of the world economy and the changes in the geopolitical environment, at a global level. Don´t get the wrong idea: it´s all about societal control. They need to push the concept of the “15-minute city“.
I will elaborate a little bit about this: the power struggle of the bigger Western economies and the rest of the world (mostly the Asian part of the world) is based on technology and energy source control. Whoever controls these, rules the world, broadly speaking. Period.
Or at least the parts of the world that matter.
Fuel has become hard to acquire where I live.
Based on my own experiences with modern gasoline not produced in my country (which once produced 1/3 of the fuel tank of every car up there in the US), let´s elaborate on why storing “for the future” may not be an option anymore.
The actual formulation of the gasoline is now different to withstand the technology changes with the fuel injection systems. The fuels have evolved a little bit too. Detergent proportions, volatile components, everything works against the long-term storage philosophy. That´s why the unrefined, crude ingredient of the gasoline known as naphtha is the more stable way to store it, before mixing. This is the primary component and the base from which every company produces their fuel. But this is not available to the public, as far as I know, and it will destroy any engine in short if used crudely. I saw this happening in Venezuela.
Sadly, modern gasoline is not intended to be stored for a long time. Can you store it safely? Sure. Let´s see.
How long does modern gasoline last when stored in a home or farm?
The shelf life of gasoline depends on many factors, including the type of gasoline, the storage conditions, and the additives that are used. In general, gasoline should last for about 3 months up to 2 years (stabilized) when stored in a cool, dark place. If the gasoline is stored in a warm, humid place, it will last for a shorter period.
The following factors shorten the shelf life of gasoline:
Light: Exposure to light (mostly from the sun) can cause gasoline to oxidize and form harmful compounds.
Heat: Heat can cause gasoline to evaporate and lose its volatile components.
Moisture: Moisture can cause gasoline to corrode metal tanks and pipes.
Additives: Some additives can break down over time, which can shorten the shelf life of gasoline. Some additives like detergents or anti-foaming agents can precipitate, too, and cause more problems in the filters.
You have to be really cognizant of these things when storing fuel.
What causes the gasoline to go bad?
A good number of factors, indeed, including:
Oxidation – Gasoline, as a highly flammable liquid is easily oxidized (combined with Oxygen). Oxidation occurs when gasoline is exposed to oxygen, light, and heat as these conditions improve the speed of the reaction. Oxidation causes gasoline to form harmful compounds, such as gum and varnish. These undesired byproducts clog fuel filters, carburettors tiny parts and injectors and cause engine problems.
Evaporation – Gasoline is a volatile liquid that evaporates quickly. In evaporation, the gasoline loses its volatile components, such as octane. This reduces the performance of the engine.
Contamination: Gasoline can be contaminated by water, dirt, and other foreign materials. Water can get into a poorly stored tank. I’ve seen it. Even rain leaks fall over fuel tanks in generator sheds. No Bueno. Contamination causes the gasoline to become unstable and definitely can lead to engine problems.
Modern gasoline is more corrosive than gasoline from 20 years ago.
Gasoline, as a complex mixture of hydrocarbons, additives, and other compounds, will eventually degrade and become unusable. It has been designed to be consumed shortly after leaving the production facilities, indeed. It was never intended to be stored.
20 years ago, our gasoline was typically a blend of straight-chain hydrocarbons. This liquid had an octane rating of 87 or higher. Straight-chain hydrocarbons are less corrosive than branched-chain hydrocarbons, which are more commonly found in modern gasoline.
These so-called branched-chain hydrocarbons, such as iso-octane, are used to improve octane. They are meant to elevate the energy you get out of the liquid during the explosion of the mixture inside the engine. Branched-chain hydrocarbons are more corrosive than straight-chain hydrocarbons because they are more likely to react with water and form acids.
These acids will corrode metals, as they are supposed to do. In addition to branched-chain hydrocarbons, modern gasoline also contains ethanol, which is a type of alcohol as we know. Ethanol is corrosive to metal, and of course, it increases the aggressive behaviour of gasoline regarding corrosion.
This increased corrosivity factor of modern gasoline can lead to several problems, including:
Corrosion of fuel tanks and lines: Corrosion can weaken fuel tanks and lines, making them more likely to leak. Considering the newest alloys are thinner, to make cars lighter, this is an important fact.
Clogging of fuel filters and injectors: Corrosion can cause deposits to form on fuel filters and injectors, which can reduce engine performance and efficiency.
Engine damage: Corrosion can damage engine components, such as pistons, rings, and valves.
There is not so much that we can do to overcome this new conditions of the modern fuel.
The best conditions possible for storing fuel
To help prevent corrosion caused by modern gasoline, it is important to store gasoline properly. Gasoline should be stored in a cool, dark place, away from direct sunlight and heat. Gasoline should also be stored in a metal tank or container that is properly sealed to prevent evaporation and contamination.
Some users have reported using marine-grade stabilizers, and it seems a logical choice. You need the best products available to protect this sort of investment, especially thinking about the potential damage it can produce if (or when) it degrades.
Tips for storing gasoline are plentiful, and all of them are based on common sense. Still, in Venezuela, many accidental fires have been initiated because of people storing it inadequately. This being said, here is a disclaimer: Proceed under your responsibility when storing any kind of fuel.
Store the gasoline in a metal tank or container. Metal is a better conductor of heat than plastic, so it will help to keep the gasoline cooler. In my tropical country, I’d rather go with plastic and protect it from the sun than metal: a cement surface will be enough to corrode the sheet of the can from outside in. I’ve even seen some cans with the bottom adhered to the floor with rust and ripping off when lifted, so this choice is open to discussion based on experience.
Properly seal the gasoline tank or container. This will help to prevent evaporation and contamination.
This is important: fill the gasoline tank to 95% to allow for expansion. Gasoline is a volatile liquid and will go into a vapour-liquid equilibrium with the gas phase, too, and this small volume helps with that. If the recipient is airtight and vapours don´t escape, this volume is over the explosion limit as there is no Oxygen in it.
Label the gasoline tank or container with the date that it was stored. This will help you to track the age of the gasoline. This is a good practice that everyone should manage and not limit to fuels, no matter if he or she is new to prepping and self-reliance.
Keeping it as far away from any electrical outlet is compulsory.
Should we store gasoline?
How much? Storing fuel depends on your situation.
Your needs are known only to you. Given the current state of things at a global scale, I would say that yes, store it. As much as we can afford, and do it safely within all the regulations.
With the actual shelf life, maybe storing more than one year of your actual consumption for each type of fuel is not worth it. Maybe with diesel, as it lasts longer, and we can always resource to WVO, Biodiesel, BioGas, or wood gasification, which I strongly recommend for those with space and regulations flexible enough.
A generator needs about 60 gallons of gasoline for 30 days if used sparely. I want to emphasize here that alternative technologies like solar or wind are a must if you want to make your fuel supply last.
After all that has been said, not everything is lost. There are always alternatives to use your ICEs without having to refill at the local fuel station. For those with enough firewood, it would be a waste not to attach a wood gasifier to their gensets.
What about you?
Have you had good luck storing fuel? What is your best advice to others who want to do so? Have you ever had fuel go bad? Did it cause damage or did you catch it beforehand?
Let’s discuss storing fuel in the comments below.
Jose is an upper middle class professional. He is a former worker of the oil state company with a Bachelor’s degree from one of the best national Universities. He has an old but in good shape SUV, a good 150 square meters house in a nice neighborhood, in a small but (formerly) prosperous city with two middle size malls. Jose is a prepper and shares his eyewitness accounts and survival stories from the collapse of his beloved Venezuela. Jose and his younger kid are currently back in Venezuela, after the intention of setting up a new life in another country didn’t go well. The SARSCOV2 re-shaped the labor market and South American economy so he decided to give it a try to homestead in the mountains, and make a living as best as possible. But this time in his own land, and surrounded by family, friends and acquaintances, with all the gear and equipment collected, as the initial plan was.