Homestead Fuel Storage and Rotation, by NC Bluedog

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Given that liquid fuel costs are climbing dramatically, and likely to continue rising, I would like to share some of the practices for fuel storage we employ. For our homestead, liquid fuel equates to four items, namely: Propane, diesel fuel, kerosene and last but not least gasoline. For each fuel, there are specific uses, distinct storage requirements and longevity considerations. Let me discuss each in order:

The primary furnace in our house runs on propane. Currently, we use electricity for water heating and cooking. Our annual propane usage is between 500 to 800 gallons per year depending on the weather and how much wood we burn in the small heating stove in the living room. My goal when we bought the house was to have one year of supply, so I had installed two 500 gallon (nominal water capacity) above ground propane tanks (800 gallon capacity at 80% fill). I have the tanks filled during the (typical) summer price drop. Below grade tanks, while preferable for several reasons (ballistic protection etc.), are problematic (i.e. expensive) because of the rocky soil and high water table. Nonetheless, I would like to expand my capacity to two years, and will likely bear the excavation expense and install a 1000 gallon underground tank as well. For the grill and portable propane appliances (stove, lights etc.), we keep a supply of 20 and 40 pound tanks available. Small one pound propane bottles are refilled from these tanks. (Note: US DOT regulations prohibit transporting refilled “disposable” cylinders). Storage life is not of concern with propane, but price and availability are of paramount importance.

Diesel fuel is used on our homestead for the generator when the power fails and for the tractor. My little tractor just sips fuel and only uses about 20 gallons per year (mowing etc.). Our storage capacity consists of a 100 gallon “belly” tank on the generator and a 275 gallon fuel oil tank (i.e. heating oil tank) set up beside the generator shack. This leads to the problem of low use during normal times, where longevity is of concern, and problems with fuel transfer between the tanks. Diesel fuel, being lightly refined, has a relatively long storage life (5-10 years reported) if properly cared for. This includes relatively stable temperature, commercial fuel preservative/algaecide (I prefer Pri-D) and above all else keeping it dry. Again, underground storage would provide the stable temperature, but rocky soil and US EPA regulations have precluded me from doing that. Water is the big problem. Humidity condensing inside the tank collects in the bottom under the diesel fuel (oil-water layer) and provides a nice environment for oil eating micro-organisms. These little bugs make acid (anaerobic metabolism or vinegar fermentation) which will destroy the metal tank and other byproducts which clog filters and injectors. An algaecide limits this but removing the water is even better. To provide for this and allow fuel transfer, I set up a plumber’s nightmare of supply and return lines with valves to a water-separating filter and a fuel-oil circulating pump. The pump is rated at 45 gallons per hour (GPH) and was bought on-line (~$100) and the filter was bought at the local farm supply. The pump runs on 12 VDC and draws only 2 Amps off the generator starting battery. Since this pump only runs part-time, a 1.5 A trickle charger makes up for the difference during down times. Diesel powered boat owners call this “diesel fuel polishing”. My supply lines are set up at the low side of the tank, so water will preferentially be pumped out of the tank. About once a month, I set up a “polishing” operation during the weekend, letting each tank circulate for 24 hours each. Every year I add an appropriate amount of Pri-D to each tank. Fuel transfer at 45 GPH is relatively slow, but it only takes 7 minutes to fill the 5 gallon portable tank for my tractor. Any transfer between tanks needs to be watched closely so you don’t overfill the receiving tank. While the generator will siphon its own fuel while running, by adjusting the valves one can provide a little pressure feed to the injector pump and polish at the same time. I would like to increase our storage capacity of diesel fuel for more reserve generator use, but in the absence of a diesel powered vehicle, our annual consumption would not permit enough rotation to keep the fuel usable.

Kerosene is used in our homestead for the portable kerosene heater, Aladdin lamps (power failures) and in real hard times the Prize stove. Annual use is 10 to 20 gallons per year during normal times. Our storage capacity consists of a 50 gallon drum and ten 5 gallon jugs kept in a dry room in the barn. I prefer the round drum-shaped jugs since they are stackable. Kerosene, like diesel fuel, is lightly refined and has an approximately 5-to-10 year shelf life if stored properly. To keep the fuel rotated, I use a bulb siphon pump attached to a 4 foot piece of copper tubing that I can place in the drum and siphon from the bottom. This permits removal of any moisture collected in the drum. The transferred fuel is drained into a 5 gallon jug for routine use. The height difference from the drum to the jug permits siphon action without hand pumping, so long as the drum is nearly full. New replacement fuel is added to the drum as needed.

Gasoline storage is a real problem. First, it is volatile and very dangerous to handle. Second, it is the one of the most commonly used liquid fuels at our homestead. Third, its storage life is extremely limited. And fourth, it is desirable to have a portable supply in a Get Out of Dodge (G.O.O.D.)scenario. These are competing and contradictory considerations. During normal times, our use is between 7 and 10 gallons per week (350 – 500 gallons per year). For normal use, 6 months would be considered a typical shelf life, but this can be extended for up to a year with a good stabilizer (I prefer Pri-G). Gasoline stored longer may be usable but problematic. Problems include filter and injector/venturi port clogging and loss of volatility (may require starting ether). The most difficult aspect is keeping the fuel rotated, since if you store fuel but continue to fill up your vehicle at the pump, the stored fuel is never rotated. To address this problem, I have a tiered system of storage. Weekly use of gasoline comes from a supply of 5 gallon gas cans (currently 20). I strongly prefer the metal NATO ratchet clamp style. Consumer quality plastic jugs are just far too fragile in my opinion and the newer military specification HDPE jugs too expensive. Don’t waste your money on surplus or old style “Jerry” (Blitz) cans. I have never had one that did not leak while pouring, even brand new ones. The NATO style cans may be stacked and even laid on their sides without leaking. They are tough enough to handle a GOOD situation in the back of a pickup. When emptied, these portable tanks are filled from two 100 gallon “transfer” tanks in a fixed location. Fuel transfer is handled in a similar manner to the diesel fuel setup except that the pump is more expensive since it is rated for gasoline. The fuel is also pumped through a water separating and particulate filter. These tanks are periodically refilled from a transfer tank in the back of the pickup. The routine is as follows: Weekly, I top off all vehicles with portable containers. Since full, the vehicles store more than 100 gallons total. These 5 gallon cans are refilled, to keep an additional 100 gallons in easily portable containers. About once every two months, I fill the transfer tank in the truck with added Pri-G stabilizer and refill the “fixed” transfer tanks in storage. This provides me with 400 gallons of stabilized fuel in constant rotation with my nadir being 320 gallons, when it is time to buy more gasoline. All gasoline is in a well ventilated “shed” and weather/sun protected. There are several nearby fire extinguishers.

Besides the above “four-horsemen” of liquid fuels, we keep some additional fuels available. There is a supply of liquid paraffin for odorless burning in the oil lamps. Any oil lamp we keep filled with fuel for immediate access has liquid paraffin in it since it doesn’t vaporize and “disappear” leaving wick-killing varnish like kerosene does. There is also some mineral spirits for the Prize stove (mineral spirits was the original fuel for oil lamps and stoves prior to the “invention” of kerosene). Additionally, we keep some naphtha (white gas/Coleman fuel) despite the fact that all of our gas appliances/lanterns are “dual fuel”. I do this because it provides for the best longevity for the “generator tube” in these appliances and may be a good barter item for people using white gas only appliances. These could be considered part of the respective kerosene/gasoline inventory, but I consider them as un-inventoried extras.

Fuel storage is problematic because the fuels mostly needed during TEOTWAWKI, namely diesel fuel (for electricity generation and tractor use) and kerosene (for heating, lighting and cooking) are the most infrequently used during routine times. Our homestead gasoline consumption will likely drop dramatically in bad times. Propane storage is mostly an economic and availability issue since the furnace won’t run without electricity and we can heat (at least part of our house) with wood or kerosene. By limiting he running of the generator, we should have close to a years’ worth of diesel fuel. Aladdin lamps use about a pint of fuel for 8 hours, so 100 gallons of kerosene may keep us with light for up to a year. Gasoline storage should be adequate for up to the useful storage life of the fuel.

I have tried to strike a balance between annual consumption, storage capacity, rotation and shelf life in my planning. Basic information would include baseline consumption data for your homestead, anticipated consumption in bad times and available storage mechanisms or space. Running these calculations for your own situation will be enlightening and encourage you toward further preparation.

Copyright 2005-2012 James Wesley, Rawles - All Rights Reserved