Barker, J., Cook, S., and Richards, P., "Sodium Contamination of Diesel Fuel, its Interaction with Fuel Additives and the Resultant Effects on Filter Plugging and Injector Fouling," SAE Int. J. Fuels Lubr. 6(3):826-838, 2013, doi:10.4271/2013-01-2687.
Diesel fuel distilled from crude oil should contain no greater than trace amounts of sodium. However, fuel specifications do not include sodium; there is a limit of five parts per million for the amount of sodium plus potassium in fatty acid methyl esters (FAME) used as biodiesel. Sodium compounds are often used as the catalyst for the esterification process for producing FAME and sodium hydroxide is now commonly used in the refining process to produce ultra-low sulphur diesel (ULSD) fuel from crude oil. Good housekeeping should ensure that sodium is not present in the finished fuel. A finished fuel should not only be free of sodium but should also contain a diesel fuel additive package to ensures the fuel meets the quality standards introduced to provide reliable operation, along with the longevity of the fuel supply infrastructure and the diesel engines that ultimately burn this fuel.There has recently been an upsurge in reported field problems due to fouling of the fuel injection system in modern diesel engines. This can take the form of deposits in the fuel filters or within the fuel injectors themselves. Recent work proposed a mechanism whereby sodium contaminated fuel can undergo adverse reactions between the sodium compounds and fuel additives leading to the formation of material that can impede the operation of diesel fuel injectors.This paper presents new work carried out to enhance the understanding of this mechanism and demonstrates that the fate of any sodium contaminant is highly dependent on (i) the fuel additives present in the fuel (ii) the amount of water in the system, (iii) potentially the intensity of fuel/water mixing and (iv) the identity of the sodium salt involved in the reaction. This can lead to sodium accumulating in the water bottoms, forming sodium compounds that go on to plug fuel filters or which may cause injector fouling. The data found may explain the variation in engine test data regarding sodium induced fouling reported in the recent literature.