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Typical heating oil system problems

Oil storage tank

Oiltec is very grateful to Dr Bob Hall, director of Fuel Additive Science Technologies in Shropshire for the following article on typical heating oil system problems. Bob, who has over 20 years experience working as a fuel scientist at Esso and ExxonMobil in the USA specialising in both technical issues and business development, said:“ that it is very important for homeowners to have their boilers serviced regularly by a qualified heating engineer. The article below and the illustrations look at the most common operating problems that can occur with domestic boilers from the fuel and combustion side.”

Pressure jet burnerWhen fuel is stored oxidation deposits form in the fuel, sink to the bottom and stick together to create sludge. The smaller
deposits can build up on burner nozzles and sludge can accumulate over time until it eventually starts to block filters. Water accumulates over time at the bottom of storage tanks through condensation of the air coming in and out of the tank vent. Water will start to corrode metal tanks and occasionally help bugs grow between the water and fuel layers (the fuel is their ‘food’ and the water sustains ‘life’) creating slime in pipes and filters.

Vaporising boilers are very sensitive to environmental conditions, set-up and fuel quality. Even experienced boiler engineers are often faced with the challenge of keeping the odd problematic vaporising boiler from running trouble free. The design of the vaporising boiler puts the heating oil under high thermal stress. Fuel slowly flows through the hot oil feed pipe and gets vaporised in the burner base – leaving a tiny amount of deposit behind. The main use of the wicks is to get the burner base hot when cold. Most of the fuel is burnt as vapour where it mixes with air in the set of perforated shells. Harder deposits always form in the oil feed pipe and burner base. The critical issue is the rate of deposit formation. If this is too fast between services the harder deposits build up and prevent effective vaporisation, combustion and can block the oil feed pipe. High deposit formation can be caused by poor oil quality, but also by other factors such as burner base level, insufficient flue draw, blocked fuel filters, faulty temperature controllers, wrong oil feed pipe size/metal and shells/vaporising lid sealing. Oil vaporising burner unitPressure jet boilers are the most common domestic boiler and also require regular servicing to check fuel pump wear, and to remove the harder deposits around the burner nozzle and the softer deposits around the heat exchangers: Burner and heat exchanger deposits increase emissions and can significantly decrease thermal efficiency by as much as 10% between services. Lower thermal efficiency means higher CO2 emissions and fuel consumption. Most pressure jet boilers operate well when serviced by competent heating engineers usually every year. Vaporising boiler problem incidents do appear to have increased over the last two years, with much unproven speculation as to the reasons why. There do seem to be less incidents occurring, however, in vaporising boilers that are regularly serviced every six months.

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