If you have been following my blog for some time now, you know that I try to focus on real life issues as much as possible and leave the apocalyptical prepping ideas to the doomsday guys. Such is the case with fuel storage. When the world goes Mad Max over a tanker full of gasoline, chances are what we can store as individuals will be long since used up. Now that we’ve cleared up that unless we have our own oil well and refinery, we can only do so much, lets take a look at fuel storage.
If you are interested in some of the reasons we face fuel shortages, read my blog post HERE.
How Can I Store Emergency Fuel?
The key word in internal combustion engine is “combustion.” In other words, most of the equipment we use requires the burning of fuel to create heat, or small controlled explosions in an engine’s cylinders. That means all of the fuels we generally use will burn, and most of them easily, so we have to take precautions on how we store them. Not only do we need to consider the fire hazard but the environmental issues as well. Even 5 gallons of gasoline or diesel fuel spilled can destroy plant life and leave a pretty large area of ground barren for a good while. If that same spill gets into a drainage of some sort and makes it to a creek, it can be hazardous to the fish and wildlife down stream for no telling how far. Now, I don’t consider having five extra gallons on hand to be a stockpile of fuel. That just what we normally purchase the day we have to mow grass. I would prefer to have a few hundred gallons of gasoline and/or diesel fuel if I could safely store it. Imagine the spill or fire that could create!
Safety, legality, and common sense should tell us to choose containers for flammable or combustible materials carefully. We can pretty much kiss any trace of discretion goodbye if we have to call the fire department of hazardous materials unit out to our homes or our vehicles if we have an accident while transporting or storing our liquid fuels, especially larger quantities.
Plastic Fuel Containers: Probably the best tank for transporting any fuels from the pump to our storage site at home are plastic fuel containers. These Containers are relatively inexpensive and can be had in multiple sizes. They do not rust and corrode like steel containers do and offer a simple means to rotate our fuel supply out on a regular basis. An added benefit to using the normal, everyday type gas can is that no one raises an eyebrow to see anyone filling them up. If we want to be more discrete about it, we might chose to fill a few at one station then more at another station, but unless there’s a shortage, I doubt that we would garner any concern by filling several fuel cans up at one stop. Click the pictures below to get some smaller and larger plastic fuel containers.
Steel and Aluminum Tanks: For larger capacities, we can look to either steel or aluminum tanks. Some versions are made to be mounted in truck beds and others are intended for permanent installation, but either will probably work for us based on the size requirements we have. One thing we have to consider when purchasing larger steel or aluminum tanks is the need for a pump. We obviously can’t lift and pour fuel out of a huge metal tank by hand, and gravity feeding can lead to spills if a valve fails. This leaves us with the choice of a manual or electric pump. A word of caution: electrical sparks can cause an explosion with fuel vapors present! If we choose an electric pump, we need to make sure that the wiring and power source are sealed and the pump is explosion proof. Another thing to remember with large storage tanks is that they have more room for air as we use the fuel in them. This can allow for more condensation in humid climates and affect the fuel quality. Along with our pump system, we should also use a filter and occasionally use a separate pump to pull any condensed water from the bottom of the tank. Here are two tank options and a pump kit. Just click on the pictures below.
Unless we visit construction or industrial sites where fuel is stored in large volumes, it’s easy for us to overlook what I call containment. For the purpose of this article “containment” means what stops fuel from spreading if the main container spills. Most gas stations have buried tanks so we don’t realize that they often have double lined tanks giving a dual layer of protections. On sites where there are large storage tanks above ground, we usually find a berm or bank that surrounds the tank with a liner in it. Based on the laws and environmental regulations, the containment should be capable of containing the entire contents of the tank.
Since we aren’t opening a gas station or a heavy industrial site, our needs and abilities are a little different. There are some prepping efforts in which we must be more subversive than others and storing more than a few five gallon cans of fuel on our property is one preparation that we have to make the decision to either jump through the hoops to stay legal, or keep it on the down low. Neither decision relieves us of our duty to safety and environmental responsibility.
If resources permit, my personal choice for containment would be a concrete floor with concrete block walls that extend high enough to contain all of the fuel that is stored in the containers that we place in it. By multiplying the internal length, with, and height of our containment, we can figure out how much liquid it will hold. One cubic foot will hold just under 7.5 gallons of liquid. A little bit of math can get us to the size we need based on the gallons of fuel we plan to store. Now that our containment is figured up, we need to consider covering the storage area, however we don’t want it to be closed off completely. Should a storage container leak or rupture, the fumes will need to vent to keep the storage area from being a time bomb. Placing a Covering over the containment will keep direct sunlight off of the stored fuel, which can damage containers over time, as well as keep the rain water out. A containment full of rain water will no hold any spilled fuel because the fuel will float on top and begin spilling out before the water. If concrete is not an option, look for a liner material that is rated for petroleum resistance.
The final consideration of containment disguise is OPSEC (operational security). The more others know we have stored, the more of a target we become if disaster leads people to become scavengers and marauders when supplies run out. Placing our fuel storage areas out of prying eyes is important to keep things safe and avoid drawing attention to ourselves. The closer we live to others, the harder this will be, however we should never put ourselves or others at risk of a fire or explosion by putting bulk fuel storage in and area that is inside or connected to our home. The picture below would be nearly ideal as far as containment, discretion, and coverage if it was kept up to date.
What Is The Shelf Life Of My Stored Fuel?
The best way to keep fuel fresh and ready to use is to rotate our supply. Think of the way that we should be rotating our food stock, first in-first out. This applies to fuel as well. The use of plastic cans makes this job much easier than large storage tanks unless we use a large amount of fuel regularly. By numbering the storage tanks and keeping a roster of when they are filled, we can make sure we use the oldest fuel on hand first. No one wants to face a disaster with food in the pantry that is stale from being put up and left for years. The same is true with fuel. If we use and replace it, we are constantly renewing our supply with fresh fuel and reducing the chances of bad or contaminated fuel.
What Happens To Fuel As It Ages?
Whether it is gasoline, diesel fuel, or a heating fuel like kerosene, age can cause the quality to deteriorate. Taking some regular precautions can help prevent this.
Water: One of the biggest contributors to poor fuel quality is water. Excess air space in tanks and containers can trap moist air that cools and allows the water to condense in the tanks leading to a layer of water on the bottom of the tank or can. When the pump begins to draw fuel, or the container is tilted to pour it into our vehicle, the water particles are distributed temporarily in the fuel and get transferred along with it. Once in the tanks of our vehicles, it again starts to settle out and quickly clogs filters and causes poor engine performance.
Ethanol: Most of the gasoline sold in the united states is actually a blend of gasoline and up to 10 percent ethanol. Ethanol is a grain alcohol made primarily from corn. It’s pretty much industrial moonshine. Because alcohol will combust, blending it with gasoline makes a slightly more sustainable resource than straight fossil fuel, but it has a cost. Not only does the blending usually have a marginal impact on power and fuel mileage, it also can damage older fuel systems by breaking down the rubber and plastics of the lines and gaskets in the fuel system. While most late model cars and trucks have upgraded components to mitigate this, there is one thing that happens as ethanol blended gas ages that can have even worse effects on our engines. Phase separation is the process of the alcohol and gasoline separating or stratifying in the tank or container. Once this happens, we cannot blend them back and will have to remove the fuel from the system and replace it. There are a few ways to avoid this potentially costly problem with stored fuel. The first is to rotate our stock and use it in a short amount of time, however this may mean that we aren’t able to keep enough on hand if we don’t use it quickly. The second option, if we have it where we live, is to purchase ethanol free gas. The website, www.pure-gas.org, is a user-updated listing of stores that sell ethanol free or “pure” gas. In addition to purchasing ethanol free gas, I use a treatment for all my stored gasoline. This keeps fuel fresher longer and extends the length of time before phase separation begins in ethanol blends. You can get the brand I use by clicking the picture below.
One final option for gasoline storage that isn’t practical in large quantities, but can be perfect for our seldom used equipment is a product called TrueFuel. This fuel is sold in sealed cans in regular 4 stroke blend or different ratios of 2 stroke gas/oil blends for equipment like chainsaws that we may not use as often, but need to be ready at a moment’s notice in a disaster. I have found this to be one of the best ways to keep a small engine running strong with almost no issues year after year. Click the picture below for the 40:1 -2 stroke mix and look at the other options while you are there.
Biological Growth: While I have never experienced an issue with biological growth in gasoline, algae in a diesel tank gave me fits one time. It’s hard to believe that something can live in a fuel like diesel, but it can. Bio growth can start on the walls of fuel tanks and be sloshed off and picked up where it immediately clogs strainer and filters. If we choose a large tank to store our diesel fuel in, we need to make sure to use an additive that prevents algae or other biologicals from forming. Click the picture below for a good diesel fuel biocide.
Gelling: Again, this is mostly an issue in diesel fuel and mostly in consistently cold climates. Because diesel is a slightly thicker petroleum distillate, it begins to turn into a gel at temperatures just below freezing. Imagine your fuel pump and filter trying to suck Jello from your fuel tank and run off of it. Along with gelling, freezing temperatures can also freeze water trapped in filter housings as well, so keeping clean fuel and filters is a must in cold weather. Click the picture below for an anti-gelling additive.
Final Thoughts on Fuel Storage
Much like our other preps, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to storing extra fuel and consideration should be given to situations where fuel may become scarce for a longer time than the reserves we can store will last. The best we can do is to be observant of the causes surrounding fuel shortages and consider early on if we need to go into long term rationing with our supply or simply use it as needed to keep things comfortable until the stations are back open and their tanks are full again.
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