FAME-free farming as Suffolk farms eliminate filter blockages with cleaner diesel alternative

Two Farms, One Challenge

Home Farm Nacton is Red Tractor and LEAF marque certified, with strong sustainability and quality credentials. It is an organic and conventional vegetable farm near Ipswich, cropping 1,170 hectares on the historic Orwell Park Estate, as well as contracting partner farms comprising 814 hectares.

Home Farm Nacton receives deliveries of up to 40,000 litres of red diesel per month to power machinery including tractors, combine harvesters and diesel irrigation pumps across its sites.
F S Watts & Sons is a family-run arable farm that has been operating in Framlingham, Suffolk since 1956. Cropping wheat, winter barley, sugar beet, and more – as well as managing a flock of sheep – F S Watts & Sons farms over 1,100 hectares of land across three main sites.

It relies on red diesel deliveries of up to 9,500 litres per week during busier periods to run its fleet of farm machinery, including a Claas Lexion 770 combine harvester, JCB teleporters and several John Deere tractors.

Both farms purchase fuel via Fram Farmers, one of the UK’s leading farm cooperatives, which has been supplying fuel from Certas Energy for nearly a decade.higher levels of FAME in red diesel.

The Challenge - Blocked filters caused by FAME

Like many farms, Home Farm Nacton and F S Watts & Sons relies heavily on a quality supply of red diesel to keep their farm machinery moving.

However, increased levels of renewable content in red diesel under the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), have led to reports of farmers experiencing filter blockages in vehicles and fuel storage tanks.

The latest RTFO regulations require an increased percentage of fuel to come from renewables. As fuel suppliers must meet this obligation by law, many are blending a type of biodiesel called FAME (fatty acid methyl ester) into red diesel to achieve the higher renewable targets.

FAME-containing fuels absorb and retain moisture at a higher rate than conventional mineral diesels. This means that bulk fuel stocks containing FAME – particularly those stored for extended periods – are more at risk of contamination that causes diesel bug, fuel separation or waxing.

Furthermore, as FAME is made from biological content, it has reduced storage stability, degrading more quickly than conventional fuels, leading to gum formation in storage, filter blockages and damage to machinery in operation.

Home Farm Nacton and F S Watts & Sons became two of the many farmers to suffer disruption caused by the higher levels of FAME in red diesel.

F S Watts & Sons F S Watts & Sons were suffering from significant machinery downtime during the busy autumn cultivation, ploughing and drilling period. The farm’s fleet of tractors would lose all power after around 150 hours of running time – leading to machinery being parked up in fields and requiring frequent maintenance call outs.

After investigating the issue with their machinery dealer and original equipment manufacturer, F S Watts & Sons discovered that fuel filter blockages were causing power loss in their machinery. Upon closer inspection, the tractors’ filters were filled with a grey sludge – a tell-tale sign of fuel contamination from biological content.

As well as having to foot the bill for costly filter replacements every 150 hours of tractor operating time, F S Watts & Sons were losing precious hours of productivity and labour caused by machinery downtime.

Home Farm Nacton Home Farm Nacton experienced a similar range of issues caused by biological content in red diesel. Clogged filters were leading to tractors breaking down not only in the fields but also – on one occasion – in the middle of a road. On a busy farm where every moment of machinery uptime is vital, these breakdowns were causing significant disruption to day-to-day operations.

As well as having filter blockages in machinery, the farm was also finding that the fuel filters in its four storage tanks were becoming clogged with sludge caused by increased FAME content. This led to more frequent and time-consuming switching between tanks for supply plus costly regular filter changes.

The storage instability of bio-blended red diesel also impacted the shelf life of the farm’s bulk fuel stocks. Diesel would break down in storage tanks after a lull in activity over winter, which meant the farm needed to dispose of the spoiled fuel and pay for a fresh delivery.

The solution - A cleaner burning diesel alternative fuel

After consultation with both farms and Certas Energy, Fram Farmers introduced FS Watts & Sons and Home Farm Nacton to Shell GTL Fuel. This cleaner-burning, FAME-free diesel alternative is exclusively supplied by Certas Energy in the UK and is able to tackle FAME-related issues at the source.

With a shelf life of up to five years, a cold-filter plugging point of -20°C and zero bio content, Shell GTL Fuel mitigates the effects of increased FAME content in red diesel. As a cleaner-burning paraffinic fuel, GTL also helps to improve local air quality with its reduced emissions of harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) to help improve local air quality.

As a drop in alternative, Shell GTL Fuel can be used in existing heavy duty diesel vehicles and machinery without the need for engine modifications and can be stored in bulk fuel tanks and blended with red diesel for ease of use and handling.

Since swapping to Shell GTL Fuel, neither farms have had a single fuel filter blockage

Since making the change to GTL fuel we’ve had no machinery downtime like we had last year. Certas Energy and Fram Farmers have solved what was a major issue and deliver the fuel we need, when we need it.
GTL may be a premium product, but when you factor in the downtime, maintenance and filters replacements we were having to deal with because of the problems with red diesel, making the change has been well worth it. It’s a good, clear fuel and I can’t fault it.

Roger Watts, Partner at F S Watts & Sons

We’ve definitely noticed the difference from running our machinery on Shell GTL Fuel. It’s cleaner burning, it lasts longer in storage and – most importantly – we’ve not had to change any of our filters since using it. It’s far cheaper than the cost of frequent downtime and replacing filters in all of our machinery.


To Certas Energy’s credit, they were the only fuel supplier to come out to farmers and talk through what was happening with red diesel at the time. We’ve found Certas to be extremely polite and helpful, and we know we can rely on them to deliver when they say they will.

Gavin Prentice, Field Labour Manager at Home Farm Nacton

 

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