Why is fuel filter blocking still an issue?

In a recent release NFU Scotland has said more must be done to urgently address fuel filter blocking amid reports that problems have begun to emerge again across the UK.

The issue was first raised in October 2019 and covered in depth in Fuel Oil News – January 2020. In our August 2020 issue we reported the findings of a working party which involved those throughout the supply chain. This taskforce concluded that the solution lay in good fuel housekeeping, with UKIFDA issuing guidelines specific to fuel containing FAME, along with appropriate use of bespoke fuel additives.

However, the NFUS report suggests that, despite this, farmers are once again facing filter blocking problems linked to fuel with the union expressing frustration that there is no sign of recompense nor solutions to the issue since it was first raised 18 months ago. At that time, the Union received more than 400 reports of filter blocking from across Scotland and was quick to raise this issue with UK and Scottish Governments. Joint lobbying work between NFUS and NFU saw the DfT and BSI set up a taskforce, in which UK farming unions still participate, to assess and resolve the problems.

However, NFUS reports that the progress through the taskforce has been painfully slow and is frustrated that, almost two years on, ‘there has been no overarching solution while the problems of fuel filter blockages continue to impact farmers and crofters throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK’.

As was understood from the outset, there is no doubt that fuel is being produced to required standards with confidence that all fuel supplied meets or exceeds the applicable specification. Rather it is the specification and standards of fuel being imposed at governmental level that are being cited as the problem. The NFUS suggesting they are ‘not fit for purpose’ and that the introduction of improvements to fuel specifications have been too slow, meaning that farmers are still being left with the cost of repair, new filter replacements and vehicle down-time.

Jamie Smart, NFU Scotland’s transport advisor and representative on the taskforce, said:
“Urgent and focused action must be taken to address filter blocking. The taskforce has had some small wins regarding changes to fuel specifications but getting those changes into the fuel supply chain have been delayed.

“Testing of fuel samples has shown that most fuels reach current standards, however given that some fuel is still blocking filters and causing vehicle breakdowns, it is simply not fit for purpose. As a result, fuel filter blockages in tractors and motorised farm machinery remain a regular and costly problem for many Scottish farmers and crofters.”

Vice president Robin Traquair added:
“The continued problems related to filter blocking are unacceptable.  As farmers and crofters, we are purchasing fuel from reputable suppliers and we need that fuel to be reliable for our businesses, so we can continue to put food on the nation’s table.

“The filter blocking issues have meant that some filters are lasting for a tiny proportion of their intended use. The cost of repair, down time, and replacement parts are being shouldered solely by the users. It isn’t the responsibility of farmers to ensure fuel is fit for purpose, but it is the situation we keep finding ourselves in. It’s up to BSI and the fuel chain to push forward with the specification changes to ensure the fuel is fit for purpose and filter blocking problems are resolved once and for all.”