Solar powered fuel system onboardSep 26, 2016 by Capt. Jeff Werner
Imagine you are the chief engineer aboard a superyacht, and the owner corrals you one day to talk about the new island hideaway she just purchased in the Bahamas. Her new cottage has a standby diesel-powered generator for when, not if, the power goes out on the island. Knowing how meticulously clean you keep the fuel aboard her yacht, she wants you to find a reliable fuel polishing system that will maintain the diesel fuel in the tank of her cottage’s standby generator even if there is a power failure. What would you advise?
Imagine you and your family finally decided to chuck it all and leave the Ft. Lauderdale rat race, sell all your belongings and buy a used 45-foot catamaran to sail around world for the next five years. Being on a tight budget, you want the most economical diesel fuel polishing system on the market. What would you purchase?
The answer for both these scenarios is a solar-powered fuel maintenance system. A compact, standalone fuel polishing system using solar cells to reliably charge a 12-volt DC battery is the perfect solution for fuel tanks up to 200 gallons. Whether operating in a remote location or aboard a small boat by an ecologically conscious owner, solar-powered fuel polishers that are programmable and fully automated are the newest concept in diesel fuel maintenance.
Like any new technology, manufacturers start small and then scale up as their technology gets accepted. Manufacturers may, in the next five to 10 years, begin to offer solar powered fuel polishing systems with pumps that can circulate the higher volumes of fuel necessary to polish the thousands of gallons of fuel found in tanks aboard yachts in a timely fashion.
The fuel polishing system itself is housed in its own closed cabinet. Depending on the application, the unit can be bulkhead mounted aboard a boat or the weatherproof enclosure can be located ashore. The powder-coated steel cabinet and the fuel polishing system it holds weighs 40 pounds, and has a footprint the size of the average multi-function printer/copier/scanner sold at the big box electronic stores. The thin flat solar panel weighs 10 pounds, and is less than two feet long on each side for easy mounting.
A non-spillable lead acid battery is secured in the steel cabinet. Battery charging is regulated by a smart solar power controller, which feeds the proper amount of electricity from the 50-watt solar panel to keep the battery at full charge.
The multistage filtration system is designed to remove particles from the fuel, both organic and inorganic, down to three microns in diameter. Remember that a human hair is about 75 microns thick, while a red blood cell is five microns across. The filtering system also has water block capability, which removes entrained water droplets that are suspended in the fuel. This is an important feature that helps prolong the life of the fuel injectors.
The fuel polisher can be operated in either the manual or automatic mode. Using a programmable digital timer, it will automatically turn the system on or off for a specified run time, and can be set for a variety of weekly maintenance programs. The timer also has memory back-up, so the programmed polishing schedule is never lost.
Whether running on an automated program schedule or by the push of a button, the system will shut down and not pump any more fuel through the polisher if a leak, high vacuum or high pressure is detected. High vacuum can be caused if the system’s pump, which sucks diesel out of the fuel tank, is trying to lift heavily contaminated fuel or fuel that has excessive water in it.
High pressure can be caused if the system’s pump, which also pushes the diesel through a fine filter, encounters a clogged filter that needs to be changed.
As the popularity of solar-powered fuel maintenance systems increases, manufacturers will probably begin offering higher capacity pumps that will accommodate larger size fuel tanks. For the foreseeable future, engines and generators aboard yachts and emergency standby generators on land will continue to be fueled by diesel power. And solar power will allow operators a greener method of cleaning fuel at sea and other locations that are off the grid.
Capt. Jeff Werner has been in yachting for almost 25 years, and is the owner of Diesel Doctor (MyDieselDoctor.com). All Triton readers receive a 10 percent discount on online orders. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.