Washed Diesel

Very few people in Ireland or Europe have not heard of the term “washed diesel”. It is a problem from the rocky west coast of Ireland to the flat plains of Russia. What does it mean? What are the dangers connected with it? And how can you protect yourself from collateral damage in the war between the washers and the Revenue.

Mainstream suppliers want this business to disappear. It’s the ultimate in unfair competition, where one party can sell the product for less than the other can buy it. And the present legislation makes it extremely difficult for a business to determine if a diesel oil has been washed. Here, at Independent Laboratory, we have encountered all the technical problems introduced by the changes in the diesel and Marked gas oil specifications, together with the impact of washed diesel on the engines, and we will try to give you an understanding of the technical hazards and risks involved.

Traditional Marked gas oil, a slightly heavier product than road diesel, has three dyes dissolved into it – Euromarker, Solvent Blue and now Accutrace S-10. Together they give the Marked gas oil that recognisable green colour. Washed diesel is Marked gas oil with the dyes removed. Acid extracts the Euromarker and various filter units extract the Solvent Blue. Both of the processes used have a serious risk for the quality of the oil – the acid content and the sediment from the filtration used to remove the Solvent blue dye can damages the injectors and the diesel engines. So how do legitimate businesses and the Customs recognise and detect these rogue products?

Recent changes in legislation have made the detection more difficult. For example, Traditional Marked gas oil has a sulphur concentration of approximately a few hundred parts per million (ppm) and this could be demonstrated by an X-Ray sulphur analysis. However, since January 2010, low level sulphur Marked gas oil was allowed onto the market, giving a comparable sulphur result to road diesel, thus weakening the impact of an important diagnostic tool. Traditional marked gas oil is still washed but more and more of the environmentally friendly low sulphur gas oil is now making its way onto the market.

What can the average honest businessman and customer do in this situation? The first thing he should do is operate practice of care. Does the price look right? Does it look too right? If it looks too good to be true, it has probably been through a process in a barn tucked away out of sight.

The chemists at Independent Laboratory have been providing an analysis service in this area for years. We analyse each sample with two distinct aims in mind: firstly, does the diesel oil meet the British and Irish standard specification in the quality tests; and secondly, will the Customs prosecute the client if they take a sample and have it analysed in the State Laboratory? The aim of our technical reports is to inform the client on the quality and legality of the oil in his vehicle.

The recent changes in oil, referred to earlier, have made it difficult to detect washed diesel, but the Customs still have it within their power to prosecute if they discover any trace of dye in the diesel. Thus it is technically possible for them to prosecute with even tiny amounts of marker dye present. The latter, probably with additional logistics and surveillance evidence, has still to be tested in court, but there is no doubt that it will happen. Also, new dyes, with claims from the manufacturer that they are irremovable, are being offered on the marketplace. But even if these are eventually accepted, there will be a delay before the legislation can catch up. Meantime, we urge our clients to be vigilant and we will keep them up to date on the latest technical developments.