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Engine Manufacturer Overcomes Rising Water Levels in Fuel with Donaldson Coalescing Technology

Industry: Transportation

The Challenge: An on-road truck and engine manufacturer had a problem with an existing engine platform: they were experiencing an unexpectedly high level of premature injector failures. Now, over the life of an engine that is expected to surpass a million miles / km of service, fuel injector servicing and even failures are inevitable. But this OE’s injectors were not reaching their intended lifespan – and end-users were being forced to replace them far more frequently than anticipated.

The issue was traced back to fuel filtration. While it was originally assumed that hard contaminant was causing the injector failures, through analysis of warranty claims and in-depth research, the OE recognized that water contamination was the bigger problem. The problems that hard-particle contamination can cause with injectors are well-known, but there’s a growing body of evidence that also recognizes how water can damage high-pressure-common-rail (HPCR) injectors, too. The data pointed to the unmistakable conclusion that the premature damage and wear this OE was seeing – was caused by water. And, while some water has always been present in diesel fuel, it’s a bigger problem today than in the past. 

First, fuel chemistry has changed; water is more prevalent in Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) and Biodiesel fuel types than it was in fuels of the past. Added to that, detergents and additives not found in previous fuel formulations also make it more difficult to remove water from today’s fuel. These substances can even coat filter media fibers, dramatically limiting their ability to effectively repel water over the life of the filter. Combine these new challenges with the high levels of ambient water that diesel fuel is regularly exposed to, especially in humid environments, and there’s a lot more water for a fuel filter water-separator to deal with.

Secondly, HPCR injector systems are more sensitive to water than older systems; because of the higher pressure (think pressure washer), it can cause damage, inefficiency, premature injector failure and unplanned downtime. To protect these systems, it’s imperative to remove as much water from fuel as possible before it makes its way to injectors and eventually to the combustion chamber.

Traditional fuel filters have been designed as “barrier” style, which uses a physical barrier (treated media) to repel water and separate it from the fuel flow. The problem with barrier-style filters is that they often have lower water removal efficiency to begin with, and that efficiency decreases significantly over time. A traditional barrier filter might start with a water removal efficiency of 60–70%, but it quickly drops down to a 30% efficiency level (or less) for water removal, and that’s where the true danger to the injectors sets in.

Our Solution: We proposed moving to a coalescing filter solution that uses multiple layers to coalesce the water, bringing it together from smaller drops to larger drops and, using gravity, forces the water to “drop out” of the fuel before it proceeds further in the system.

Specifically, we recommended filters using Donaldson Synteq XP™ synthetic media. Synteq XP not only has the advantage of starting life at 80–90% level of water removal efficiency, but its coalescing technology performs much better over the life of the filter. It not only starts off better than the OE’s original filter choice, but the performance gap increases over the lifetime of the filter.

The Outcome: The evidence was clear. Water in fuel was damaging injectors, causing them to fail prematurely. So, this on-road truck and engine OEM took the nearly unprecedented step of looking for an improved solution for an existing platform. They performed their own research comparing Donaldson technology to that of its previous supplier, and that research proved that when it comes to removing water from fuel, Donaldson’s coalescing solution using the Synteq XP media was a significant improvement over their prior filtration.

The OEM is changing the recommended filter performance specification for this engine to reflect the improved performance available with the Donaldson Synteq XP coalescing solution. And they’re not just offering it as an upgrade option; they’re cancelling the old part and switching to the new – which not only offers better performance (reduced injector failure) for their equipment owners, but a unique/higher-performing service part opportunity for their dealer service network to compete against aftermarket will-fitters.

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