Safeway Fuel, Good News?

For those of you unfamiliar with the Safeway brand, they are a large chain of Foodstores that decided to pump fuel some years back. They also made the decision to get on the biofuels bandwagon early, and they were one of the few stations pumping B20 when some manufactures were warning that anything more than B5 could terminate your vehicle’s warranty.

At the time they were pumping B20, there were researchers reporting that lipids in plant oils like those in Soy could vary quite a bit from crop to crop, and they believed the Soy based products >could< act differently in the fuel tank and the combustion chamber depending on the crop.

With that said, I witnessed and reported two trucks with plugged filters, we took the filters apart to see what was going on. In our two filters we found materials that had dropped out of the fuel and appeared to jell, it kind of reminded me of how linseed oil dries to a gummy substance when you slop on more than can soak into the wood fiber. This happened here in the NorthWest at temperatures near freezing. (not all that cold). Of added interest (to me at least) another diesel enthusiast here in the NorthWest reported there were about seven vehicles that had clogged filters according to emails amongst enthusiasts.

An interesting report came from the Midwest where it was very cold, and Soy based B20 was performing with zero troubles at much lower temperatures.

At the time (late 2008) there were people warning not to use bio-fuel Diesel period. Due to the reports from researchers and the lubricity improvement over current diesel fuel, I decided to keep using Safeway B5 and see how it performed compared to the B20.

Since I don’t commute, my travels are limited, and it has taken a long time to reach an additional 15,000 miles on my diesel pickup. In that period of time, we have had temperatures in the single digits, and temperatures at or near 100F. I pulled my Napa Gold filter and sawed off both ends so I could fully open the pleated material and inspect it. I could find no sign of gumming. Another thing I noted about this filter is the light color of the media, I expected it to be much darker. 

I’m reporting on fuel dispensed in the Puget Sound Area, we know blenders in other areas could provide something different for  Safeway, but for the moment, I find their prices slightly better on average, and I do believe there are benefits to running between one percent and five percent bio-fuel in modern diesel engines. Yes, we know the Lister CS and other slow speed diesels love bio-fuels, but the EPA doesn’t see it our way.

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7 Responses to Safeway Fuel, Good News?

  1. Vernon Bartlett says:


    Do you know the process by which the soy oil was cleaned/refined before it was used to make the fuel?

    I used to work for Cargill back in the late 80’s at their vegetable oil refineries.

    Phosphoric acid is used to crack up the gums and other undesirables before refining of the raw oil stock. Most of the gums and Vitamin E go out with the centrifuge soapstock during alkali refining. Beans in poor (wet, rotting, degrading) condition tended to have higher gum levels and lower amounts of the neutral oil levels.

    I wonder if poorer condition beans were chosen to be converted to fuel. This doesn’t sound like a lipid problem in and of itself. It sounds as if the gums weren’t completely removed.

    If, however, there are more saturated lipids present, they will become solid as temperatures drop. There’s a test known as a solid fat index that measures solid fat at a given temperature. Cottonseed and palm oil are already high in saturated fats but saturated fats are more stable. A simple refrigeration test will reveal a potential problem with fat crystal formation. A good unsaturated soy salad oil can stay in clear to about zero degrees Centigrade.

    If the oil wasn’t actually refined to remove gums – I’d expect a host of problems.

    After refining the oil is bleached with diatomaceous earth (similar to that used in pool filters). This removes high color, other polar impurities, and dries the oil. What is wanted at this point is a clear, lightly colored, neutral oil free of gums. From that point it can be further hydrogenated to make materials as ‘Crisco’ or can be sent for deodorization.

    Deodorization removes volatiles and other undesirables from the oil at high temperatures under vacuum to make ‘edible oil’. Once again tocopherols, pigments, and other components are stripped from the oil to be resold. After this point, peroxide formation in an oxygen atmosphere is the basic problem with oil deterioration.

    The reason I consider clean waste fry oil superior for methyl ester conversion is that most of the undesirables (gummy clogging materials) have been removed. Its a simple matter to remove animals fats from liquid fry oil and the excess water. All the other ‘gunk’ has already been removed.

    BTW – loved the CD.


    • George B. says:

      HI Vern, Great post!
      I’m not so sure all the folks who make bio-diesel commercially have the same level of knowledge you do, nor the same desire to make a highest quality product.…. at least not back when Safeway was pumping B20. One note, Safeway was totally dependent on their supplier for quality control according to the conversation I had with the Safeway Manager in charge of fuel in this region at the time.
      Putting a sample of B20 in the freezer is a great idea, and had we the guts to run B20, and had Safeway continued to pump it, we might have done exactly that.
      Bad beans ? I can’t imagine a better place to dump questionable beans than a non food use , so your theory certainly has merit. The info on Soy plant lipids being different from crop to crop.. I think it was a researcher at Colorado University that was telling me about that. At the time they thought the amount of sun light and rain fall could make a difference, but exactly how these differences affect the finished fuel , I have no clue, and I doubt they had that figured at the time.
      What your post clearly demonstrates is there’s a lot of detail in making bio-fuels best, and I’m not sure there’s a rigid spec as to how it is to be made and tested. This is likely the reason GM and others have said… B5 or less, or we’ll void your warranty if we feel like it.

      • Vernon Bartlett says:

        Yes- there are variations in the color, chlorophyll content, and fatty acid ratios depending on where the beans were grown. There are also seasonal variations. In fact one can get an idea where the beans came from in the world. The fatty acid profile itself shouldn’t shift that much for a given species of soy. A given species can only make certain types of fatty acids. A shift however will affect the overall Cetane rating.

        There are major differences, however, in profiles when a switch is made to other plant crops. Cottonseed and palm oil will harden quite quickly as temperatures drops due to naturally occuring saturated fats. I’d have to be in the tropics to try those oils. Of course they can always be cold filtered to remove the worst offenders.

        Corn. peanut, and rapeseed( Canola in the US) are very similar to soy. The important thing is clarity of a dry sample at low temperatures and a low starting saturated fat content.

        Anyone wishing to learn more can consult the Handbook of Soy Oil Processing. This is essential the bible for vegetable oil refiners. I’d consider this an investment.

        I think a lot of auto manufactures stick to B5 because they are afraid of home grown concoctions. I have a F-350 diesel. I know all about Ford’s issues. They can sample your fuel tank and get an idea of what is currently running.

        I know the fuel lines in some vehicles must be upgraded to run more than B5. Biodiesel will make the some rubber lines and plastic parts weak due to swelling/absorbtion. Biodiesel is more penetrating than diesel.

        Most of the problems Ford fears are due to improper manufacturing procedures – not the biodiesel itself. Improper neutralization and removal of the methoxy base used to make the methyl esters, incomplete fatty acid conversion, improper glycerin removal, and particles are the cause of the majority of issues.

        All the problems that Ford describes can be associated back to poor quality control in the making of the biofuel.

        A commercial supplier would be required to test their 100% biodiesel fuel for blend by gas chromatography and other methods using the ASTM methods stated in- ASTM D6751. These are the standard industry tests for 100% biodiesel.

        Best Wishes,



  2. George B. says:


    I’ve certainly had failures of fuel lines and more, I like boat tanks for small generators and I had a squeeze primer bulb split open in less than one year. In the worst of cases, one could lose all the fuel from the tank.

    I think many of us have a very low trust level in fuel quality, we see solid proof of fuel vendors blending far above 10% ethanol into the gasoline for added profits, and it leaves room to believe that other short cuts will be taken for profit.

    Not to get too political here, but when you see Government, Unions, Banks, and more focused entirely on their self interest, your trust level becomes quite low. It’s seldom about the country or long term, the focus is often short term profit or surviving the next vote, layoff, dividend announcement, etc.

    Some quote as much as $20,000 for an engine replacement in a new pickup truck, that makes for considerable risk for the average man..

    I think fuel test kits are going to be quite popular, and I’d like to see a class action law suit or two for fuel vendors caught repeatedly dumping in far in excess of 10% ethanol to enhance their profits. Engines with carbs are forced to run lean, these folks know it, but I think they feel the risk of legal consequences are low..

    Great reccomendation on the handbook.

  3. Vernon Bartlett says:

    Totally agree with the political views and analysis George – no level of trust especially when criminals can walk around free (as the banksters). Ethanol for fuel is a joke – too much energy to make it and too many people taking shortcuts at the expense of their fellow man. I’d like to see a commercial biodiesel operators offer warranties like lubricant oil suppliers. Put the money where the mouth is – so to speak.

  4. Mel Ensor says:

    Hi George,

    Been using WVO in my 2 litre VW van for 3 years now, mixed with diesel, 50-50 in winter, 70-30 in summer (70 WVO-30 diesel, touch wood , so far no problems. I change the fuel filter twice as often but saving £1000.00 pa allows this small extravagance. I filter the oil through kitchen towel and get lovely sparkling, mahogany coloured oil ready for mixing with diesel. I have looked at bio diesel but have come to the conclusion that the use of caustic soda and methanol is too risky, somebody blew themselves up with methanol fumes in the UL last year, also you have to get rid of the glycerine and there are few takers. Fat on the other hand can be dumped in waste cooking oil tanks at municipal dumps so thats another plus. Only snag is that you can only use this mix in vehicles “of a certain age” IE with mechanical injector pumps. Bosch verteiler is good as fitted to VW, Peugeot, GM so all you have to do is keep a lookout for the right machine and start saving money. Only thing is you must brush up the schoolboy maths to ensure you always know you’ve got the right ratio, I pre-mix mine but others half fill with diesel and the add WVO, sooner or later they finish up with too much oil and 100% oil is too risky.

    People who know me say it’s only a matter of time before I wreck the motor!!! I say a little kowledge is a dangerous thing and press on.

    A worthy DIY project with REAL benefits.


    Mel Ensor

  5. George B. says:

    Mel ensor wrote so long ago, but such excellent comment here on this thread. With B5 at the safeway pump we find a blend that likely gives us more lubricity. I now go out fo my way to buy it! I would assume this could be of value to the lift pump if nothing else. One person just told me last week he paid $900 for a replacement in his 5.9 Cummins powered truck.

    Americans are currently attemping to spend their way to hell, as we do, the dollar shrinks and we should expect our fuel to cost more. That bottle of salad oil in the store, in some countries it may be cheaper than the fuel at the pump. They haven’t forced the grocer to splash a bunch of red dye in that salad oil yet, but don’t we know, there’s some idiot on the hill proposing it was I write 🙂

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