Diesel Exhaust Fluid – Quality Control
Diesel Exhaust Fluid, or DEF is a non-hazardous solution comprised of 67.5% deionized water (DI Water) and 32.5% urea and maintaining DEF quality control is an essential part of your fleet’s preventative maintenance. As an aftertreatment emissions control technology it is required in 2010 and newer truck models in order to comply with the EPA’s 2010 Diesel Emission Standards for medium and heavy duty vehicles.
Sprayed into a separate Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) system, DEF breaks down NOx – nitrogen oxide particulate matter. This removes noxious emissions from the atmosphere while simultaneously improving engine performance and fuel efficiency. Considered entirely non-toxic, the byproducts of this gaseous catalyst are nitrogen and water. In a previous article, we looked at best practices for storing diesel exhaust fluid and whether DEF secondary containment is required based on your state, county and city regulations.
An Interview with Robert Santich – Subject Matter Expert and Managing Director for Top!Blue USA
For this piece we interviewed subject matter expert and managing director of Top!Blue USA, Robert Santich about why it’s important for you to buy only the highest quality DEF and what can happen if you don’t.
Avoiding SCR Failure
Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) systems are expensive, and depending on the year of your truck, replacement can be costly if the system is compromised. On average, replacing an SCR system will run you between $10k – $15k depending on the type of truck, the size of the engine and the cost of labor. The marginal expense of choosing a high quality product to enhance DEF quality control right from the beginning over a lesser expensive, lower quality product will save you in the long run. It will not only protect your SCR system from failure, but will also enhance engine efficiency overall and increase fuel economy. Says Robert Santich at Top!Blue USA,
“If you run a premium diesel exhaust fluid product in your SCR system it should have a lifespan of 10-12 years. You can cut that life span in half if you use a poor quality product because it may not properly solutionized. Instead, it may contain metals or it may not be American Petroleum Institute (API) certified. Lower quality manufacturers may not be using urea made specifically for DEF and the water may not have been deionized or transported in a closed system. Because of these reasons you really need to go with a reputable brand and company that can provide you with test results for each individual batch of DEF.”
Only the Highest Quality Urea
There are many different types of urea used in a variety of applications that include agriculture, tech, pharmaceutical uses and automotive for the production of DEF. If the urea market could be illustrated as a pie chart, the slice used for the production of high quality DEF would be extremely small compared to the large percentage used in agricultural capacities. Used primarily as a fertilizer, agricultural grade urea is not appropriate for the manufacture of DEF based on the size of its prill – pellets or granules of urea that determine its capacity to be solutionized. Says Santich, “Low grade DEF manufacturers will sometimes take ag quality urea, blend it to 32% and sell it to truck fleets.
Newer trucks have the technological capacity to pick up on these low quality DEF solutions based on the sophistication of their sensors, but older trucks will not and you run the risk of clogging your SCR system as it gums up with residue and crystallized particulate matter.” Urea comes in multiple forms and in general, the larger the prill size, the lower quality and lower price point. When choosing a diesel exhaust fluid product you want to know that it was made from the smallest possible urea prill, and since the ag use of urea far outweighs the automotive use, it’s critical that you purchase your DEF from a reputable manufacturer that’s API certified.
The Importance of Deionized Water in Making Quality DEF
Agricultural applications of urea do not require solutionization with deionized water, but your SCR needs high quality DI water to function properly and to ensure optimal performance and fuel economy. According to Santich, “At Top!Blue USA, we use pharmaceutical grade DI water to manufacture our Ultra Premium DEF, which is 100% solutionized. It’s so pure that when mixed with urea it actually works as a cleaner within your system.
You can think of it in terms of supreme gasoline where there are fewer particulates than with regular. We use a total of 16 different screening filters before putting our diesel exhaust fluid into a tanker, which removes any microparticles from the DI water and as well as removing any contaminants from the urea. When making the DI water we also use a UV light to kill all bacteria.” Top!Blue USA also blends their DEF with heated water to get a more accurate reading of the urea percentage and the warmer water allows for faster and more complete solutionization as opposed to mixing with cold water, which may inhibit the dissolution of microparticulates and result in a false reading.
Maintaining a Closed System
DI water has been stripped of metals and is often referred to as “hungry water” because it seeks to pull minerals and metals from the atmosphere in an effort to equalize. Because of the fact that it is saturated with metals, minerals and chemicals, ambient air is the enemy of DI water. If you let DI water sit out unprotected it will become ionized once again, making it ill-suited for the manufacture of DEF due to the microparticulates solutionized within. Because of this ionization it is essential that your system remain entirely closed. Never open the cap and be sure to pour through a closed system with secure check valves. Air dries out and crystallizes DEF through both evaporation and the re-ionization of the DI water within, making it impossible to solutionize again to 100%.
You may have success in re-solutionizing to 90%, but the remaining 10% will be comprised of microparticulates that will eventually wind up in your SCR. Says Stanich, “The first sign of bad DEF will be your diesel exhaust injectors inside your SCR system. It takes just a few particles to clog that injector – like hairspray or spray paint bottles getting clogged. DEF is injected post combustion and is sprayed as a fine mist, which creates a chemical reaction that turns your exhaust into 98-99% regular and fully breathable air. With a clogged injector, your DEF isn’t being used properly by the SCR and you’re not receiving optimal fuel economy.”
API Certification and Heat Solutionization
Originally developed in Europe as AdBlue®, DEF was later implemented as a means of meeting the 2010 emissions regulations for North America and the US by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Because of the risk of DEF being manufactured with low quality or non-DI water, it is essential that you purchase DEF for your fleet from only reputable brands and companies that can provide you with clear lab analysis test results representing each batch. The American Petroleum Institute (API) requires lab analysis on all DEF, and at roughly $600 per test, not all manufacturers are able to afford that expense. If you opt for a reputable DEF manufacturer willing to incur those expenses, you are guaranteed a reliable and superior product
In a wide range of industrial sectors, if there’s metal touching metal, oil is involved. At SCL, we’re here to protect and optimize the machines that keep our country moving and we pride ourselves on providing superior logistics and solutions, extensive product and industry knowledge and total performance satisfaction for our customers. Call your SCL consultant today to learn more about purchasing DEF from a reputable manufacturer and how to properly store it to maintain chemical integrity and its ability to protect your engine and increase fuel economy.