Is It Possible to Use Kerosene in a Diesel Engine: With Reservations

Is It Possible to Use Kerosene in a Diesel Engine

Perhaps you have found yourself in a situation like this before. You have access to kerosene, but you are not sure whether you can use it in your diesel engine without any significant problems. Today we lay the matter to rest. 

So, is it possible to use kerosene in a diesel engine? Yes, you can use kerosene in your diesel engine without harming it. Nevertheless, since kerosene lacks lubricant additives, it will subject the injector pumps to a lot of strain, hence excessive wear and possibly burnout. Tests have shown that you can run your diesel engine automobile with kerosene and it will only be about 10% less efficient.

What Happens When You Use Kerosene Instead of Diesel in Your Engine?

Using kerosene instead of diesel leads to less engine power and lower mileage. Kerosene is also known as #1 diesel oil. That means it is lighter than regular diesel (also referred to as #2 diesel oil). The lighter weight means it contains slightly less energy than diesel — 135,000 BTU, compared to diesel’s 139,000 BTU per gallon — hence less power and lower mileage.

Another concern with using kerosene in a diesel engine is the dry burn that puts a strain on the fuel pumps and injector lines. 

Diesel contains aromatic compounds, so it does not need any other form of lubrication. The oil itself is used to lubricate the moving parts of the engine.

Without the aromatic compounds found in diesel, these moving parts remain exposed when you opt for kerosene. The resulting friction will cause your engine to work harder to produce energy and eventually burn out.

To curb this problem, you should add a quart of lubricant oil to every twenty gallons of kerosene you put in your tank. But who needs all that trouble? It would be much easier and more cost effective in the long run to use the recommended diesel instead.

How Do Kerosene and Diesel Differ For Engine Use?

Kerosene, just like diesel, is a by-product of crude oil. Kerosene is obtained through a process of fractional distillation, which is made possible by the varying boiling points of different molecules. Kerosene boils between 302 degrees Fahrenheit and 572 degrees Fahrenheit. It is, therefore, extracted before diesel, which boils between 392 degrees Fahrenheit and 662degrees Fahrenheit.

Diesel is reddish while kerosene is clear. However, kerosene is sometimes dyed blue to distinguish it from water.

Although both are flammable, kerosene had a low vapor pressure (high flash point) compared to diesel and thus has a lower risk of explosion. For this reason, it is safer to use in homes.

Unlike diesel, kerosene is generally non-viscous. However, you can obtain viscous substances such as wax and more from kerosene.

The most common use of kerosene is perhaps lighting. Kerosene gained popularity in the mid-19th century when it replaced whale oil as a lighting fuel. Even though its use for lighting has been replaced by electricity in most parts of the world, there are still those that use it. Many households in areas prone to power outages always have a few kerosene lamps on hand in case of a blackout.

Besides lighting, you can also use kerosene in stoves for cooking. Moreover, there are kerosene refrigerators, heaters, and other appliances that use kerosene.

Are There Advantages to Using Kerosene in a Diesel Engine?

Yes. 

Diesel has a higher viscosity than kerosene. In very cold weather, diesel gels up and does not flow smoothly. Pure diesel will pretty much stop flowing at about -50 degrees Fahrenheit. In sub-zero temperatures, kerosene will be much more effective in running your diesel engine. 

Kerosene is often mixed with diesel during winters in colder parts of the world. If you buy diesel in a northern climate, it usually has kerosene mixed with it already. Truck diesel in mid-winter contains as much as 40 percent kerosene.

However, there are some additives for diesel fuel that are designed to help fight gelling in diesel. These additives will do a much better job for a lot less per gallon.

Another advantage of using kerosene is that it produces fewer emissions. Since kerosene is a more refined form of fuel, it burns much cleaner as compared to diesel. It is because of this that kerosene is preferred in mines to diesel because if used, diesel would probably kill the workers in the mines through exposure to harmful emissions.

When it comes to price, kerosene is cheaper compared to diesel. Diesel prices are often influenced by road taxes since it is largely used in automobiles and heavy industrial machinery.

How Does a Diesel Engine Work When You Use Diesel or Kerosene?

An internal combustion engine operates by converting chemical energy found in fuel to motor energy through a process of air compression and combustion. 

Diesel engines, which have served mankind for over a century, are the most versatile and economical internal combustion engines.

To release the chemical energy in diesel, an atomized form of the fuel is made to contact with high temperature and high-pressure air inside a cylinder fitted with a piston.

When the piston moves downwards, the inlet valves open and air from the atmosphere is sucked into the cylinder. During the return stroke, the valves are closed, and the air inside the cylinder gets compressed. 

The piston then does work on the air, so the temperature and pressure rise to a level which is higher than the self-ignition value of the diesel.

After that, the atomized form of diesel is injected into the cylinder, causing the compressed air to combust in a spontaneous explosion. The explosion in the cylinder pushes the piston downwards in a power stroke. The hot fluid works on the piston. The high energy fluid is converted to mechanical energy of the piston.

Due to inertia of the system, the piston moves upwards again. This time, the exhaust valve opens, and the exhaust is ejected. 

The piston then moves downwards so that air is sucked in again and the process starts all over again. This process is repeated over and over for continuous power production.

Final Thoughts

So, now that we know we can use kerosene rather than diesel to fuel cars why not just switch to kerosene instead? It is certainly much cheaper, and there would be much fewer emissions.

Well, there are a few problems with that. First, let’s understand that engines are designed around the fuels that can actually be extracted from crude oil and the volumes of those fuels that are accessible to us.

We use diesel to fuel our cars because there is so much of it in every barrel of crude oil. About a quarter of every barrel consists of diesel while there are only 15.5 liters of kerosene, (a tenth of every barrel.