Is The Cold Stealing Your Fuel?

Diesel Fuel- Bulk Fuel

It’s cold outside! Winter is in full swing and spring is not looking to warm up. A remarkable phenomenon occurs when the temperature drops in liquids. Fluids condense and shrink in volume when the temperature is cold. Interestingly, the volume of fuel and gas drops as well, the same is true for the opposite. What does that mean for the average person filling their car, or an operator ordering bulk fuel? Well cozy up and let’s explore the adverse and strange effects of temperature on fuel.

Because diesel and gasoline are fluids, they become much denser when it is cold. We purchase fuel on a volume metric so this affects the amount of fuel you purchase when it is cold vs when it is hot. We promise there is science to this! The severity of change is measured by a coefficient of thermal expansion or β for short. A thermal expansion coefficient measures the change in volume (as a ratio) based on a change in temperature. Usually, units of this measurement are 10-6/K (how many millionths of the original volume does a liquid change with a change of one Kelvin). Let’s take a look at some cold hard numbers.

Fluid β (10-6/K)
Ethyl Alcohol 1,120
Gasoline (petroleum and diesel) 950
Jet Fuel 990
Mercury 181
Water 207

(all above measure at 20°C)


Looking at the numbers above you can see that fuel and alcohol have the most change with temperature remember that these are tiny measures that when added together and compared show that there is about a 1% change in volume of gasoline for every 19°F change in temperature. Using this in easy to understand metrics, let us assume that a shipping company requires 1,000 gallons of fuel delivered when the temperature is about 60°. Early the next morning when that shipping company begins fueling their equipment at 40° they will only actually pump 990 gallons! A loss of 10 gallons of fuel adds up in the industry world. This is also theoretically true when you are pumping gas. When you pump gas in the cold you technically pump a volume that will expand with heat i.e your car’s internal temperature thus netting you a gain in volume and value

Fuel Delivery - Bulk fuel - bulk fuel delivery

Now before you go and fill oil barrels to sell for a profit in warmer climates, understand that this is not the case in practice. At least for fueling stations, fuel is stored in highly thermo-regulated tanks that monitor and adjust the temperature of fuel keeping it at a cool comfortable 60°, meaning that you will almost always pump fuel at its natural resting state. However, ordering fuel delivery could prove to have the temperature play a part on your deliverables. Almost all fuel delivery trucks are temperature controlled to ensure that you are receiving the fuel you pay for, however where that fuel is utilized is another story! Storing fuel in the cold could produce a lower volume of fuel than what was delivered and may eat into costs of operations.

Take these natural occurrences into account when deciding where you will be storing your fuel on a worksite to maintain lower fuel costs in your industry.

We hope you enjoyed this information and found it useful. Please consider subscribing to our blog, or checking out our social media for more helpful tips and information in our ever-changing industry

Thank you,

The SC Fuels Team

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