Propane Autogas Technology Forum 2015 Meeting Summary

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The 2015 Propane Autogas Technology Forum (PATF) was held on Aug. 19, 2015, in Leesburg, Virginia. Following is a summary of the meeting.

Meeting Summary

The second PATF meeting had almost double the attendance of the first. Attendees included original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), fuel and equipment providers, fleets and representatives from a variety of federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Key themes that were identified include:

  • There is an increased industry focus on user/customer experience, including vehicle technology and infrastructure. There is broad benefit if industry sets a high bar for customer experience and reliability.
  • Emissions-related messaging needs a more critical look and should be refreshed. New message should target emissions and public health messages to the audience (e.g., school districts).
  • There remains to be much room for improvement on standards, with support for increased bi-national (U.S. and Canada) coordination and harmonization. There was strong consensus around using a Standards Development Organization.
  • Industry should establish an incident reporting database, which is not currently being done. Information from the database could help drive changes to code and standards.
  • There is significant work being done on technician training, facility modification education, and more. Bill Davis made a presentation on the work the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NATFC) is doing which is funded by the Propane Autogas & Education Research Council (PERC) and largely inspired by the 2014 PATF.

DOE Perspective

Dennis Smith, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)

  • Staff at DOE Headquarters is focused on deployment but have a foot in research and development (R&D) as well. Feedback and critical issues that surface at the meeting go back to DOE to help inform R&D efforts.
  • Clean Cities is also looking for ongoing input on tools, like the Station Locator and recently changes to propane station categories. DOE knows the Alternative Fuels Price Report is an issue for the industry and will take feedback at any time.

On-Road Market, PERC's Strategic Direction

Tucker Perkins, Propane Education & Research Council (PERC)

(Roy Willis, PERC) Willis expressed that this group is important and by them coming together it will help improve the consumer experience and reliability of the technology. PERC's role is not only to help roll out technology but also focus on technicians, installs, accurate information, pricing, and education.

Prior to the Propane Autogas Technology Forum, there hasn't been a single setting to facilitate open discussion of barriers to further use and deployment of propane in transportation. New and veteran perspectives are needed to determine what the industry should do differently. One of the 2014 PATF takeaways was the need to improve the quality of technicians and installations. PERC has since worked on these issues and continues progress toward a certified technician program, same with installer certifications.

PERC would like feedback specific to heavy-duty (HD) engines, in particular. 2014 data show a 68%/32% split between aftermarket and OEM, respectively. An ideal market for propane has been Type A and C school buses and infrastructure is a strong selling point for propane. PERC wants to set the bar high for the customer experience from the nozzle to refueling at both public and private stations where users have a consistent experience.

Discussion included more detail on the desired customer experience. How to address leak detection requirements from CARB; a suggestion that industry change messaging and focus on health benefits and cost savings vs emissions. Perkins indicated PERC is working with Argonne on GREETs treatment of propane.

LD Engine Development, DI Durability

Mark Walls, Southwest Research Institute (SwRI)

Walls said that the goal of future engine development should be to maximize efficiency. Proving the durability of DI systems on propane is important. Dennis Smith asked about where propane technology should be in terms of lubricity and what are the main concerns? His perspective is premature wear on the fuel pump should be avoided. Reliability and downtime can be issues for fleets (inconveniences) as well as warranty concerns. The industry needs for potential wear to be comparative to gasoline and diesel.

Fuel Quality Survey, HD Engines

Mike Ross, Southwest Research Institute (SwRI)

Ross highlighted a study being done by SwRI which addresses the lack of current data on propane composition. SwRI is evaluating samples from the point of delivery to far downstream as possible to understand fuel composition. Preliminary results show an average composition of 95% propane. PERC will make data available once the study reaches at least 100 samples.

HD Engines

Don Wilkins, Power Solutions International (PSI)

PSI recently acquired BiPhase Technologies. PSI is offering an 8.8L and 4.3L based on what customers are asking for. Their focus is on Class 4-6.

Fuel Tanks

Mike Alexander, Worthington Industries

Alexander discussed cylindrical and toroidal tanks for propane. Toroidal are commonly used in cars in Europe and there are currently 8 toroidal models certified for use in the United Space; 16-30 gallon capacity.

The following items were discussed following the presentation: understanding the issues related to tanks; overfill protection devices (OPD); fill gauge; the need for standards around how tanks are shipped and internal cleanliness; current requirements to wash the tank components before assembling, which adds cost; fill gauge can vary with regard to tolerance and accuracy; LD vehicles/smaller cylinders see magnified range issues compared to larger vehicles, so the fill gauge sensitivity is important (LD drivers tend to run the tank down to the last drop, but MD/HD drivers are more conservative.); discussion about whether a high percentage of OPD "failures" are actually due to pump issues. There was consensus that OPD used to be an issue, but no longer is.

Codes & Standards

Dan Granger, EDPRO Energy

Granger highlighted the ongoing work at NPGA to improve NFPA 58 through rewrites for the 2017 edition. He pointed out that codes and standards are not in step with emerging technology and quickly fall behind. Specifically, NFPA 59 and B149.5 aren't aligned in many aspects, such as crush testing, host standards, and even the definition of propane. North America lacks active representation on the ISO. But North American CNG and LNG code serves as a good model of a bi-national, coordinated effort. Industry should consider whether they need a component certification process, which may not fit well under NFPA 58 but could be an effort in partnership with CSA, ASE, or another standards development organization (SDO).

Discussion after the presentation centered on whether to use an SDO to provide a structured approach to updating codes. NHSTA representative pointed out that hydrogen standards work because they addressed system level C&S well in advance of vehicle commercialization but propane has generally not done that. Attendees thought that propane codes and standards are not as dysfunctional as they seem, but integrating U.S. and Canadian standards is a big issue. There was discussion about whether there should be increased ISO participation and generally participants thought no. A DOT representative asked whether there is a centralized reporting system/process for propane vehicle incidents. There was agreement that no central system exists but such a system could help inform codes and standards work.

Facility Modification, Technician Training

Bill Davis, National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC)

NAFTC is working on facilities modification training. For facilities modifications the primary concern is the unintended release of gaseous fuels in an enclosed space and contact with ignition sources, including those in the subfloor. Training will focus on the importance of involving authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) early and accessing outside assistance if AHJs don't have the appropriate experience/expertise. NAFTC is also working on an industry-wide/national-level technician training to help avoid issues with states doing their own certifications (e.g., Oklahoma). NAFTC helped to connect PERC with ASE for this purpose. Davis pointed out that there are still companies who are installing uncertified/unapproved conversions, which is a problem for the entire industry.

Discussion after the presentation included: training should be a requirement for any technician working on propane vehicles; could PERC package information on conversions that Clean Cities coordinators can share with fleets in their area? Davis said that NAFTC is working with PERC on a proposal for videos, materials, and trainings covering this topic.