Propane Autogas Technology Forum 2016 Meeting Summary

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The 2016 Propane Autogas Technology Forum (PATF) was held on Aug. 10, 2016, in Chantilly, Virginia. Following is a summary of the meeting.

Meeting Summary

The third PATF convened original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), fuel and equipment providers, and 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 and action items that were identified include:

  • Data modelers need more fuel economy data to accurately refine assumptions for resources like the Greenhouse Gasses, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation (GREET) Model and the Alternative Fuel Life-Cycle Environmental and Economic Transportation (AFLEET) Tool. Industry collaboration with national labs is central to fulfilling this need. NREL will create a working group of national labs and industry representatives to document needs and identify fleets that may be able to provide data.
  • It is important to push a single coordinated messaged to targeted state events to reach decision makers that are not accessible through usual outreach channels.
  • Across transportation there is an increased focus on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The propane industry should address this directly, potentially by analyzing the GHG emissions profile for the most popular vehicles and quantifying the GHG benefits of propane based on a dollars per ton of emissions savings perspective.
  • An incident database was suggested by participants at the 2015 meeting. There is agreement that this should be established. NREL will organize an effort to identify participants and set up a call to discuss next steps.
  • It is crucial that industry have a well-coordinated effort related to renewable propane. Scientists from the facility in the Netherlands could provide information and could be invited to the 2017 meeting for discussion and a laboratory tour. A basic overview presentation about renewable propane should be developed.
  • NHTSA representative Shashi Kuppa indicated they will meet with Pupil Transport Association (PTA) in December. Industry should engage with NHTSA and PTA to develop the emissions/NOx message. NREL will follow up to start the discussion.
  • Catalyst work should continue and focus on sulfur content in HD-5 propane. Moving forward, a concern is that tighter sulfur emissions controls could damage the catalyst and not allow future engines to meet more stringent emissions requirements.

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

DOE has published two funding opportunities within the last year, one focused on training to understand facility upgrades when using gaseous fuels, another on propane direct injection (DI) technology. DOE has also initiated two efforts with Clean Cities coalitions. One is an information gathering effort to understand fleet pricing for propane, trends in pricing strategies, and how prices compare to retail pricing. The second is station identification and verification work that will enable enhanced station descriptions through photos and interviews with station owners. Sandia National Laboratory is modeling how propane acts upon release to better inform codes and standards assessment and enforcement, as well as the facility upgrade work mentioned above. DOE and the national labs are working to identify their role as part of the Volkswagen Consent Decree.

Tucker Perkins, Propane Education & Research Council (PERC)

Perkins said that the PATF is an important forum for input because it brings industry together with government and research entities to agree on priorities. Attendees should be encouraged to brainstorm and come together to move the industry forward. Activities that are a result of previous PATFs include the service/installation program developed by NAFTC, which provides a solid knowledge foundation for mechanics and is gaining traction with community colleges. The training received as a result of these efforts will feed more skilled workers to OEMs. The Euro nozzle grew out of dissatisfaction with the emissions profile of fueling and is a game-changing solution for reducing emissions from fueling from 20 to 2 cm3. Industry is working to make this a worldwide standard.

U.S. propane school bus sales numbered 12,500 in 2015. 2016 sales are expected to be higher. Propane vehicle sales are 70% aftermarket and 30% OEM (most of the aftermarket is bi-fuel vehicles). Two port tractors are now available with a third expected before the end of 2016. Messaging is now focused on the total cost of ownership (TCO) for fleets. While Class 8 efforts are scaled back for the time being, the future may include growing the DI market and identifying a renewable solution like biopropane, which will lower the GHG profile. In some markets, like California, renewable propane is a must-have to participate. Currently there is a huge supply of propane so prices will stay low; this creates tremendous capacity for the vehicle market to grow.

Brad Douville, Westport

Douville said it is important to take advantage of the advances in gasoline and diesel technology to advance the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) market. Learning from what was done with the CumminsWestport line can well inform LPG engine development. Industry seems to be moving away from vapor propane port fuel injecting (PFI) toward liquid propane PFI and on to a liquid propane DI turbo charged diesel engine base that Westport is developing. The state of the market is shifting; gasoline looks more like diesel with turbo, DI, and high compression. BMW, Volvo, and JLR have commonality in their platforms in Europe, a strategy that should be used for LPG. The market is moving to downsized turbo charged DI, light-weighting, and improved fuel economy. DI propane is a better idea and can exceed gasoline performance and efficiency. The spark-ignition (SI) LPG turbo is being developed for 5–12 liters, and the technology used in gasoline engines is being “ported across” to LPG and compressed natural gas (CNG). In 2017, Westport will have an F-150 dedicated, bi-fuel, and a transit van.

Mike Ross, Southwest Research Institute (SwRI)

Ross discussed a fuel quality sampling effort that SwRI is competing. Samples from diverse states were evaluated and show consistent fuel quality that met the HD-5 specification. There were some single sample outliers but average composition is consistent. SwRI has also identified strategies to achieve near-zero NOx, which include catalyst light-off within 50 seconds during cold-start Federal Test Procedure (FTP) and maintaining near-perfect air/fuel ration after catalyst light-off.

EPA has proposed Phase 2 regulations that apply diesel standards to Class 6 and 7 LPG/CNG engines. This could create a disincentive for LPG and could limit LPG product availability. Additionally the 2021 standard could be difficult to meet. New standards may make it harder for LPG to compete with diesel on a TCO basis. LPG will need a bigger cost differential in fuel price to make a favorable business case. Identified research and development needs include finishing the NOx study for near-zero engine emissions and how to optimize catalyst performance with LPG. Ross agrees with Douville that technology progression for higher-efficiency LPG engines includes a downsized boosted engine and layering on of solutions similar to the incremental improvements made by the diesel engine industry. Industry should continue to do this work and to collaborate with governmental agencies in order to compete in 2027.

Todd Mouw, Roush CleanTech

Mouw said there are headwinds for the heavy-duty market. Phase 2 GHG regulations have cost implications for certification if the final rule follows what has been proposed to date. Refining and mastering the near-zero emissions message is important. Ford is committed to gaseous fuels and will continue to offer gas prep engine options for F-150 to F-750. Target markets for Roush include school bus, energy, transit logistics, and food and beverage. The school bus market continues to be a growth opportunity. Customers are focused on reducing the complexity and order-to-delivery time. Industry needs to better understand how to move faster and better, and to translate knowledge into expanded markets. This will help identify the market sweet spot and inform how one product can be used for another market. It is important to identify markets where diesel is weak or failing and fill that gap. It is also challenging that the propane industry itself is a tough sell for adoption. The industry needs to use propane in its own vehicles. Mouw discussed the importance of industry collaboration to identify state events like the New Jersey League of Municipalities event to connect with school districts. The New Jersey event is an important venue to reach decision makers who are not accessible via existing outreach channels. Such an effort will require collaboration, coordination, cooperation, and a focused message. Overcoming resistance to change is imperative and case studies with good data can help.

Andy Burnham Argonne National Laboratory

Burnham highlighted the goals of the Paris accord, which include a GHG reduction of 17% by 2020, 26%-28% by 2025, and 85% by 2050 from a 2005 baseline. Those goals will be reached through a “wedge” of reduced use/low-carbon/less energy intensity. Wheel-to-well emissions analysis is required for accurate accounting about how to reach the goals. Burnham cited limited data related to propane fuel efficiency and expressed the need to have more data. Because of limited data, Maryland school buses show an increase on GHG emissions because of fuel economy loss. With more data Burnham can work to refine the assumptions used in GREET.

Brad Douville commented that GREET compares future projections of electric vehicle efficiency with yesterday’s propane and CNG engine technology. As discussed at the meeting, follow up is needed to ensure that the topic is being discussed completely.

Joe Adams, Sleegers

Adams said that NFPA 58 2017 has developed a new chapter (Chapter 12) for motor fuel conversion requirements. The chapter was moved from carburation to DI. The new chapter should address a need for clarification at the federal level because there is no federal motor vehicle safety standard for propane, and many federal references link to older versions of NFPA 58. Additionally, there are challenges at the state level and there is a need to educate state officials and fire marshals about who is the right authority for vehicle/vehicle systems. CSA group is establishing a bi-national Group Transportation Strategic Steering Committee to bring alternative transportation fuels and applications together. The committee will look at standards for vehicle components, installation standards, dispensers, and containers. CSA wants to lead this effort for North America. Bruce Swiecick from the National Propane Gas Association represents the United States on the committee.

Adams discussed that Dimethyl ether (DME) is similar to propane, but there is not much movement toward DME in North America. Only Volvo has been vocal about it, along with DOE. The DME industry appears to be interested in partnering with propane for a propane-DME blend. An attendee commented that a different engine architecture would be needed for the blended fuel.

Rad Bozinoski, Sandia National Laboratory

Bozinoski provided an overview of Sandia’s project on unplanned gas releases. In general, the work that Sandia does in the area helps provide justification to code committees and helps resolve certain sticking points that are not realistic issues. The most current knowledge about facility impacts and safety is based on gasoline; propane does not act similarly. The current scenario is also based on a very large unplanned release and modelers need to identify what additional work needs to be done on scenarios. DOE wants input on whether the scenarios that are being used for modeling releases are typical and if more runs are necessary. Sandia also wants to develop partnerships and set up experiments to validate the models. More work is needed to understand what happens when a propane release occurs and how facilities should be designed to handle this type of release. Also, validation needs to occur to be sure that safe propane vehicle maintenance facilities are being built.

Stacy Noblet, ICF

Noblet provided a background of the Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC) Station Locator and recent updates and uses. The Propane Industry Working Group has served as a sounding board for recent changes and is a useful feedback loop for station locator updates. The Euro nozzle is not currently part of the “primary” station criteria, but something that may be considered. There is a need for education at all levels, particularly for onsite staff at stations. Clean Cities could potentially develop a one-page summary for coordinators to give to stations to educate them about the AFDC’s primary station designation.