Propane industry leaders make a case for European-style refueling technology

October 7, 2014 By    
Propane Autogas

Mike Walters of Superior Energy Systems demonstrates the European-style nozzle on a company vehicle.

European-style dispenser nozzle and connector technology being installed and tested at propane fueling and fleet locations in the United States carries safety, environmental and ease-of-use benefits that will improve the overall experience and perception of autogas nationally.

That’s the case being made by some U.S. propane industry leaders who envision widespread adoption of this technology to replace 1¾-inch Acme filler equipment currently in use for autogas applications.

The movement began at Mississippi-based Blossman Gas, which was familiar with the European nozzle technology when it heard of incidents and complaints from the field regarding current components, says Jessie Johnson, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing.

The issue merited a meeting of industry stakeholders earlier this year at the Southeastern Convention & International Propane Expo in Atlanta. The consensus there was for the industry to move forward with the European-style technology. The group felt this technology helps create the most positive fueling experience and sets a high standard that’s useful across North America.

“At the end of the day, everybody is for it. The nozzle is lighter and easier to connect, and it puts propane in a more positive light,” says Curtis Donaldson, managing director and founder of autogas dispenser manufacturer CleanFuel USA. “But how do we go about doing it in an organized manner that transitions us and, most importantly, takes care of our customers?”

European technology
Industry partners are moving forward with a nozzle manufactured by Swiss company Staubli, which has North American headquarters in Duncan, S.C. The nozzle, which is used primarily in Spain and Portugal, is on course to receive Underwriters Laboratories (UL) approval, Johnson says.

Propane Autogas

Rodney Johnson of Alliance AutoGas talks about the benefits of refueling vehicles with a European-style nozzle.

Another international manufacturer – Elaflex – is also looking to develop this style nozzle and is moving forward with UL approval, says Tucker Perkins, chief business development officer for the Propane Education & Research Council. The U.S. autogas industry currently uses Elaflex’s GasGuard Acme-style nozzle.

“We want to move forward promoting this [European] connection to industry customers,” says Perkins, and that means getting manufacturers of connectors and adapters involved, as well as the propane industry’s equipment distributors in the United States and Canada.

Vehicles must be retrofitted with a European-style connector (or fill valve) to fit the Euro-style nozzle. If this nozzle or connector is not in place, an adapter can help link the two components so fueling can commence.

“We’re trying to bring all the pieces together at once,” Johnson says. “Connectors for the cars are already made. Adapters let the transition happen between the current nozzle and new connector or the [European] nozzle and the old Acme connector that might be on the vehicle. Adapters that make this work are being produced at this very moment.”

The nozzle sells for about $1,200, while the connectors and adapters are about $50 or $60, Johnson says.

Blossman Gas plans to distribute the nozzle and expects to receive several hundred that it has on order in October. The company’s Alliance AutoGas network will begin installing the new connection on all autogas vehicle conversions, Johnson says.

Asked how many total nozzles could be placed into the field today, Johnson references the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, which lists 2,700 fueling stations. But that does not include private fleet locations.

Safety, environmental issues
Current fueling technology in the United States leaves room for those filling their vehicles to cross-thread the connection, allowing propane to escape once the nozzle is opened and potentially burning the individual, Johnson says.

“It’s a common occurrence,” he says. “People get in a hurry and they’re not thinking about it. They think they have it screwed on right, and a lot of times they’ve cross-threaded it.”

Propane Autogas

The Staubli, above, and Elaflex are proceeding with UL approvals.

The European-style nozzle does not fit into the vehicle through a thread. Instead, it fastens through a snap or a quick connect.

“Once the handle is engaged, there’s a positive locking mechanism around the connector,” Johnson says. “No gas comes from the nozzle unless it’s connected, and when you release the handle you pull it right back off.”

When the nozzle releases, another feature becomes evident: less fugitive emissions. With the Staubli nozzle and European connector, 0.4 cubic centimeters of emissions are released, compared to 2.0 on the current Acme nozzle and filler, Johnson says. On the latter release, it’s not unusual for the individual filling the vehicle to see and smell a plume of propane vapor.

“Not only is that a big difference in quantity, it’s a huge difference in what it looks like, sounds like and feels like to the user,” Perkins says of the European nozzle. “No longer are gloves required; no longer are goggles required. It’s a very positive experience.”

Says Mike Walters of Superior Energy Systems, which supplies Alliance AutoGas customers with dispensers and is currently testing the Staubli nozzle: “I have absolutely no problem saying that [personal protective equipment] and training are not necessary with the Staubli nozzle because the [product] release is not significant enough to present a risk to the user.”

According to Donaldson, Elaflex has added a guide to its Acme nozzle that is designed to prevent cross-threading.

“That doesn’t mean this other technology is not good or better,” he says. “But the Acme has also made improvements, and it’s not an unsafe nozzle by any stretch.”

Additional testing
U.S. testing has been ongoing with about 20 European-style nozzles, mostly in smaller fleets in the Midwest and Southeast, Johnson says. One concern is how the nozzle will hold up in various conditions, and to this point it’s working without issue, industry officials report.

Propane Autogas

The Euro-style nozzle grabs the filler valve through a quick connect.

Yellow Cab of Columbus, Ohio, which operates 36 of its 150-plus-vehicle fleet on propane, is one of the larger test sites. Its Cleveland-area propane supplier, Superior Energy Systems, convinced the cab company to test the nozzle at its onsite fueling location, where it has two 1,000-gallon propane tanks.

“The difference is one screws on and one clamps on,” says Jeff Kates, the company’s president, in comparing the nozzles. “The screw-on was adequate but not ideal. The screw-on could cross-thread and you could have some problems that way, but the biggest concern was back flush, where at the end of the fill a small amount of propane could squirt back and the stuff is very cold. You wear safety goggles and gloves when filling, but you still could get burned.”

Kates says the process to replace connectors took about 10 minutes per vehicle, and the nozzle replacement on the dispenser involved a quick change-out. Yellow Cab did the work in-house, though Superior offered support.

Nozzle testing is being performed with hopes that safety attributes will lead to “a relaxing in the code” for training requirements, which would help advance the widespread adoption of autogas throughout the country, Perkins says.

Industry transition
Johnson estimates the process of incorporating the new technology throughout the industry will take two to five years, depending on the industry’s commitment. Two drivers of the transition are OEMs adopting the new technology and individual fleets requesting the new nozzle technology, he says.

Propane Autogas

The European-style nozzle, right, adds safety, environmental and ease-of-use gains for the autogas industry, proponents say.

Roush CleanTech, for example, which retrofits Ford vehicles with propane autogas systems, says it will offer the European adapter as an option in 2015.

Whether a Roush CleanTech customer has an Acme valve on the vehicle or a European nozzle, an adapter will be offered so the vehicle can be filled regardless of the fill nozzle on the fuel dispenser, the company says. It will adjust its standard nozzle offering as needed, based on customer demand.

“Roush CleanTech applauds the industry for moving to this technology,” says Todd Mouw, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing, in a prepared statement. “The Euro nozzle offers a positive fill experience for the end user, reduces fugitive emissions and puts us on par with how autogas is dispensed around the world.”

Donaldson at CleanFuel USA maintains the propane industry must tread carefully in the transition. He says some customers are skeptical about having to carry an adapter and they wonder if the equipment changeover will create inconsistencies and fleet downtime and affect their ability to refuel.

“The good news is this conversation is happening,” he says.

CleanFuel USA is planning to test the new technology before making any decisions to switch, Donaldson says. He is also monitoring UPS’ plans to test the nozzle as part of its 1,000-vehicle purchase earlier this year.

Brian Richesson

About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at brichesson@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3748.

1 Comment on "Propane industry leaders make a case for European- …"

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  1. Anil Kulkarni says:

    Very Good ,safer and quick filling possible due to this type of nozzle and adaptor system.
    Best information regarding LPG use circulate .
    Regards,
    Anil Kulkarni.