Diesel displacement systems trigger fuel-cost savings

October 16, 2015 By    

Big-rig diesel drivers can achieve significant fuel-cost savings via add-on engine conversion systems that displace some of the diesel with propane by combining the two fuels inside the combustion chamber for heightened ignition efficiencies.

An electronic control unit adjusts the mix in accordance with the necessary performance requirements without having to modify the engine’s components.

As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grants official certification for submitted devices that meet its prescribed standards, propane marketers who reach out to trucking fleets can put themselves in the driver’s seat by gaining additional load.

“The beauty of this technology is that it produces year-round gallons,” says Michael Taylor, director of autogas business development at the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). “This is a big step forward for the industry. There are fleets out there that will use a lot of fuel.”

A busy trucking operation can consume some 40,000 gallons of LP gas per vehicle annually, according to Ed Hoffman, president of Blossman Services Inc.

The company recently was awarded EPA certification for the Detroit Diesel 14.0 liter and the Volvo D13/MackMP8 propane diesel displacement system for Class 8 engines.

Blossman, the founding firm of the Alliance AutoGas consortium, has a joint venture with Canada’s BL Energie to market the technology in the United States.

Originating with the Prins Dieselblend system from the Netherlands, Blossman enhanced the offering to make it applicable to the American marketplace and compliant with U.S. air quality regulations.

“It’s essentially our product and design,” Hoffman says. “We turned a lot of wrenches” to perfect the engineering during a 10-month process to obtain EPA certification – an endeavor that cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to accomplish amid “a lot of paperwork and test plans” to meet the EPA’s stringent requirements for engines that are 2 model years old or older. Dieselblend is also certified by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), he says.

Blossman had to prove no negative impact existed regarding air pollution standards and ensure reliability to avoid any breakdowns.

“We can’t afford to have a truck along the road due to a malfunctioning system,” Hoffman says. “There’s definitely a tuning challenge; there’s a sweet spot for performance and emissions.”

An array of rigorous certification procedures included testing at high altitudes to document full compliance under multiple traffic and roadway conditions. Stop-and-go maneuvering, torque-heavy acceleration under heavy cargoes, long straightaways, and uphill and downhill driving all came under close scrutiny.

“We had to go out to Colorado in the Rockies to run this,” says Hoffman, noting that EPA regulators were cooperative throughout the process. “We have a great relationship with the EPA. They’re very helpful, supportive and very open” when it comes to providing assistance for reaching the mandated scientific standards.

According to Hoffman, the system has an average diesel displacement rate of 30 percent, netting an economic advantage relative to the cost of diesel versus propane. Priced in the neighborhood of $10,000, the equipment can be installed within eight hours by a pair of knowledgeable technicians. The payback period amounts to about 20 months, although that can vary based on how the rig is utilized on the road. The accompanying LP gas tanks are custom-fitted to align with a specific tractor’s configuration.

“It’s hard to ignore the market for Class 8 trucks,” says Hoffman, citing the solid stability of the nation’s over-the-road, heavy-duty trucking segment, plus the potential it provides regarding an accelerated role for propane. “There are some great opportunities for the industry.”

Over the past 12 months, the pace of new Class 8 tractor purchases has remained steady, with 350,000 units having been sold, according to transportation intelligence firm FTR.

Blossman is moving to establish a Dieselblend dealer network consisting mainly of existing diesel shops catering to truckers. A partnership with Fontaine Modification, which operates a network of aftermarket retrofitting facilities located in close proximity to engine OEMs, has been formed to deliver expert installation services.

Additional agreements are in place with propane distributor Sterling Transport and vehicle services provider Keystone Automotive Operations. Keystone has been testing a Blossman-equipped vehicle with glowing results thus far.

“The conversion process was easy and trouble-free; the truck has performed flawlessly, not even one check-engine light,” Keystone service manager Anthony Diveronica says.

Driver feedback has been positive as well. “Other than a gauge on the dashboard, our drivers can’t differentiate when the Dieselblend tractor is substituting propane autogas or not, and fueling has been easy, too,” Diveronica says.

In addition to leveraging various state and federal incentive programs, fleet owners interested in installing propane fuel pumps on their lots can take advantage of a Blossman offering that sets up the infrastructure in exchange for specified amounts of propane purchases.

Being that this is new technology, Hoffman says, “Most customers are going to pilot this first. If we can get 20 accounts in the next 12 months, I will consider it a success.”

Sophisticated testing

PERC is in gear with supporting the continuing developments in diesel displacement applications and the potential for heightened autogas loads.

“We have an active project going with Blossman,” says Taylor, referring to a $285,000 contribution toward the company’s efforts. “We believe in it whole-heartedly. This technology from Blossman is not exclusive, so any business or interested propane marketer can buy it.”

PERC also directed $450,000 to the Southwest Research Institute to analyze the prospect of assembly line-produced dual-fuel engines proposed by Navistar. The results, however, appear to have yielded a decision to tap on the brakes on factory-built, dual-fuel capability at this point.

“We had to put this issue to bed; there were so many questions on it,” says Larry Osgood, president of Consulting Solutions, who took part in the Southwest Research testing protocols. “We probably learned enough to help us” with future applications and engineering challenges.

“It’s very difficult to achieve certification,” he adds. “It’s pretty sophisticated testing.”

Osgood explains that “in the right circumstances it can make sense” to adopt these systems on an aftermarket basis to a fleet’s heavy-duty diesel motor pool.

“When they keep the truck longer, it gives them a better payback, and when they use a lot of fuel, it gives them a better payback,” he says.

Rather than applying the technology to longer journeys, such as cross-country runs where roadside propane pumps may be in short supply, it is more suitable for routine back-and-forth trips.

“The focus of these systems will be on fleets that have their own supply of propane and a dedicated route,” Osgood says. “You can put a propane tank in your yard on either end.”

An intriguing prospect

Propane Fuel Technologies LLC (PFT) has recently achieved EPA certification for Class 8 Volvo 2010-13 engines outfitted with the Propane Diesel Injection (PDI) system produced by Germany’s CHM Trucktec.

As the exclusive North American distributor, PFT is partnering with Texas-based Northwest Propane Co. and Fontaine Modification, with plans to implement a training program for adding authorized installation personnel.

“If we sign a large fleet, they’re going to want their own guys working on the system,” says PFT managing director Bret Chandler, noting how the number of diesel engines being produced increases every year.

Costing $9,500 to $10,000, PDI “allows the owner to have all the characteristics of a diesel engine – such as torque – and they can replace it with a clean-burning, less-expensive fuel,” Chandler says.

A qualified crew of two can install the system within three hours. The propane tank is typically affixed in place of one of a truck’s two diesel vessels. PDI features a proprietary “black box” that continuously monitors the engine’s workload and alters the amount of propane it injects to change the ratio.

In Europe, the CHM Trucktec technology has successfully logged more than 3.5 million miles. Several domestic fleets are in testing mode, and one has already purchased the system. The buyer’s initial truck equipped with the unit paid for the equipment by using more propane and less diesel within seven-and-a-half months while traveling 400 miles per day, according to Chandler.

Being able to glean such savings also presents an intriguing prospect for CHS Inc., the Minnesota-based farmer cooperative.
“We are looking into diesel displacement technology and believe that it offers a very good alternative for a clean-burning fuel that offers a very good ROI,” says Kenton Sonnenburg, the cooperative’s propane equipment account manager.“At this time,” he says, “we are not implementing this technology [because] the system we are looking at is not EPA certified and we have our legal department looking into us testing this product.”

The manufacturer is currently working to attain EPA certification, Sonnenburg says, indirectly referencing a scenario that is drawing warnings regarding the perils of producing or installing non-certified versions of the technology.

“There are a lot of these systems out there, but they’re not certified,” PERC’s Taylor says. “That means you’re breaking the law. There are significant fines for manufacturers and end users because you’re altering the ignition system.”

According to the EPA, “If such systems are found not to conform with EPA regulatory requirements, we may assess civil penalties for manufacturers and dealers up to $37,500 for each engine or piece of equipment in violation. For anyone else that may have tampered with an EPA-certified engine configuration, we may assess civil penalties up to $3,750 for each day an engine or piece of equipment is operated in violation.”

Osgood says the penalties are quite substantial and can get one’s attention, adding that CARB can be especially aggressive in enforcement proceedings, as well.

“It’s a bad deal. You’re touching around a sensitive issue for the propane industry,” he says. “Non-compliant systems have been advertised, and the EPA keeps a list of these articles and URLs, and when compliance time comes they say, ‘Please send us the names and addresses of your customers,’ or they just show up at your door with a badge.

“Do not buy any propane equipment for any of your vehicles that is not certified – just don’t go there,” Osgood adds. “There’s nothing here that the EPA doesn’t know about.”

Advancing technology

DME technology, which involves mixing propane with dimethyl ether and blending it with diesel, is another innovation on Blossman’s developmental radar. Gaining popularity in the Asia-Pacific region, the raw materials for manufacturing DME consist of coal, natural gas, bio-based feedstock and methanol. Its lack of sulfur content produces clean-burning properties that the company is interested in further pursuing.

DOE commits $11 million to alternative fuel advancements

The Department of Energy (DOE) committed about $11 million to fund the development of alternative fuel technologies for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles designed to reduce reliance on gasoline, diesel and oil imports in the United States.

DOE reports the funding opportunity relates to two areas: medium- and heavy-duty vehicle powertrain electrification and heavy-duty vehicle dual-fuel fleet demonstration.

According to a press release, DOE seeks to demonstrate the performance of commercially available dual-fuel heavy-duty vehicles equipped with engines that run on a mix of diesel fuel and gaseous fuels, such as propane or natural gas. According to DOE, data collected in these opportunities will be analyzed by Energy Department National Laboratories and used to identify technology barriers.

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About the Author:

Allison Kral was a senior digital media manager at LP Gas magazine.

1 Comment on "Diesel displacement systems trigger fuel-cost savings"

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  1. LM. Pettinato says:

    Is this industry actually interested in promoting the use of autogas in diesel vehicles, or only interested in steering potential fleets and customers away from other proven and available technologies using misleading scare tactics regarding the Clean Air Act?

    None of the systems named in this article are actually “EPA certified.” EPA Certificates of conformity are not issued for diesel displacement or diesel injection systems. LPG, CNG, hydrogen or methanol.

    The truth is these manufacturers are participating in a voluntary notification program where the manufacturers attest to certain criteria regarding their product for engines that are considered “outside of useful life.”

    The manufacturers provide the EPA with their own independent test results that show there is no increase in emissions and also provide OBD (on board diagnostics) scans that show the operation of the vehicle with the system on, does not cause a MIL or “check engine” code. They also “attest” to the validity of the provided test results and system design, etc.

    When the test results are received, but not necessarily verified, the EPA will list the companies and their products as “Clean Alternative Fuel Conversions.”

    Technically, compression ignited diesel engines cannot be “converted” to run on a spark ignited fuel, such as CNG, LPG, hydrogen, methanol, etc. without a separate spark ignition source.

    However, “claims” of displacing “up to” 50% to as much as 70% diesel (CNG), the manipulation of the vehicle’s on board computer to “pull out diesel fuel” to “run” on LPG or CNG, and the addition of a separate ECU control and injectors, make these European systems appear to be very similar to “conversions.”

    The EPA only “certifies” (by issuance of certificates of conformity) alternative fueled gasoline engine and vehicle conversions, because those are the only engines and vehicles that can be truly “converted” by definition and also that would be considered in violation of the Clean Air Act section 203(a)(3) prohibition against tampering (42 U.S.C. §7522 (a)(3)). which reads:

    United States Code # 7522 Section A (3)
    (3)(A) It is in violation of the code for any person to remove or render inoperative any device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or motor vehicle engine in compliance with regulations under this subchapter prior to its sale and delivery to the ultimate purchaser, or for any person knowingly to remove or render inoperative any such device or element of design after such sale and delivery to the ultimate purchaser; or

    (B) for any person to manufacture or sell, or offer to sell, or install, any part or component intended for use with, or as part of, any motor vehicle or motor vehicle engine, where a principal effect of the part or component is to bypass, defeat, or render inoperative any device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or motor vehicle engine in compliance with regulations under this subchapter, and where the person knows or should know that such part or component is being offered for sale or installed

    From EPA.gov:

    Notice the title…”certified conversions” also notice no diesel engine conversions are listed here.

    Also from EPA.gov- http://www3.epa.gov/otaq/consumer/fuels/altfuels/documents/420f12058.pdf

    “As with the intermediate age category, EPA does not issue certificates of conformity for outside useful life categories, but will publicly list the compliant conversion systems as having satisfied the requirements.” The requirements? Simply the EPA’s acceptance of the manufacturer’s validity of the test results and statements.

    If the goal is to sell more gallons, truthfully educate the consumer, don’t mislead them. It’s taken a long time and a lot of high dollar marketing for consumers to once again trust propane as a viable motor vehicle fuel, don’t squander the opportunity this time.