A glimpse at tomorrow

October 1, 2004 By    

They say everything is bigger in Texas, and now that attribute applies to the annual Texas Propane Technology Forum as well.

 Patrick Hyland
Patrick Hyland

The program is designed to to showcase innovative technologies for propane marketers and large consumers, and to foster discussions of new technology among marketers, users, manufacturers, the research and development community and sponsors of propane research. About 40 attended last year’s initial session. This year, the roster swelled past 100, about half of which were marketers.

Dan Kelly, director of the Alternative Fuels Research & Education Division at the Railroad Commission of Texas, beamed a Texas-sized smile as he milled through the diverse crowd at the sprawling Southwest Research Institute complex in San Antonio Sept. 23.

“For years we have been trying to figure out a way to get marketers interested in new technology,” he said during a break between classroom sessions. “This forum is a way to pull the various sides together in a way that benefits everyone. Technology is the way we are going to grow the load for the industry, and it’s exciting to see a strong turnout from those who stand to gain the most from our investment in these projects.”

Home heating and water heating remain the backbone of propane sales, accounting for 48 percent of all domestic sales in 2002. But Kelly believes it is the new and expanded applications — those under study in the laboratories and being tested in the field — that hold the most exciting promise of growth.

Concepts that have lingered for decades finally have found traction thanks to the multi-million-dollar investment from the Propane Education & Research Council. Propane marketers now can actually kick the tires of projects that for years existed only on paper.

The forum is a way to introduce those projects to marketers who don’t want their business success dependent on volatile weather patterns. Savvy marketers have an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of some innovative application launches, including:

  • propane tractors, thermal defoliation, poultry house sterilization, field refueling vehicles and road-base drying;
  • propane dehumidification, combined space and water heaters for manufactured homes, fuel cells and engines for primary power generation; and
  • larger propane engines for bobtails and buses, airport service vehicle fleets, and portable composite cylinders that can be used in cabinet heaters.

Those who realize the potential market growth — in many cases, off-season market growth — had lots of questions about projects presented at the forum. The most frequent inquiry: “When will that application hit the market?”

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