Monday, 17 July 2006

Fuelture - Courtesy of Future Fuels Energy Institute

The driving factors of service station design for new fuels are the same as conventional fossil fuels and can be divided into two main categories, physical and socio-economic. The two main physical factors influencing forecourt design are:
  • The characteristics of the vehicles frequenting the service station – in particular, the vehicle turning circle (around 12 metres for large trucks and tanker filling vehicles).
  • Fuel storage and dispensing systems.

While personal passenger vehicles fuelled by new energy sources may be more compact, aerodynamic and lighter, their turning circles may be similar to those fuelled by more conventional means. Furthermore, large trucks should also have similar turning circles in the future, whether they are used for cargo or ferrying people from A to B. So, if the first physical factor will not influence service station design for new fuels, the second socio-economic surely will?

The drive to maximise service station revenue generation, coupled with the need to satisfy time-hungry, disposableincome-rich, weary consumers, has resulted in a plethora of ancillary businesses ranging from car care to convenience stores appearing on the modern forecourt. Since tight profit margins on the core fuel business (conventional or new) plus high rents on prime roadside locations are likely to remain ever prefuel retailing outlets either with their own on-site ancillary businesses or integrated into someone else’s business enterprise, such as supermarkets.

It is difficult to envisage a reversal of the trend towards ever more frenetic, independent lifestyles  in which the modern automobile plays a key role. However, we should not assume that the trends and demographics of new fuel service stations will not change, since the same environment protection legislation and increase in conventional fuel prices that has encouraged the development of new fuels may also encourage more fuel efficient practices such as more public transport and multi-occupant vehicles. The complex, and therefore capitalintensive, nature of fossil fuel exploration, extraction, refining, marketing and distribution has led to a centralised ownership model dominated by multi-national or national oil companies either owning and running a site or entering into a franchise arrangement with local dealers. Conversely, where future fuels are less complex, such as electricity generation via renewables, one might expect a less centralised model to be viable. Hence, one might expect to see future fuel forecourts that not only dispense fuel/energy but generate it as well. Therefore, location criteria for future service stations may include the local wind, sun and water regimes.

Multi-national BP has recently installed LPG can only just be considered a future fuel as it has become quite well established in many markets. Dispenser nozzles are different for this fuel, but the most distinguishing feature of service stations offering LPG are the above ground, fenced storage tanks. Above ground fuel storage is less space efficient than below ground tanks that allow the driveway above to be used for general vehicle circulation and parking. Meanwhile, non-fossil hydrocarbon fuels such as ethanol require largely the same infrastructure as conventional fuels and, therefore, ethanol equipped service stations appear identical to conventional fuel stations.

Hydrogen ‘Towards a hydrogen economy’ is a current widely held vision of the future and heralded by many as the most promising future fuel. Pilot hydrogen stations are beginning to appear at a number of European and American (most notably California) locations. Hydrogen production and fuel cell technology is still relatively young. As is the case with a number of future fuels, a ‘chicken and egg’ scenario exists where a lack of hydrogen stations limits growth of production hydrogen cars and vice versa. However, Kyoto targets, government legislation and regional ‘personalities’ such as California’s Arnold well short of the Directive  reference value of 2%, the government puts this down to a low starting point and only relatively recently introduced the bioethanol incentive. The UK lags behind other Member States, such as Germany, but is ahead of some who have minimal amounts of biofuel available. In July, the Commission expressed concern at the lack of progress in certain countries including the UK. Letters of formal notice have been sent asking Member States to justify their unambitious targets. Clearly, the UK government considers that its current and future policy measures particularly the RTFO will ensure that it meets its target for 2010. It is required to let the Commission know its target before July 2007, but has intimated that it will do so next year. It is uncertain whether the target set will be close to the 5.75% biofuel penetration reference value prescribed in the Directive. A corollary to the government meeting its targets for biofuel penetration in the UK road transport market is a considerable expansion in biofuels production. If the Directive 5.75% penetration target is to be met in 2010, some 2,700mn litres of biofuels will need to be produced or imported. This represents a 20-fold increase on current levels of availability.

Considerable investment in new plants and R&D to improve manufacturing techniques is a pre-requisite to meeting the biofuel demands contained in the UK governments ambitions. Confidence to undertake new plant investment programmes will only materialise when government initiatives give a strong signal of intent to the industry. EIC lobbying Following the UK government consultation in early 2005, the EIC issued a position paper. Fuelling a Sustainable Transport Industry backed by a coordinated campaign among top officials. An Early Day Motion was launched in Parliament and quickly gathered support. EIC Members were guided in initiating contact with their local MPs.

The key points of the Groups position include: "The government should aim to achieve the 5.75% penetration level given in the Directive for 2010. "The RTFO should be the main driver to achieve this, backed up by the existing duty differential. "The RTFO should be in place by 2006, with fiscal measures to support the industry in the meantime if this is not possible. "The RTFO should incorporate a certification scheme to differentiate fuels according to their sustainability, but this scheme should not delay a basic RTFO being put in place as soon as possible. "The 3-year rolling commitment in the Alternative Fuels Framework is too short, given industrys longer planning cycles and payback periods, and should be lengthened to ten years. The EIC will press these points in a series of meetings with Ministers and top officials. Bob Larbey is a member of the UK Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) Renewable Transport Fuels Working Group.

For more information on EIC campaigns or membership, please contact Merlin Hyman on t: +44 (0) 20 7935 1675 or e: As demand escalates for biodiesel feedstocks may well have to be imported.

Subtropical Jatropha seedlings shown here growing in a nursery could well be among such potential feedstocks (see p7) Photo: D1 Oils ...continued from P15 warzenegger and London Mayor Ken Livingstone may help break the cycle. Hydrogen stations would look very similar to todays conventional sites, unless production of the gas took place on site via wind turbine powered electrolysis.

Hybrid vehicles The current range of hybrid vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius, with conventional internal combustion engines coupled with electric motors powered by batteries, will not drastically alter forecourt design since they have no plug-in facility for charging their batteries. However, the next generation of hybrids will surely have beefed up batteries and a plug-in capability. It is likely, therefore, that future fuel stations will have bays dedicated to recharging or even exchanging batteries. The fastest battery charging speeds are currently slower than dispensing fuel, but can still be measured in minutes rather than hours. Electric vehicles Here is where the story becomes more radical, since battery powered electric vehicles could conceivably carry their own solar/wind battery charging systems on their roof or locate them at the home or office. As a result, there would be no need to visit a service station as we know them today. Equally, electric vehicles could charge their batteries at grid-connected parking cum charging meters. Internet connection could even allow virtual convenience store purchasesthus aMicro Station  may be possible. These could be arranged singly, in arrays, at home, work or at other leisure/retail/transport facilities. They may even be portable. Becoming mainstream The branding of new fuel outlets that we at Minale undertake for clients such as the Fuelture stations to be launched soon in Glasgow (as pictured) are bright and cheerful. Whilst playing the environmental card when appropriate, they do not overstate the case since we believe such a new industry should look mainstream if it is to become mainstream.

Looking further afield, as with any new technology, the opportunity exists in the developing world to leapfrog the developed world. Unfortunately, in India the trend is for the new middle classes to happily jump off crowded trains and buses into grid-locked Tatas (mass-produced small cars). Further oil price hikes and decreases in air quality may motivate the development of at least more LPG stations if not other future fuel related outlets. 

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