While some fuel marketers are early adopters of environmentally friendly technology—and others comply with environmental rules only when mandated—most marketers occupy the middle ground and take a "wait and see" approach.
But when it comes to vapor recovery, "wait and see" is becoming an increasingly dicey position. The longer that marketers wait, they more will be seeing vehicles equipped with on-board refueling vapor recovery (ORVR) canisters. Thus with each passing day, the likelihood grows that their stations' Stage II vapor recovery systems will be sucking air into underground fuel storage tanks. Pressurization can then cause vapors to vent into the environment, resulting in lost product and reduced air quality.
Having already spent large sums installing Stage II, marketers "are hesitant to spend more because it isn't clear when ORVR will replace it," observed Brandon Grote, product manager for Cincinnati-based OPW Fueling Components. "But as more ORVR cars are sold, the worse the problem of incompatibility gets. Yet until we have enough cars equipped with ORVR, we shouldn't shut off Stage II."
For that reason, marketers are not the only ones in a quandary. "State regulators are facing the issue of changing their rules in anticipation of Stage II eventually being turned off," continued Grote, "and therefore manufacturers are also caught in the middle."
At Veeder-Root in Simsbury, Conn., “We monitor to see where regulations are changing, so we can understand how that will impact our products,” reported Jake Brown, the company's California marketing manager. "It's important to watch and see how states stay synchronized in
regard to regulations—and how they don't."
ARID Technologies of Wheaton, Ill., manufacturer of the Permeator system for preventing fugitive emissions from fuel storage tanks, is also watching the international scene. "European Union rule makers are looking at new environmental requirements," said president Ted Tiberi. And Jay Walsh, vice president of business development for Franklin Fueling Systems in Madison, Wis., said, "There’s a large implementation of Stage II happening in China, a government-driven movement that began with the Olympics."
U.S. fuel marketers thus face a proverbial Catch-22. Problems stemming from the incompatibility of Stage II and ORVR are on the rise, and yet the state-of-the-art in vapor recovery regulations and equipment is still evolving and uncertain. The good news, according to Walsh, is that "there are many ways for marketers to address the issue cost-effectively, right now, and bring a measurable return on their investments."
Preventing Product Loss
Those returns come from preventing product losses and creating opportunities for "green" marketing. As an example, ARID Technologies' Tiberi told the story of fuel retailer in Italy who "decided to install our product as part of their 'green' gas station concept. They've rebranded their signage to show they’re being proactively green—not because of government mandates but because they wanted the savings."
ARID vice president Michael Heffernan said U.S. fuel marketers are also starting to realize that environmental consciousness and return-on-investment can go hand in hand. "In the past, marketers' only purpose in buying equipment was to fulfill state requirements. But now they're discovering that they can save money." According to ARID, its Permeator system can save marketers an average of two gallons of fuel per 1,000 gallons pumped.
When air is returned into the vapor space of an underground storage tank, Heffernan explained, the hydrocarbon concentration can fall below the naturally-occurring equilibrium level. To reestablish equilibrium, liquid gasoline begins to evaporate. "The expansion of liquid-phase gasoline to vapor-phase gasoline is very large," he said. "A single gallon of liquid gasoline forms 520 gallons of vapor-phase gasoline at typical equilibrium concentration levels."
As the liquid evaporates, the vapor volume and pressure build in the tank, eventually causing pressure relief valves to open. "Some of those valves can even be heard chattering, like a boiling tea kettle,” said Tiberi. Open valves then release concentrated hydrocarbon, causing lost product for the marketer as vapors are vented directly into the atmosphere.
"In addition," noted Heffernan, "storage tanks are subjected to a constant, high back-pressure. Small breaches in the fittings, connections and underground piping can experience continuous leakage of hydrocarbon vapors. What’s particularly bad about below-grade fugitive emissions is that they will eventually condense, mix with water and ultimately cause groundwater contamination."
Two gallons saved for every thousand pumped may not sound like much. But for marketers who routinely sell hundreds of thousands of gallons, the savings quickly add up. Petro-Diamond, a bulk fueler based in Irvine, Calif., installed ARID's Permeator because "as gasoline prices went up, we wanted to recapture as much as possible rather than lose money by burning
vapors,” said general manager Mike Dougherty.
Previously, Petro-Diamond had relied solely on typical carbon beds to process vapors. But because the units could only process so many vapors at a time, terminal operators either had to slow down the loading of fuel trucks or add more carbon beds. "When the temperature rose or we were loading extra trucks, we needed additional volumes beyond what the carbon-based vapor recovery unit could hold," said Dougherty.
"Ripping out the old unit and installing a new one would have cost millions of dollars," continued Dougherty. So Petro-Diamond turned to ARID's patented membrane technology and, "We quickly recouped our investment through improved efficiency, reduced maintenance and being able to increase our throughput."
Such proactive marketers remain in the minority, but their numbers are increasing. "Though we haven’t seen a mainstream movement to install vapor-saving equipment when you don't have to," said Jay Walsh of Franklin Fueling Systems, "we’re working with a few customers that are going that way. They know by saving the vapors, they save liquid fuel and thus save energy.”
State of Regulations
Meanwhile, manufacturers continue to monitor regulatory developments. OPW's Brandon Grote cited Texas as a state that is addressing the incompatibility issue today, rather than simply waiting until Stage II systems can finally be decommissioned someday.
So far the Lone State State, said Grote, has certified hanging hardware products from five
manufacturers as being ORVR-compatible. OPW products are among those certified, including its 21Gv ORVR nozzle introduced in April. "It’s designed to make ORVR compliance easy and affordable by eliminating the need for proprietary ORVR vapor recovery equipment," explained Grote, "and thus significantly reducing your overall equipment, installation, and maintenance costs."
When fuel is pumped into an ORVR-equipped vehicle, a sensor in the nozzle detects the on-board canister and automatically shuts off the vapor flow to the Stage II recovery system. Less air is therefore ingested into underground storage tank.
"And because the nozzle uses standard M34 inverted coaxial inlet threads, it can be used with the majority of certified vapor recovery systems and hanging hardware,” added Grote. "Rather than having to swap out all the hardware, you can use standard, affordable, and readily available vacuum-assist vapor recovery hoses, breakaways, swivels, and whip hoses—and then simply change the nozzles.”
The other state being watched by manufacturers and marketers alike is California. While marketers have long been required to install Stage II vapor recovery systems—in California and many other states—California has gone further. Fueling sites in the Golden State were required by April 1, 2009, to comply with Phase II of the California Air Resources Board's (CARB) Enhanced Vapor Recovery (EVR) program. Gasoline dispensing facilities that have not installed approved nozzles and emission-control equipment now face fines or being red-tagged.
Despite legislative efforts to give retailers more time—some estimates suggest one-third of fueling sites are not yet compliant—most view an extension as unlikely. "We anticipate full
enforcement," said Veeder-Root's Jake Brown. "The good news is that, although many people rushed to order at the end of March, our stock has been replenished and we have equipment available today."
The eVRgreen System from Veeder-Root, a complete vapor recovery and monitoring system, was certified by CARB in 2008. "It’s designed to be a simple, cost-effective solution," explained Brown, "because retailers can expect less than half the installation time. And it integrates seamlessly into their existing operations."
Jay Walsh of Franklin Fueling Systems likewise pointed out, "Despite the popular idea that there would be a delay in the EVR implementation date, it's unlikely since the major oil companies have already completed their upgrades."
Indeed, by September 2009 sites with annual throughputs of more than 1.8 million gallons must install in-station diagnostics (ISD) to monitor the performance of their vapor recovery systems. Should failures occur then an alarm is triggered and, if corrective action is not taken, stations can be shut down. Sites whose yearly throughput is between 600,000 and 1.8 million gallons must install ISD by September 2010, and those whose throughput is less than 600,000 are exempt.
With its INCON ISD and Healy Systems, Franklin is addressing the needs of its California customers to comply with EVR mandates. "California's EVR program is the gold standard, the one that a lot of other states are watching," affirmed Walsh. But as product losses keep growing due to the incompatibility of Stage II and ORVR, he advised, "Fuel marketers nationwide have an increasing economic incentive to take action on their own."