These are very interesting times for stakeholders in the fuels ecosystem. While it’s likely safe to assume that liquid hydrocarbon fuel will continue to play a significant role for decades, what will be the prevailing formulation 5 years or 10 years from now? And how to prepare for the next alternative wave be it electric, natural gas, hydrogen or [insert evolutionary energy source here]? Considering all the factors which could influence our future energy needs-- macro-economic trends, policy, regulation, market, compliance, mobility shifts, vehicle development and infrastructure readiness-- it is incumbent upon industry to engage more than ever before to assure a smooth transition down that future path.
This is very important when it comes to those of us in the supply chain supporting the global fuels infrastructure. Companies who wish to remain viable and support their customers longer term need to pay close attention to the aforementioned factors. The implications of not doing this can be learned from a historical example 25 years ago concerning the need to capture emissions during vehicle re-fueling. Clean air regulations spreading around the country were causing fuel stations to upgrade their equipment to remain in compliance.
Older, passive vapor recovery systems were considered bulky and slowed product flow so there was a rush to provide a more user-friendly method. Assisted systems were quickly brought to market which used a vacuum pump in the dispenser to capture vapor from the nozzle and the concept took off. However, at about the same time the auto industry was considering a method to address refueling emissions by developing a canister in the vehicle to capture vapors and shortly thereafter ORVR-equipped cars and trucks were introduced in 1998.
Why did this matter you ask? During this whole period there was little to no interaction between petroleum equipment suppliers and the autos to formulate a joint approach to address the issue; we developed our respective solutions in silos. This might have been OK but for the fact that dispenser VR systems and ORVR vehicles are incompatible and 15 years later we were unplugging millions of dollars’ worth of station equipment once the population of such cars reached significant levels. Not only was a lot of money needlessly spent but development focus could have shifted to other opportunity areas.
Along with many others I learned a valuable lesson from that experience about the importance of remaining connected with all the industry stakeholders. Fortunately today we are doing a better job of understanding the bigger picture than we did back then. The closer we engage those within the greater ecosystem the better the long term result will be. This is one of the primary values that an organization like the Fuels Institute provides by enabling a means to facilitate such a necessary engagement at such a critical time.
Read more from the May Issue of our Fuel for Thought newsletter.