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Global Autogas Summit a great success

The Global Autogas Summit that took place on 2 October during the World LP Gas Forum 2013 in London was a great success. By Alexander Stöhr, Autogas Manager at WLPGA/AEGPL, reports.

Presentations

Delegates from all over the world had a chance to attend two panel discussions of the highest quality at the 2013 Global Autogas Summit in London. While the second half presented new technologies available and discussed technical challenges, the first half concentrated on external factors driving our market. The first session was opened by Eric Johnson of Atlantic Consulting, who ably chaired the discussion. He also reported on a database with over 355 000 emission values, including CO, CO2 and NOX, for all vehicles that had been type-approved in the past few years (see the accompanying article by Eric in this edition of Autogas Updates). The data, which was acquired from a German company, clearly show the real-life advantages of Autogas over conventional fuels.

Andy Eastlake, a former Millbrook testing grounds engineer who provided most of the emissions data, highlighted that – depending on technical development – certain emissions are “hyped” and so receive unjustified focus. This leads to strategies for engine development that are sub-optimal. Currently the focus is on CO2, as local air pollutants have already been reduced significantly. He added that LP Gas is often “left on the shelf”, or ignored as an alternative fuel, simply because vehicle manufacturers do not know about its benefits.

Ju Wan Kang of the Korean LPG Association identified a heavily regulated market as a threat to further development of the fuel. In Korea, for instance, as the use of Autogas is reserved for certain user groups, changes to regulations have drastic effects over fairly short periods of time making the Autogas market highly dependent on political decisions. The installation quality of Autogas systems is crucial. Poor installations support misconceptions of the fuel as being out of date and associated with loss of vehicle performance.

Bart van Aerle, of PRINS, who has worked on Autogas fuel systems for many years, also highlighted the importance of making refueling user-friendly. In Europe alone, there are four different connector types and most connectors need to be attached prior to each refueling. As a result, many potential customers are deterred from retrofitting their cars to run on Autogas.

Trevor Morgan of Menecon Consulting made the point that the Autogas industry needs to work much harder at selling the environmental case for Autogas to convince governments of the need for incentives. Because without them, Autogas would quite simply not exist. The reason why Autogas use remains so heavily concentrated in a few countries is because of big differences in the strength of policy incentives.

Ercüment Polat, Marketing Director with Aygaz, described the rapid expansion of Autogas sales during the 1990s in Turkey – up to then largely a cylinder market. Sales took off only in 1995, but today amount to 2.8 million tonnes, 75 % of total Turkish LP Gas demand and 11 % of global Autogas consumption. Although growth has slowed down from the 6-7 % per year rates seen in the 2000s to about 2% in recent years, demand is still growing while that for other fuels has been declining. The phenomenal success of Autogas in Turkey was achieved through intensive marketing and educational campaigns as well as major investments in infrastructure (today, only two in seven stations do not offer Autogas). These efforts have transformed Autogas from a “bad/cheap fuel” to a mainstream environmentally-friendly alternative. So much so that celebrities are now happy to be photographed next to their Autogas car.

Suyash Gupta described how the Indian Autogas market is becoming a more normal one after the government recently introduced effective measures to curtail the misuse of subsidised cooking fuel for automotive use. New limits on the volume of subsidised LP Gas that can be sold to each household are expected to catapult India from its current ranking of 68th in the world – possibly to as high as 5th as the 2.5 million Autogas vehicles on the road in India would suggest (see the accompanying article). This development should trigger the interest of automotive manufacturers in marketing Autogas models. On the emissions side, the climatic effects of black carbon must not be forgotten. It is all too easy to focus on the detrimental health effects of particulate emissions and forget the warming potential of this emission category.

In the United States, Autogas sales are still concentrated on commercial and governmental fleet operators. According to Stuart Weidie of Alliance AutoGas, a lack of public refueling infrastructure remains a problem. Technical problems sometimes associated with retrofitting the differing models available to private customers by many small workshops can also be effectively addressed by limiting the models available and making sure that retrofit conversions are carried out by highly specialised centres. He identified five conditions for the US Autogas market to grow:

  • Good technology
  • Professional installation
  • Infrastructure
  • Fuel supply
  • Service network for customers

Roy Willis of PERC, in the audience, brought up the issue of fuel quality, making the point that a good compromise between a tighter specification which focuses on physical properties and not primarily composition must be found. This will help the automotive industry to tune engines so as to fully take advantages of the benefits of using Autogas. These advantages become more pronounced as engine technology advances. Although existing standards already are a step forward, the LP Gas industry must abide by these rules when dispensing automotive fuel to customers and it needs to communicate this. The automotive industry is already involved in standardisation work discussing important matters such as the influence of certain components on knock behaviour and component durability.

Comments

There was a lot of feedback from the audience on these very important issues.

It is clear that where policies to incentivise the use of the fuel are in place, the main attraction – a quick payback on the upfront cost of converting to Autogas – needs to be monitored closely. Governmental support needs to be tailored to provide a large enough financial incentive to motorists to use Autogas whilst not pampering the fuel. To achieve this balance, communication is crucial. When doing this, it is therefore more important to stress the benefits of Autogas rather than simply compare it with other fuels.

One of the main stumbling blocks in developing the Autogas market seems to be the missing “long-term” promise that some other alternative fuels hold. That Autogas is still a fossil fuel can discourage governments from making a long-term commitment to provide the favourable tax treatment that is needed for Autogas demand to grow. The UK market demonstrates how a market can fail to take off despite fairly good conditions in the absence of such a commitment. Irregular support by the government can convert the fuel into a “has been”. Once tainted with this perception, the customer will ignore the fuel no matter how financially attractive it may be right now.

Emissions-wise, there are even greater benefits to reap from OEM solutions rather than after-market conversions. Also with a wider market base and the associated increase in vehicle numbers, the economics of an Autogas vehicle will become more competitive. It will possibly be the cheapest way to obtain further reductions in emissions, especially with respect to particulates, which Autogas vehicles do not emit. Reducing particulate emissions from diesel vehicles require expensive filters.

The investments in Autogas right along the supply chain should pay off as the availability of LP Gas to the global market is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years. Even the projected increase in demand from the petrochemical industry will not be able to absorb the surplus. The US LP Gas market in particular shows a healthy potential to grow significantly over the next few years as production of shale gas expands.

Technical reports

The second session of the day shifted to more tangible issues surrounding the different technical developments in response to regulation changes. Warring Neilsen of Elgas in Australia chaired this session, contributing his vast and long experience.

Looking forward, it is clear that not all engines produced in the medium term will be of the direct injection (DI) type, i.e. where the fuel is injected directly into the combustion chamber. While this might hold true, the existing vapour injection systems show limitations, which make further development necessary to meet the requirements of future regulations.

In order to address these aspects adequately and not isolate DI systems from the remainder of the range, Vialle has developed a mid-range liquid port fuel injection system which was launched the very day of the Summit. This package combines many elements of the existing DI-system with new components. Peter Rutten, the CEO of Vialle, is certain that it will be a success, thanks to a simplified and straightforward installation as well as a competitive price.

On the commercial vehicles side of the market, a window of opportunity is opening in the light duty vehicles market powered by diesel engines. Dual fuel diesel-Autogas systems have been developed with high levels of efficiency; even with relatively simple systems, fuel cost can be cut by 15 % at even moderate levels of taxation on Autogas.

Phil Treloar of Gasguard Australia, a wholly owned subsidiary of Elaflex, recommended the adoption of a more modern refueling connection system as the ease of refueling greatly affects the attractiveness of using Autogas to motorists. This may hold the key to making Autogas an attractive alternative fuel for the general public.

To find out more about the Global Autogas Summit, feel free to contact Alexander at Alexander.Stoehr@aegpl.be.