By Keith Reid
Motor fuel additives are as old as the fuels themselves and are common components of gasoline and diesel today. They solve a range of issues from helping the fuel perform better in an engine to reducing pollutants to protecting the engine itself from the combustion process.
Of all of the more common fuels, propane/autogas has seen little emphasis on post-production additization. It has generally been delivered as a ready-to-use liquid fuel that leaves the tank in gaseous form. ValvTect Petroleum Products, based in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, has been an exception. It began offering propane additive solutions in late 2015 with the acquisition of Energy Additives Inc. These solutions provide a range of benefits to both the customer and, potentially, to the savvy fuel marketer.
“We had the opportunity to purchase a company a few years ago from an older gentleman who was a developer and marketer of propane additives for over 20 years,” said David Grochocki, Vice President of Operations for ValvTect. “He wanted to get out of the business, so we spent a couple of years redeveloping it and going through the engineering. We’re part of Republic Powder Metals so we had a lot more dollars behind this than he had and we were able to make it a modern, everyday product.”
Although propane is currently a commodity product widely used in unadditized form, that does not mean there is no room for improvement.
“You have the same problems with propane as you do with the other fuels,” said Grochocki. “Maybe not as bad, but you still have exhaust emissions, you still have particulates and maintenance issues, especially in propane vaporizers and things like that. You always have the cutting and welding market with acetylene and propylene, and there are a variety of areas in those processes that can be improved.”
While not unique, such propane additives are not commonplace. According to Grochocki, the challenge is getting an additive to remain in solution as the product shifts between liquid and gaseous forms. All Lumin products contain CH25X technology, which is the process that keeps the products in solution through all the phases. “That’s an important feature because there are other products out there that we know of that do not do not hold up well going through the different phases,” he said. “And we’ve had customers that we’ve gotten because their previous product didn’t stay in solution all the time or it fell out after a couple of months.”
The company offers three different products under its Lumin line.
- CGX-4®—Provides detergent and stabilizing technology to reduce heavy end buildup and improve combustion in propane-powered motor equipment (trucks, cars, forklifts, lawn equipment).
- Vapo-Kleen™—Removes deposits, reduces emissions and helps keep tanks and industrial equipment clean and maintenance-free in all propane-powered stationary equipment (grain dryers, pumps, agricultural and industrial heaters).
- HGX-3®—Designed for cutting applications: it promotes rapid heat transfer, faster cutting and reduced slag formation versus acetylene and propylene applications.
In addition, ValvTect offers BlueMoon® Filters, which are propane filtration for individual units, delivery trucks, transports, storage tanks and bulk plants.
Autogas is commonly promoted as being a cleaner-burning alternative fuel, which it is. However, autogas, in large part because of that performance, is used in equipment that operates in confined spaces where clean-burning takes on new meanings.
“There’s an armory in Joliet, Illinois. This is an enclosed system—you can’t have any moisture in the air and it has to be locked down for security,” said Grochocki. “So, the environment for forklift trucks is very limited because of the exhaust emissions. We were able to increase the amount of forklift trucks from eight trucks to twelve trucks. So, they were able to increase their productivity by 50 percent by using the additive because it cuts the emissions.”
Grochocki also noted that the propane vaporizers commonly used in applications like powder coating can benefit from a “cleaner” clean fuel. “These big furnaces have to be cleaned maybe an average of three times a year so you can get the gunk out,” he said. “There are still particulates, there are still water problems, and there are still icing issues. What would happen if you only had to do that once a year?”
For the Propane Marketer
While the Lumin additives can solve specific performance challenges, ValvTect hopes that the product line additionally helps marketers solve some of their challenges—like increased profitability. The additized fuel can be sold as a “premium” product in what is today a commodity market.
“You always want to differentiate yourself with a commodity if you can, because then all you have left is your service and everybody’s always striving for the best service or better service or that kind of thing,” said Grochocki.
The best analogy can likely be found with Bioheat premium heating oil. This product is a mixture of ultra-low sulfur heating oil and biodiesel. It provides a range of performance benefits such as reduced furnace maintenance while at the same time being seen as renewable and clean-burning. These performance parameters have strong customer appeal in the Northeast where oil heat remains a solid heating solution.
“We think about 25 to 35 percent of motor fuel distributors selling gasoline and diesel also sell propane,” said Grochocki. “They’ve been in the business awhile and they know how to sell a premium product. Some people want premium and this is the very same concept. Fuel distributors have welcomed it pretty well, though it has tended to be a new concept for traditional propane distributors.”
Although premium propane would be a niche, Grochocki noted that the solutions are inexpensive. A fuel distributor can reach a point where all of the fuel can be additized and the distributor markets premium propane as part of their brand identity.
“Picking up 25 accounts by offering an additized fuel might be the break-even point on additizing the entire propane product offering,” Grochocki said. “Then when you go to market you can say my product is filtered, it’s additized—it’s the best propane you can buy out there. And when people shop price, if you’re two or three cents higher and you’re a good service provider, it’s not going to be an issue.”
The concept should also be viable in existing and more traditional business opportunities.
“We were talking about service contracts with one distributor and he says, ‘Why should I put in the additive if I have a service contract? That guy’s paying for it,’ ” Grochocki said. “I agreed, but you now have to go out three times a year to service the contract. With additization, that drops to once a year. Plus, you sell him a better fuel and you have a happier customer because the equipment’s not breaking down. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”
According to Grochocki the primary premium market would be commercial and industrial customers. However, as with Bioheat, it would not be surprising to see some residential propane heat customers favoring a lower emissions propane product in “green” regions like the Northeast and West Coast.
From an operational standpoint, the additives can be added anywhere from the rack on down, though it would typically be applied at the distributor’s bulk facility. The process can be as simple as a separate pipe section with a shutoff and fill port or a pressurized injection system. The distributor can additize all the propane on the site or per load.