By Ed Kammerer, OPW

If you think about it, a great deal of faith and trust is put in the drivers who refuel their vehicles at the country’s 150,000-plus self-service fueling stations. These fallible humans, who can be prone to distraction and carelessness, complete thousands of these operations involving highly flammable liquids every day, and yet there are an infinitesimally small number of catastrophic incidents that occur as a result.

While conscientious drivers deserve a great deal of the credit for this, an equally important portion goes to the companies that have made the commitment over the years to develop gasoline-dispensing systems and equipment that are designed to maximize the safety of the fueling process.

Still, there has been one piece of equipment – the actual fuel nozzle itself – that has awaited the full implementation of operational optimization. That’s because at the end of every refueling operation a precious few drops of gasoline or diesel fuel remain in the nozzle spout. Most of these drops are allowed to trickle out, with the bulk finding their way to the ground where there is the chance that an ignition source can ignite them and cause a fire or explosion. Or, at the very least, end up on the driver’s shoes or vehicle.

 

Addressing The Concerns

Over the years, nozzle manufacturers have made many significant advances in the design and operation of their products. The  recent goal in these advances has been the elimination of fuel loss or retention at the conclusion of the fueling process (dripping nozzles) that can – at its most spectacular (in a bad way) – create a fire risk, but can also present various other more subtle concerns for drivers, retailers and the environment if they are allowed to escape to the atmosphere or remain inside the fuel spout.

In recent years, manufacturers have made progress in eliminating all risk during fueling operations by concentrating on the idea that fuel nozzles could be made “dripless.” In that time, all but one has settled on a specific nozzle-spout design that is capable of accomplishing this task. This design houses gutters, ripples and dams within the spout to create “liquid-catching” surfaces that ostensibly prevent the fuel from dripping out of the nozzle.

While this design is effective in keeping those fugitive drops of fuel from reaching the ground, vehicle and the driver’s hands or clothes, the fuel that is retained in the “liquid-catching” style of nozzle still poses an environmental hazard. The inherent problem with this design is that when the nozzle spout is returned to the dispenser cradle, it is filled with fuel (in most cases, more fuel than what would have traditionally dripped on the ground). This captured fuel is now exposed to the atmosphere as the nozzle sits in the cradle, which creates emissions that are heavy in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as the fuel evaporates and escapes into the environment.

Knowing that there still had to be a better way to more reliably deal with those final drops, OPW created a different type of free-draining fuel nozzle that would not require any liquid-catching surfaces. The features of this new nozzle design and operation are:

  • A dripless technology that offers a free-draining spout with no dams, gutters or hidden reservoirs to capture fuel for later release into the atmosphere
  • A specially designed interlock system, available on some models, that prevents fuel from flowing unless the spout is fully inserted into the vehicle’s fill pipe
  • A shutoff system that halts fuel flow when the nozzle is tipped up or falls out of the vehicle
  • Advanced double-poppet, to-the-penny flow-control technology
  • Comfortable two-piece hand insulator
  • UL and cULus listing
  • California Air Resources Board (CARB) approval (for models that feature a special interlock system)

 

Checking All The Boxes

A critical concern when developing this new nozzle was ensuring that it satisfied all of the various regulations that govern the release of VOCs at fueling sites. Since 1990, the use of Stage II gasoline vapor-recovery systems have been required by states to combat the release of excess fueling emissions. In addition, Onboard Refueling Vapor Recovery (ORVR) equipment was phased in for new vehicles and was first implemented in 2001 for light-duty vehicles. However, the addition of ORVR to the vehicles essentially allowed them to do nothing more than reprocess their own vapors when they were being refueled.

In 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a policy called the “Widespread Use for ORVR and Stage II Waiver.” In this action, the EPA essentially eliminated the largely redundant Stage II requirement in order to ensure that refueling vapor-control regulations were beneficial without being unnecessarily burdensome to retail petroleum marketers. The main reason for the amended policy was that a large majority of vapor-recovery systems were not compatible.

In fact, they were not only incompatible, but also counterproductive. The operation of Stage II vapor-recovery systems is designed to suck the vapor out of a vehicle fill pipe while fueling. However, at the same time a vehicle outfitted with ORVR is simultaneously trying to collect the same vapors; in effect, the Stage II system is working at cross-purposes to the ORVR canister and just collecting clean air. The ultimate result is that the vapor-recovery nozzle is introducing clean air into the underground storage tank (UST), which can lead to vapor growth and tank over-pressurization. When this phenomenon occurs, more fuel evaporates and more harm is done to the environment.

The conventional (non-Stage II vapor-recovery) nozzle solves this conundrum because it is not collecting any vapors. Now by adding the free-draining design, the nozzle also meets VOC-reduction requirements since it enables the draining of the residual fuel out of the spout and into the vehicle before the nozzle is removed and replaced in its cradle. Think of this technology as a waterfall where everything runs downhill with no resistance.

In addition to keeping flammable fuel off the ground, the vehicle and the driver, along with reducing VOC emissions, the free-draining nozzle design offers a variety of other benefits to all concerned parties:

  • The Driver – Fugitive drops have been paid for, and those that dribble out of or are retained in the nozzle and not allowed to enter the fuel tank cannot be used to power the vehicle. Also, gasoline or diesel fuel could potentially get on the driver’s hands, clothes or shoes and would need to be washed off immediately, while fuels that run down the side of the vehicle can affect the vehicle’s finish.
  • The Retailer – Spilled fuel will stain the concrete around the fuel island, creating an unattractive and unwelcoming fuel site and less-than-desirable brand image. Fugitive fuel will also gather on the nozzle trigger, hand insulator and fuel guard, making it dirty and unappealing for customers to handle. Longer term, excessive amounts of spilled fuel, or the accumulation of spilled fuel over time, will necessitate a cleanup program and, along with it, associated costs and pump-island downtime.
  • The Environment – Every VOC that is allowed to escape into the atmosphere has the potential to compromise breathable air. Additionally, allowing the escape of excessive fugitive VOCs runs counter to the growing corporate missions that are designed to make the fueling process “greener,” cleaner, safer and more environmentally friendly.

Since the invention of the automobile, the loss of fuel at the completion of the vehicle-fueling process has been one of those inescapable facts of life, much like death or taxes. Today, though, new free-draining fuel-nozzle technology helps ensure that every drop of fuel will reach the vehicle’s fuel tank. This not only helps eliminate the risk of a catastrophic occurrence at the fueling island or the release of excessive levels of VOCs to the atmosphere, but also creates many ancillary benefits for the driver, the retailer and the environment.

 

Ed Kammerer is the Director of Global Product Management for OPW, based in Cincinnati, OH, USA. He can be reached at ed.kammerer@opwglobal.com. OPW is leading the way in fueling solutions and innovations worldwide. OPW delivers product excellence and the most comprehensive line of fueling equipment and services to retail and commercial fueling operations around the globe. For more information on OPW, please go to OPWGlobal.com.