European Autogas connector accepted with great enthusiasm in the USA
A total of six different connectors used throughout the world has kept international automakers scratching their head when adapting to the different local markets. With the introduction of the European style connector (also known as Euroconnector or Euronozzle) in the U.S. at Autogas fuelling and fleet headquarters, the global market may be a decisive step closer to finally solving the problem of which connector to choose as the “single unified global connector”. Its great advantages in safety, environmental aspects through lower emissions and ease-of-use led to an enthusiastic acceptance by operators and customers alike. The system is perceived as so superior to all others available up to now, that all who have experienced its use in practice firmly believe it will improve the overall experience and perception of Autogas at a national level. Several industry leaders in the U.S. forecast a widespread adoption and ultimately the replacement of the 1¾-inch Acme connector currently in use for Autogas applications.
Mississippi-based Blossman Gas initiated the transition to the European nozzle technology, when it heard of incidents and complaints from the field regarding current components, says Jessie Johnson, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing.
Industry stakeholders found it so important that a meeting was held on the matter earlier this year during the Southeastern Convention & International Propane Expo in Atlanta. They quickly agreed that the industry would move forward with the European-style technology. It is their opinion that this technology provides the most positive fueling experience for the customer and sets a high standard which will help promoting Autogas as a modern fuel. Industry partners are now moving forward with a nozzle manufactured by Swiss company Staubli, with headquarters for North America in Duncan, South Carolina. The nozzle, which is used primarily in Spain and Portugal, has receivedthe much needed UL approval from Underwriters Laboratories, Johnson says.
Apart from Stäubli, another international manufacturer – Elaflex – is having its version of the European nozzle UL-approved, says Tucker Perkins, chief business development officer for the Propane Education & Research Council. An interesting feature of the ZVG 2 is its modularity. Much like the GasGuard this new and very light nozzle incorporates three different connection contours (Euro, Dish and ACME) all based on the same body.
Benefits of the European technology
Rodney Johnson of Alliance AutoGas highlights the benefits of refueling vehicles with a European-style nozzle. It does not connect to the vehicle through a thread. Instead, it fastens through a snap-on or a quick connect.
“Once the handle is engaged, there’s a positive locking mechanism around the connector,” Johnson says. “No gas comes from the nozzle unless it’s connected, and when you release the handle you pull it right back off.”
At the moment of release another great advantage can be observed: much less LPG escapes at the moment of disconnection. With the European connector, only 0.4 cubic centimeters of fuel are emitted, compared to the much higher levels on most other connectors. On the latters’ release, it’s not unusual for the person filling the vehicle to see and smell LPG or even run the risk of cold burns.
“Not only is that a big difference in quantity, it’s a huge difference in what it looks like, sounds like and feels like to the user,” Perkins says of the European nozzle. “No longer are gloves required; no longer are goggles required. It’s a very positive experience.”
U.S. testing has been ongoing mostly in smaller fleets mainly for sake of familiarisation. Yellow Cab of Columbus, Ohio, which operates 36 of its 150-plus-vehicle fleet on Autogas, is one of the larger test sites. “The difference is one screws on and one clamps on,” says Jeff Kates, the company’s president, in comparing the nozzles. “The screw-on was adequate but not ideal.”
Kates says the process to replace connectors took about 10 minutes per vehicle, and the nozzle replacement on the dispenser involved a quick change-out. Yellow Cab did the work in-house, though Superior offered support.
The safety attributes currently being confirmed through testing will hopefully lead to a more relaxed training syllabus. This would accelerate the widespread adoption of Autogas throughout the country, Perkins says. The well tested design is referenced in UN/ECE-Regulation Nr. 67-01 and has been introduced in Spain with quite some success. It quickly displaced the old previous connector and contributed to a rapid expansion of the Autogas market.
U.S. Industry Transition
Vehicles must be outfitted with a European-style connector for the Euronozzle to fit. If either the nozzle or the connector is missing, the vehicle can be refuelled by means of an adapter.
“We’re trying to bring all the pieces together at once,” Johnson says. “Connectors for the cars are already made. Adapters let the transition happen between the current nozzle and new connector or the [European] nozzle and the old Acme connector that might be on the vehicle.”
It is planned to distribute the nozzle and to begin installing the new connection on all autogas vehicle conversions throughout the network of Alliance Autogas, Johnson says.
“At the end of the day, everybody is for it. The nozzle is lighter and easier to connect, and it puts propane in a more positive light,” says Curtis Donaldson, managing director and founder of autogas dispenser manufacturer CleanFuel USA. “But how do we go about doing it in an organized manner that transitions us and, most importantly, takes care of our customers?”
The process of incorporating the new technology throughout the industry is estimated to take between two and to five years, depending on the industry’s commitment. A video comparison has been prepared by the sympathetic team of gazeo.com and can be found on youtube.
The Automotive Industry
Two drivers of the transition are OEMs adopting the new technology and individual fleets requesting the new nozzle technology, he says. Donaldson is also monitoring UPS’ plans to test the nozzle as part of its 1,000-vehicle purchase earlier this year.
Roush CleanTech, for example, which retrofits Ford vehicles with propane autogas systems, says it will adjust its standard nozzle offering as needed, based on customer demand and add an adaptor for the “other” connection standard.
“Roush CleanTech applauds the industry for moving to this technology,” says Todd Mouw, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing, in a prepared statement. “The Euro nozzle offers a positive fill experience for the end user, reduces fugitive emissions and puts us on par with how autogas is dispensed around the world.”
The Global Perspective
The world in the meantime observes closely how only a few markets have actually performed the transition. Especially with the more mature Autogas markets, the reluctance to change out the standard connector for the entire infrastructure is understandable. Admittedly, companies moving, storing and ultimately dispensing Autogas often need to focus on more prominent issues, than the shape of the “thing” which connects to their nozzle. Because the drivability of a vehicle and the way it is refuelled are the two main ways to experience a source of energy, the Autogas nozzle is the single most important element of interface between the fuel marketer and the customer. Decision makers will want to keep in touch with the beneficial effect and especially look into the real cost of converting their infrastructure with a long-term plan, especially since modern cars often have a two piece filling valve in order to be able to position it behind the fuel door.