5 Fueling Game Changers

Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Fuels, CSP

cars on highway

CHICAGO -- There is perhaps no industry riper for disruption than transportation fueling, and judging by the content and conversations at the recent Fuels Institute’s annual conference, change could come from any—or all—directions.

Attendance at the Fuels2018 conference, held May 22-24 in Chicago, was about 40% higher than the previous year's event, according to John Eichberger, executive director of the Fuels Institute, Alexandria, Va. A mix of more than 150 representatives from fuel retailers, equipment manufacturers, analysts, academia, automakers and fuel industry groups listened to presentations that addressed the future of fueling and transportation.

They also had an opportunity to judge presentations by three teams of students in the conference’s annual University Case Competition about how a hypothetical fuel retailer could take advantage of a changing transportation fueling market.

Here are five game-changing developments that kept the room buzzing during the three-day event ...

Photo courtesy of Darinburt.


1. EV vs. ICE

tesla charging

Are we there yet? That’s the perennial question U.S. fuel marketers may have with electric vehicles (EVs). Depending on the forecast, EVs will make up either 5% or 50% of the new vehicle fleet within the next two decades. Here in the United States, EVs now barely represent 1% market share and are facing headwinds from relatively low gasoline prices and scant charging infrastructure. At the same time, low fuel costs are pushing consumers toward SUVs and trucks, tilting the mix of the vehicle fleet toward an even split of passenger cars.

Meanwhile, automakers continue to make progress on improving the fuel efficiency of the internal combustion engine (ICE) with technologies such as start-stop, turbocharging and gasoline direct injection. These are currently less expensive approaches to boosting mileage than electrification.

Photo courtesy of CC0 Creative Commons.

2. Diesel's Quality Problem


Attendees at the Fuels2018 event had several questions for panelists discussing the diesel quality issues plaguing the heavy-duty-truck sector. Truckstop operators and other retailers to fleets are hearing complaints from customers about fuel and tank issues after filling up.

Multiple issues seem to be at play—everything from the tighter tolerances of modern high-pressure common rail diesel engines to the lower lubricity of ultra-low-sulfur diesel. The group of fuel suppliers, refiners, truck and engine manufacturers agreed that a collaborative approach is key to solving the problem. To this end, the Fuels Institute has created the Fuel Quality Council, a group of diesel retailers, suppliers, fueling equipment and vehicle manufacturers tasked with studying the diesel performance issues in high-pressure common rail diesel engines and evaluating the possible solutions.

Photo courtesy of phaisarn2517.

3. The carbon issue


Despite the United States’ plan to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, the issue of climate change is not going away. The topic popped up in several presentations at the Fuels2018 conference. This included how the Paris pact countries may try to meet their goal of keeping the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by supporting EV growth, introducing new fuel-economy standards or pushing biofuel use.

It’s a problem that major oil companies such as BP refer to as “the dual challenge”: providing energy to support the world’s growing needs but reducing fossil fuels’ greenhouse-gas footprint. And as with any complex problem, there is no one solution, with everything from increased EV use and more efficient vehicles to carbon capture and sequestration under consideration.

Photo courtesy of Ensup.

4. A high-octane future?

high octane

Octane has gotten a lot of press lately, with talk of the possibility of a high-octane fuel standard replacing the Renewable Fuel Standard and a push by the Big Three automakers to introduce 95 RON gasoline (a higher-octane alternative to current fuels). The reason for this octane obsession is the drive to increase the fuel efficiency of the internal combustion engine (ICE). Some projections suggest that even with aggressive adoption of EVs, more than 90% of light-duty vehicles on the road will still have an ICE in 2035.

Also noteworthy: There are emerging, highly efficient engine technologies that are not necessarily suited to higher-octane fuels. This raises a question: Would policymakers sacrifice the future potential of those technologies if they require high-octane fuels?

The Fuels Institute will be releasing a study later this summer that examines the implications of widespread adoption of high-octane fuel.

Photo courtesy of sasilsolutions.


5. The aftershocks of autonomous vehicles


On the surface, autonomous vehicles appear simple: automobile transportation with no human driver. But their potential effects on society and energy consumption are massive, if poorly understood. Studies have projected that the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles (AVs) could result in up to a 200% jump or down to an 80% decline in energy usage, depending on how people ultimately use them.

Considering the effects of AVs on society is like opening a Pandora’s box full of questions: Will AVs encourage a shift from private to public vehicle ownership and mobility as a service? If those who don’t own a car, how would they spend the money that would have been devoted to its purchase and maintenance? What effect will AV adoption have on the 4 million people employed as professional drivers? While AVs will help prevent injuries and deaths from human-caused automotive accidents, how will the jobs of the doctors and nurses who would have treated them change?

These questions will likely not be answered and more wil likely be added by the next Fuels Institute annual conference, Fuels2019, to be held May 21-23, 2019, in a location to be determined.

Photo courtesy of Dllu.