By Bruce Montroy, Senior Vice President of Sales, Bergquist Inc.
If you think about how many different kinds of Oreo cookies are available on the market now compared to just 10 or 20 years ago, it’s easy to see the value in finding new ways to use a familiar product. New uses or configurations of existing goods increase sales and profits.
The propane industry is no different. We’re always looking for fresh ways to use the product. Home heating has long been the staple upon which gallons are built and is still the biggest market for propane in the U.S. In most parts of the country, however, home heating use has become stagnant or is declining – mostly due to homes being more energy efficient. What’s a marketer to do to grow their business and profits?
Well, in a lot of ways it takes looking to the past with new technology. Propane Autogas is a perfect example. The propane Autogas market has become more popular over the past several years with fleet operators all across the country. While price has certainly been a factor in converting vehicles to propane, cleaner emissions also have been a factor to many – especially in urban locations. Some, especially school bus operators, are going away from the high prices of diesel units, which also include high maintenance costs.
As Autogas gallons have increased incrementally, there has been one major drawback that has impeded faster growth. The cumbersome connection that has been used to fill the vehicle tank has been a drawback for almost as long as there have propane-powered vehicles.
Almost everyone in the propane industry is familiar with the 1 ¾-inch ACME fitting on ASME tanks, vehicle-mounted (Autogas) tanks, and on many DOT forklift cylinders. It is a good, solid connection that is easily used by trained propane personnel. But, it is clumsy and not intuitive for the general public when filling Autogas tanks. The twisting of the nozzle requires proper alignment and some amount of strength. And, it requires the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) because of the release of propane liquid to the atmosphere when the connection is broken.
Now, the U.S. propane industry has solved this problem with the Euro-style quick-connect nozzle and fitting. The quick-connect nozzle has been used in Europe for many years and is a proven, safe, and economical method to fill an Autogas tank. The nozzle will not release propane unless it is attached to the tank fitting. The nozzle requires just one hand to operate and is self-aligning. As a testament to its inherent safety, this quick-connection technology does not require the use of gloves or other personal protective equipment since it releases less than .4cc of propane when disconnected. Furthermore, cross-threading – a potential issue with an ACME connection – is eliminated.
The conversion is easy. It’s simply a matter of changing out the hose-end nozzle and the remote fill connection on the vehicle tank. It’s simple, but because liquid propane is released into the atmosphere during the change-out, it should only be done by trained propane professionals.
The industry is so optimistic about this new technology that the Propane Education and Research Council (PERC) is offering rebates of $500 per Autogas dispenser nozzle and $50 per remote fill connection. For details and limitations check out their website at www.propanecouncil.org/quick-connect-incentive.
This new technology has already been adapted for filling forklift cylinders. Any company with a substantial volume of forklift business can save time and money using the new Snap-Fill forklift filler valve and Euro style quick-connect hose-end nozzle. Marketers are reporting time savings of 15 seconds per cylinder. Additionally, the ergonomic benefits are sure to reduce worker compensation claims. Cylinder fillers appreciate the convenience of the quick-connect nozzle because it eliminates all the wrist twisting action of a traditional 1 ¾-inch ACME connection. And, the amount of product released into the atmosphere is reduced to near zero when filling cylinders by weight (on scales).
Like the Nabisco with the Double Stuf, Chocolate Crème or Golden Oreo, the propane industry is moving forward with new ways to market its product. Propane Autogas will be sticking around for a while. The quick-connect nozzle and fittings have helped to make propane the most popular alternative vehicle fuel in Europe. We’re betting it does the same here in the U.S.
Bruce Montroy joined Bergquist in 1992. He is a second-generation gasser with over 40 years of propane industry experience. He is Past President of the Michigan Propane Gas Association and former Chairman of the NPGA’s Education, Training, and Safety Committee. He is a current member of the NPGA’s CETP Certification Committee and PERC’s Safety Training Advisory Committee. Reach him at Bruce.firstname.lastname@example.org.