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NGV Fueling Scrutinized For Potential Leaks

Ohio-based InsightFuel, a fuel line supplier and station contractor that markets its services as a natural gas vehicle (NGV) fueling leader, is raising a red flag about potential leaks at compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling installations where materials and workmanship don't meet the highest standards.

InsightFuel is warning about nine reasons that CNG fuel stations might spring leaks, ranging from poor training/equipment/installation techniques to poor tubing or a bent fitting.

"All these failure conditions happen, and all of the incidents can be fixed," the company said. "It happens in the field where it costs the most, takes the longest to repair and creates the most pain." Company officials promote the solution as: "Make sure you employ the products, processes, tools and equipment and people that will do the job right."

InsightFuel claims the potential problems start with a scarcity of experienced installers, but NGV industry representatives contacted by NGI were not overly concerned about the potential problem.

"This is not an issue from our perspective," a spokesperson for Newport Beach, CA-based Clean Energy Fuels Corp. said. "Our technicians and engineering plans account for this in the station design phase."

Trade organization NGVAmerica points out that CNG stations are pressure tested before beginning natural gas operations, and it is done to check on any manufacturing or installation issues cited by InsightFuel. InsightFuel calls the tests "the critical milestone" requiring passage at pressures 1.0-1.5 times design pressure levels.

"You can't pass with high pressure line leaks," InsightFuel officials said.

NGVAmerica's Ben Bowerson, director of technology and development, said the InsightFuel-cited issues "are all installation or manufacturing issues, nothing once the station is in operation."

Bowerson said that station equipment manufacturers have recommended inspection intervals to make sure that the station is operating as it should and is free of leaks. "NGVAmerica tracks incidents involving NGVs and stations, and I am not aware of any major incidents involving leaking CNG lines," he said.

In the fueling equipment manufacturing space, Norway-based Hexagon Composites said Wednesday that it is moving on a $44.9 million purchase of a Type IV CNG fuel cylinder maker, xperion, to improve its position in the light duty NGV market. The move was followed on Thursday by the closing of Hexagon's earlier announced purchase of heavy duty vehicle cylinder maker Agility. With the close of the merger, Agility Fuels Solutions now has been formed (see Daily GPI,June 20).

Hexagon Composites CEO Jon Erik Engeset said he is confident that the latest acquisition will boost the company's competitiveness, market penetration and shareholder value.

Based in Kassel, Germany, xperion makes lightweight all-composite Type IV CNG tanks. "By securing manufacturing capacity in Germany, Hexagon is expanding its position in Europe considerably," a company spokesperson said.

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week indicated it will explore options for further cutting nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from heavy duty trucks, EPA and the Department of Justice separately announced a settlement with Detroit Diesel Corp that resolved alleged violations of the federal Clean Air Act for selling heavy duty diesel engines that were not EPA-certified and did not meet applicable emission standards.

Under the settlement, Detroit Diesel will spend $14.5 million on projects to reduce NOx and other pollutants, along with paying a $14 million civil penalty.

Bowerson did not see the settlement as having an effect -- positive or negative -- on the NGV heavy-duty vehicle segment.  "NGV engines currently meet or exceed emission standards, and are required to meet the same as diesel engines," he said.

In Colorado, Italian-based X3Energy Group has purchased two "Skyblu" CNG fueling stations that its X3CNG Corp. will own and operate as public stations.

"The expansion into the U.S. market is consistent with our mission to grow in a dynamic market," said X3Energy Group CEO Giovani Baroni. "These stations serve as an anchor to our planned growth plans in the United States."

Officials with the Italian company see the CNG market in the United States as a growth opportunity, addressing "long-term sustainability goals and cost reduction objectives for fleet operators."

Meanwhile, Westport Fuel Systems last week named A-1 Alternative Fuel Systems as its national distributor and installation partner for CNG fuel systems for shuttle and paratransit buses, which it considers one of the stronger CNG markets.

Citing a long-standing relationship with A-1 going back to the 1990s, Westport officials they are taking the collaboration to a higher level. "They'll be our national bus distributor," said Paul Shaffer, vice president.

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