In our past newsletters, we discussed diurnal emissions and what the USA has done to reduce them. In addition, we described the basic ways these systems work. This month we’ll talk about different fuel system design goals and costs.
Boat builders often have different fuel system requirements. Perhaps safety is primary. Or, maybe installed cost is the focus. It could be that customer satisfaction from the ease of refueling is the goal. Maybe system simplicity or commonality of design across many models fits a builder with a continually changing workforce. Another builder may want to reduce long-term maintenance costs. And for some, achieving the maximum range possible is paramount. The list is endless.
Some of these goals are complementary. Others are mutually exclusive. Numerous factors make these goals easier or harder to achieve. The supplier matters. So does the shape of the tank and the size of the boat. Regardless, deciding on the performance requirements for a fuel system should be the first step of the design process.
So, what goals are common? And, what are the characteristics of those systems?
Safety – Generally, the safest systems operate at atmospheric pressure and may use more control valves. The lack of daily pressure swings puts less strain on seals, hoses, and clamps. Adding additional valves and more complex plumbing reduces the likelihood of venting problems. But that also adds to the installed cost.
Range – Adding more control valves or using two small tanks versus one large tank can increase the fuel a boat can carry. However, both will increase the installed cost.
System component cost – A pressurized system will cost less than an atmospheric system on smaller boats with one engine and one tank. That will be reversed for larger boats with a couple of tanks and two or more engines. The reason is that every additional engine and tank each requires its own fuel demand valve to prevent engine feedline pressurization. That isn’t the case with canisters. Many tanks and engines can share the same large canister. At 30 Euros or more per fuel demand valve, more engines and more tanks quickly add additional cost to pressurized systems.
Low Maintenance – There are systems available that use only one valve or have almost no moving parts to fail. They use air-fuel separators and stanchion tubes instead of tank-mounted valves. These systems are also among the least expensive options to purchase.
Ease of refueling – Adding an additional vent to handle only refueling vapors can significantly improve the ease and speed of refueling, but it will add slightly to the cost of the system.
Installed cost – Connecting valves in series can reduce hose length and the number of connections involved, lowering installed cost. But safety can be compromised in long-term storage at angles much beyond static rest.
So, what might one of these systems cost? The components (valves and canisters or FDVs) for a common 1-tank, 1-engine system would run around 110 Euros for a boat with one engine and one tank. Getting fancy might up that to nearly 135 Euros, and getting creative could drop it down to as little as 60 Euros. Installation and higher costing tanks could add another 100 to 150 Euros. So, systems for small boats probably cost between 175 and 275 Euros more than today’s systems.
For that, you get increased safety, easier refueling, cleaner air, and cleaner water. And over time, you will save on fuel. But, unless you understand these systems, it is easy to fall short of your goals in the design process. American fuel system component manufacturers and consultants developed a high level of expertise by working with these systems for a decade. Any of them can help European boatbuilders determine approaches that best fit their goals.
That is a significant advantage that American builders lacked. The EU will likely implement similar regulations on boats sold throughout Europe in the next three years. Then, no one builder will have a “green advantage” over any other. A proactive approach to move in this direction before competitors offers European builders two advantages. First, numerous people have the time and expertise to help builders design the best system for their needs. That will not be the case when this is regulated. The number of builders needing help will stretch the few groups with that knowledge too thin – just like they did in the USA 10 years ago. Not every builder will get the type of help to make a cost and performance difference. And second, there is no green advantage to promote when all your competitors are doing the same thing.
It won’t be long before all European builders install these systems. Now is the time to determine whether the best strategy for your company is to be proactive or reactive. Two years from now, that strategic option will likely be gone.
George B. Bellwoar, GMBA United States
Tel:: +1 954 646 5920
Disclaimer: Global Marine Business Advisors is a registered legal entity and is a network of independent marine industry advisors. In all articles the opinions expressed are those of the author and does not necessarily reflect those of GMBA.