Fuels of the future were a key topic at last month’s UNITI expo in Stuttgart where exhibitors covering all elements of the forecourt and car wash sector were out in force.

The three-day event saw 467 exhibitors from 37 countries and a record number of visitors from 120 nations, come together to share the latest developments and innovations in the world of fuel retailing. The exhibition was divided into four themed areas: technology, payment and logistics; car wash and car care; oil companies and fuel retailers; and shop and convenience.

There was also a strong programme of presentations, during which the various trends and challenges, particularly as regards alternative fuels, were discussed at length. Key among these was a presentation by Sybille Riepe, communications manager from H2 Mobility, the company established in 2015 whose mission is the "swift, efficient development of the hydrogen infrastructure needed for fuel cell vehicles, in order to provide nationwide coverage".

Air Liquide, Daimler, Linde, OMV, Shell and Total jointly formed H2 Mobility and the company is advised and supported by the associated partners: BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota and Volkswagen, as well as Germany’s National Organisation for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NOW GmbH).

Riepe said more companies in Germany were beginning to move to hydrogen because of its many benefits: "If you want to fuel up fast, drive far and use heavy vehicles, hydrogen has many advantages compared to battery-electric power," she said. She also quoted KPMG’s Global Automotive Executive Survey 2018 which revealed that fuel cell electric vehicles have replaced battery electric vehicles as this year’s number one key trend until 2025.

Although fully electric drivetrains dominated the ranking again this year, trends indicate that the future technology roadmap is likely to see various drivetrain technologies co-existing.

She explained that the company’s first interim goal is to operate 100 hydrogen stations in seven German metropolitan areas (Hamburg, Berlin, Rhine-Ruhr, Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Stuttgart and Munich), and along the connecting arterial roads and motorways, by 2019. This will be followed by another 300 as the vehicle numbers are ramped up. The hydrogen stations will preferably be integrated into existing filling stations. "Our mission at H2 Mobility in Germany is to show that hydrogen works," she stressed. "And what we do here can and is being followed in other countries."

OPW president Kevin Long spoke about his company’s strategy for Europe to bring to market "a real end-to-end solution in the retail fuelling space".

"This starts with our flexible underground piping, our tank-top products and our overfill protection, down to our retail nozzles. But what we really want to highlight at the show is our innovation in bringing what’s next to the industry. Central to our stand is our innovative products in spill containment to secondary containment, which really brings the best of the KPS, Fibrelite and OPW brands together to bring watertight solutions that the market hasn’t seen before." He said OPW, KPS and Fibrelite had continued to go from strength to strength operating under OPW using their combined knowledge and portfolio, with parent company Dover Corporation enabling investment in new developments.

One of the highlights of the stand was the Aqueous Ethanol Float Sensor which can eliminate false phase separation alarms. It monitors water levels from as little as 8mm. The company claims the sensor provides the earliest detection of phase separation and identifies phase separation in ethanol blends up to E85. "This sensor continuously monitors fuel quality, providing real-time, thermal corrected density readings that accurately account for temperature changes within the tank," stressed Long.

Showcasing the company’s centralised ATG polling software, Leighton O’Brien CEO Reed Leighton said fuel retailer imperatives to make informed decisions based on return on investment with greater intelligence about their network is driving smart alarm innovation. "Fuel retailers shouldn’t solely rely on ATG alarms or raw data to manage their wet-stock inventory," he said. "False, isolated or simple alarms can result in unnecessary maintenance spend or steer focus away from what’s really happening with your tank system. Our Wetstock Live platform has integrated, smart, data-driven alarms that builds on a retailer’s ATG investment to provide an aggregate insight into their wet-stock operations.

"If you’re not monitoring smart alarms underpinned by true, accurate data, how do you really know if your gauges are reading correctly, or your pump flow slows and you’re giving away fuel?

"Delivered through a software-as-a-service model, Wetstock Live enables oil companies to better manage their internal wet-stock operations," he said. "It’s a key part of our strategy to deliver intelligence from the cloud for our customers.

"What this means is fuel retailers can do away with expensive data collection devices on site and costly ATG upgrades at site to monitor their network. Instead we can install a polling engine behind customer firewalls to collect all of the ATG data to enable real time monitoring of ATGs."

Leighton O’Brien, which partners with Suresite in the UK on wet stock, also showcased its fuel polishing technologies which address fuel quality and water intrusion issues, malfunctioning dispensers and ATGs, blocked filters, bacterial growth, diesel bugs and phase separation.

In the car wash area, Kevin Pay, managing director of Wilcomatic, which sells Christ car washes in the UK, explained the merits of Christ’s new top-of-the-range rollover wash unit, the Aquatus Prime. "It’s been redesigned and refined, so you can have brushes, you can have touchless, or you can have brushes and touchless as a combination. It’s everything you need in a car wash in one."

The new wash features innovative scanning technology to glean the exact shape of the car and enable more accurate high-pressure cleaning of the vehicle. It also features the smart wheel wash device which recognises the large variations in wheel sizes and axle heights between small cars and SUVs and adjusts its brush reach accordingly. "This is a premium car wash which is likely to appeal to an independent retailer who is really interested in car washing someone who recognises that they can increase the value per wash and get a good income; someone who is confident they have a customer base that’s going to pay more to get a good wash; someone who goes for the best innovations and gets a good return," said Pay.

"If you make an investment and you’re offering a very good quality product, you’ll make money. If you have old equipment that’s tatty, nor cared for or well maintained, people will naturally go elsewhere."