Business is brisk in the tank sector with many dealers either re-lining existing tanks or investing in new ones, according to Phil Prow, sales and marketing director of Vianet Fuel Solutions
He says his company, which has just been bought by US multinational Wayne Fuelling (see page 19), already has a very strong order book for 2016. Ramsay MacDonald, retail director of Certas Energy, comments: "Certas Energy has invested significantly in using tank lining technology to prolong the life of tanks and also to introduce double-skin leak protection over recent months. Using a ballpark figure of £12,500 per tank, it’s a significant cost for any dealer but a worthwhile investment, particularly for those with single skin tanks that are 25 years or older. The obvious benefits relate to the asset value of the business and the elimination of stock losses."
He warns that fuel losses can be a crippling cost and potentially the largest single overhead after staff costs while a catastrophic tank failure could, in many cases, wipe out a business completely with the contamination costs running into thousands of pounds.
He adds: "Beyond the savings that accrue from improving stock control, there is a real opportunity to significantly boost revenues by offering motorists the full complement of available fuel grades. The investment also enables a dealer to revise pump configurations to give customers greater choice per pump and improve traffic flow.
"Gulf dealers who retail both our standard fuels and Endurance, our premium grade, are not only capturing new business but increasing profits. Gulf Endurance can account for more than 20% of a forecourt’s fuel revenues and as a higher margin product it provides both a product differentiator to supermarket fuel and an attractive incentive and accelerated payback. For any dealers who are looking to invest in new tanks, pipes and pumps, Certas is very happy to share its experiences with them."
In addition to ensuring the integrity of tanks, service companies are also becoming more sophisticated in dealing with the problems in tanks and pipework caused by biofuel. DP Fuel Tank Services (DP FTS) managing director, Nigel Plumb, says: "Experience has shown that biofuels can lead to the growth of algae and bacteria, clogging filters and engines. It also corrodes steel and eats polymer seals."
To help retailers deal with these and other issues in a practical way, DP FTS has drawn up a 10-point advice sheet. The document approaches the problems step by step, starting with symptoms and simple actions, and only progressing to tank cleaning and fuel polishing as a last resort.
The advice sheet also looks at how to keep biofuel problems at bay through regular testing, whether there is an apparent problem or not. Plumb says: "Sometimes problems are not obvious by eye alone. A test will show just what problems there are and their extent. It will also establish a base line against which to judge the effectiveness of any remedial work that may have to be carried out."
As well as testing for particles and bio-contamination, he says it is worth testing the specific gravity of the fuel. Normally, water in the fuel is reasonably obvious, but biofuel absorbs water and masks the problem. Often, the only indication is a change in the density of the fuel.
All the advice from the US and Australia, where they have had biofuels longer than the UK has, is that it is vital to have a clean tank when dealing with biofuel. DP FTS’s experience has shown that removing the fuel and thoroughly cleaning all sediment from the tank will cure a clogging problem caused by sediment. It will also remove bacterial colonies and algae clinging to the inside of the tank or in the residual sludge.
Also, says Plumb, while the tank is empty and clean, it can be checked for leaks and thinning, both by eye and by ultrasound probe. This is also a good time to get the tank lined, which can reinvigorate a corroded or leaking tank, provide leak detection and help keep the tank clean.
To address all the fuel-related challenges of a modern forecourt, tank cleaning specialist DP FTS has concluded a series of alliances with other specialist companies. "What this means for our customers," says Plumb, "is that we can offer a one-stop fully inclusive specialist service, in the implementation of planned preventative maintenance to help customers reduce the risks associated with fuel contamination. This includes comprehensive measures for testing and monitoring microbial bacteria, particulates contamination and excessive water.
"We see ourselves as a solutions provider, and many of the projects we are called in for these days require a multi-disciplinary approach, with all the tasks requiring a high level of experience and expertise if they are to be carried out efficiently and, above all, safely. Rather than trying to become a jack of all trades, we decided to conclude joint working agreements with companies we know have the right level of training, expertise and experience and will give our customers the high level of service they have come to expect from us."
After a period of expansion and diversification, Eurotank Service Group has placed a renewed focus on investment into the core Eurotank Environmental business of tank maintenance and specialist related services. It’s been nearly seven years since the last major investment in vehicles for Eurotank’s core business, but it says a new DAF CF250, 18-tonne, curtain-sided truck with lorry-mounted forklift has revolutionised contract tank cleaning and maintenance operations since joining the fleet last August.
Eurotank Environmental has historically used two vehicles per tank- cleaning team a 7.5-tonne lorry with a 3.5-tonne truck towing a 2,000-litre bowser to complete scheduled preventative tank-cleaning maintenance for about 800 sites a year. But the company wanted to create a new vehicle that made life easier for the operators by reducing the level of disruption to the forecourt. It plans to roll out a further three lorries before the end of the year.
The new single vehicle provides 12,000 litres of temporary diesel storage, 40 metres of barriers, a large compressor, transfer pumps, filter housings, 2,000 litres of petrol and diesel waste storage as well as space for all hoses, safety equipment and specialist technology.
Edward Wheeler, group managing director of Eurotank Service Group, says: "Adding a lorry-mounted forklift has significantly reduced manual handling of barriers, hoses and pump pallets using pallet trucks, so the engineers operating the equipment are not subjected to as much of a tough working day as before. It means that everything is done much faster so customers benefit from less disruption on site."
The cleaning service Eurotank provides is an annual preventative measure to remove bio film from tanks, pipes and pumps, and by cleaning every year it stops the microbes growing to the stage where they block filters. It involves lifting the diesel from a tank, and using a jetting system which cleans 100% of the surface area before the fuel is filtered and reintroduced. Wheeler says: "Some people just focus on cleaning the base of the tank but it is important to clean it all because microbiological slime can grow up the walls of the tank. Eurotank has been being dealing with this diesel issue since 2006. We have nine years of experience of managing this problem, and through preventative maintenance we have managed to keep our contract customers free of filter blocking and the problems associated with it."
Eurotank Environmental has also invested in an Atex-approved 3D laser tank calibration system for mapping the internal dimensions of all underground and above-ground storage tanks.
The Calibex system produces a strapping table accurate enough to provide a litre volume per 1mm height on the tank gauge. Wheeler comments: "The calibration of tank gauges has always been a grey area. The UK regulators have never seemed to be interested in the accuracy of tank gauges, even since the move to accepting statistical inventory reconciliation as an alternative to a precision tank test. Calibex is already proving to be invaluable."
The technology is capable of completing the calibration of a single tank in around 30 minutes and can be done on live tanks with up to 30% volume.
Forecourt maintenance specialist P&C Advisory is also setting up a tank and fuel cleaning service. Project leader Tim Foster explains the company has teamed up with a number of experts in fields such as microbiology, fuel cleaning, and filming inside fuel tanks to provide customers with a complete service.
The first step is analysis of the problem with some tests that can be carried out on site while others use the expertise of ECHA Microbiology.
Foster says: "Once you know what you’ve got you can decide how to treat it. We don’t automatically say you need your tanks cleaning." Low levels can be treated with biocide but if stronger action is needed P&C has specialist cleaning equipment that guarantees to jet clean every surface in the tank.
"It also has a specially designed brush system that can clean any slime build-up from the insides of pipework. Once the equipment is clean P&C also has a filtration and polishing system, provided by the company which tests Formula 1 fuel, to ensure that the product put back in the tank is clean."
Foster says the fuel testing part of the service is already operational and an 18-tonne truck carrying all the filtration and tank cleaning equipment is due to come into operation this month.
In the pipework sector, Durapipe UK is expanding its specialist fuel conveyance system, PLX, with the addition of larger diameter sizes to its close-fit range, offering customers further flexibility when specifying pipework for forecourt applications.
The new sizes have been launched in response to market demand for a large-bore, dual-contained close-fit pipe, to offer a more compact and streamlined pipe system for the fill and vent aspect of forecourt installations.
Commenting on the range expansion, David Naylor, PLX brand manager, says: "With more efficient operations being sought in all areas of forecourt applications, we have been asked for a large diameter version of our popular PLX close-fit product.
"Our close-fit option already offers time and cost saving advantages to the installer, while the larger diameter pipe can now save considerable space compared with pipe-in-pipe options."
Case study: Ruskington service Station
Peter Baxter, proprietor of Ruskington Service Station near Sleaford, in Lincolnshire, recently undertook a full pumps, pipes and tanks refurbishment before re-opening in late September. He considers his investment a legacy for the future that will allow him to hand over the reins of the business to his sons.
"I’ve been involved in the family business for 44 years and have always recognised the importance of investment to protect our assets and improve customer service levels.
"The work recently carried out will ensure that our site is properly equipped for at least the next 20 years and meets all EU legislation and local environmental sensitivities. We’ve doubled storage capacity, introduced new pumps, offset fills for driver-controlled deliveries and Stage II Vapour Recovery. The work was undertaken by Vianet, which has been an excellent partner throughout, including supporting us during the planning process."
He says the benefits have been numerous and immediate. Driver-controlled deliveries take pressure off staff and with most deliveries now received out of hours there is no disruption to the forecourt operation. The forecourt is now configured to take all fuel grades, giving customers more choice and improving traffic flow.
Before, the site’s capacity was so small that he could not take full loads and interest in supplying him was mainly restricted to small rural operators.
He adds: "The increase in storage capacity has enabled me to sign a long-term agreement with Certas Energy and rebrand to Gulf. The result of this is a more competitive margin and a strong fuel brand that has already been responsible for a significant uplift in volume."