is all too easy to fill up with petrol, then forget to take the pump nozzle
out of a car's filler tube before driving off. The petrol that spills
onto the station forecourt may cause fire, explosion and pollution. A
Swedish-led CRAFT consortium has developed the materials and design technology
required to produce a 'break-away' valve, which will effectively eliminate
this risk by automatically blocking the flow of fuel. Working with fellow
SMEs, research institutes and a contract research company, Malte Persson
& Son has reached the field testing stage for a new valve, which could
find worldwide markets in the near future.
hundreds of European motorists drive out of filling stations with the
pump nozzle still in the car's filler tube. This can be purely accidental
- forgetting to replace the nozzle in its holster is easier than you might
think - or deliberate, in cases of drive-off petrol theft. In days past,
this would result in significant damage to the hose or main pump unit
and the threat of spillage. Until stopped, petrol would spew out of such
damaged units at the rate of 40 to 200 litres per minute, causing fire
and explosion hazards, creating volatile organic compound air pollution
and damaging delicate urban watercourses.
was needed was a 'break-away' valve - a small unit fitted between
the nozzle and the hose, which would allow the nozzle to shear off
at relatively low forces, avoiding damage to the pump or vehicle
bodywork. At the same time, a locking valve would prevent any petrol
break-away valve is not a new concept. The technology has been around
for some time," says Lars-Inge Andersson of Malte
Persson. "However, people kept moving the goalposts. First,
regulations governing how much spillage was permissible were tightened.
Then petrol formulations changed. Oil companies are now 'cracking'
the heavy end of the barrel and using the resulting light fractions
in motor fuels, which makes the petrol much more corrosive, lowering
the effective life of the valves. And if that wasn't enough, car
owners want easy filling - the existing valves were simply too clumsy."
a new type of design was needed. "That much was obvious,"
says Mr Andersson. "However, we are a small company, and
although we have a technical department, we did not have sufficient
resources to go it alone.
"We needed partners, not just to share the risk, but also to
give the concept an international dimension. Petrol formulations,
environmental conditions and pump designs vary across Europe. The
petrol formulation is important, since the fuel can corrode the
materials used in the valve. The valve must ensure the same break
force at -40°C in winter in the Arctic as at +40°C in summer
in the Mediterranean, and the pump design defines whether the valves
can be easily fitted."
answer was to assemble a consortium of partners, apply for CRAFT
funding and bring in external research expertise to complement the
partners' own design and manufacturing experience.
Malte Persson did just that. Using its contacts in the industry,
the company found three SME partners, comprising a pump manufacturer,
a components producer, and a plastics parts maker. It also recruited
a large company specialising in producing petrol pumps, the Danish
for Product Development, Sweden's
National Testing and Research Institute and Utvecklingsbyrån
Sverige Project, an SME contract research company. The result
was a research collaboration involving partners from Denmark, the
Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.
requirements, tougher plastics
were faced with some tough technical objectives," explains
Mr Andersson. "New European legislation limited the acceptable
spillage from a sheared valve to 10 millilitres. Add to this the
demands for corrosion resistant materials and the need for a more
compact design, and the project starts becoming quite complex."
yes, but achievable. The team has accomplished all its technical
goals. These included developing new aluminium alloys for the metallic
components of the valve and a specially formulated tough, conductive
polyacetal polymer for plastic sections. "This was a key part
of the project," says Mr Andersson. "Plastics can build
up static electricity, which can suddenly discharge and create an
explosion risk. Using conductive carbon and other additives in the
formulation removes this danger."
armed with appropriate materials, the next task was to develop a
compact design. "This is where the Institute for Product Development
in Copenhagen really contributed," says Mr Andersson. "Our
previous break-away valves had 14 components and were nine
centimetres long. The new design has ten parts and measures just
a new product is one thing. Proving that it works is something else
entirely. "We had to embark on an extensive testing programme,"
declares Mr Andersson. "This was carried out by the Swedish
National Testing and Research Institute. They put the valve through
its paces, assessing characteristics such as the fuel leakage on
break, and the shear forces required to achieve the break itself."
The new valve passed with flying colours and meets all current and
anticipated EU norms.
next steps are field testing and commercialisation. "We have
shipped 250 prototypes," says Mr Andersson. "These
will be tested at filling stations across Europe. This is a requirement,
because fuel formulations and corrosion properties vary. After a
few months, we'll take them back and assess any degradation, but
we are confident that they will perform well."
partners are so sure of the new design, they are already planning
the marketing launch at the 'Automechanika' fair in Frankfurt (DE)
in September 2000, an international showcase for petrol station
for potential sales figures, Mr Andersson points out that there
are an estimated 1.5 to 1.6 million petrol pump nozzles in Western
Europe alone, the valves have a projected lifetime of five years,
and that they will sell for up to 45
each. "You can do the arithmetic yourself," he laughs,
"and when you have, think of the North American and Asian markets.
We could go into orbit."