Quo vadis, petrol station: Where are you going?
The evolution of the car led to the invention of petrol stations. In the early days, refuelling was done with a hand pump and glass bulb meter; later, electric pump systems with flow meters became popular. This gave rise to the pumps we are all familiar with today at petrol stations and the applicable calibration legislation for these installations.
Beginnings of gas station development
In the early days of petrol stations, in the 1920s and 1930s, an average of 2,000-3,000 litres of petrol was stored on the premises. The operators of these petrol stations were grocers, ironmongers, or the village blacksmith. It was easy for the motorists of that day (they were few and far between in Europe at that time) to refuel. Petrol station staff also refuelled vehicles. It was an amicable time where driving was considered a luxury. For most people the idea of owning a car was inconceivable, after all.
The large lorry and bus companies that emerged later usually had their own filling stations for fuel and oil. At the same time, the first oil companies began to build their own larger petrol stations on trunk roads and new motorways. This helped them to cope with the rapidly increasing number of vehicles without issue. In addition, restaurants began to open at service stations to provide travellers with food and beverages.
Everything changed in the 1950s, the decade that ushered in the economic miracle. Car and lorry fabrication was greater than ever before. Cars became a status symbol for most Germans. And petrol stations were promoted to ‘refuelling temples’. People enjoyed going to petrol stations, and having their presence observed and acknowledged. Motorists were there regularly, too. Vehicles at the time consumed huge quantities of fuel. 12 litres was cheap, but 16 to 20 litres per 100 kilometres was the norm. Service station operators couldn’t get new fuel fast enough.
In the 1970s, the safety requirements for petrol stations were standardised in the world’s most developed countries. The oil companies outdid themselves with their refuelling temples: they became even bigger, with even more services on offer, and even more employees. No matter the cost. It wasn’t uncommon for 30,000 to 50,000 litres of fuel to be sold at a petrol station in any given day. Service station operators and oil companies enjoyed high returns. It seemed as though there was no stopping the market. Petrol stations sprung up everywhere like mushrooms. Even small towns had multiple refuelling stations.
But there was a paradigm shift by the 1990s. People learned about climate change. A new environmental tax resulted in higher fuel prices. Automobile fabricators developed new motors that consumed less fuel. Consumption levels fell by 10% initially, but the 2000s saw a 40% reduction in consumption. The era of the service station operator had come to an end. Fuel sales declined. Overall, the market continued to shrink. Many petrol stations had to close, especially in villages where sales were stable but low.
The situation was aggravated in the 2000s, with many people no longer associating cars with status. It is a commodity that you no longer have to own, but can simply use through car sharing as needed. Today around 30-50% of under-30s don’t even bother to apply for a driving licence. They use public transport and refuse to buy a car for environmental reasons. Their beliefs are backed by scientific research on nitrogen and carbon dioxide emissions or particulate matter.
Most countries are increasingly of the same opinion. For example, Japan, the world’s third-largest economy and fifth-highest producer of carbon emissions, has decided to ban cars with combustion engines by 2030. It will only allow EVs and other vehicles powered by hybrid or hydrogen technology on Japanese roads.
The environment is another important aspect to consider when it comes to petrol stations.
The term ‘environmental protection’ didn’t even exist in the 1960s and 1970s. As a result, single-walled underground storage tanks were the norm in petrol stations. Today, the remains of tens of thousands of tanks damaged by the effects of corrosion can be found worldwide. Unfortunately, this has led to devastating impacts on the environment.
Double-walled above-ground tanks are the current standard in developed countries. Today, no intelligent project designer would use double-walled underground fuel tanks for long-term projects.
These designs are still approved but as they are underground and cannot be seen, they are a safety hazard as it is impossible to monitor them for corrosion.
With above-ground double-skinned steel storage tanks, in contrast, visibility is essential for the new technology to be applied.
Conventional petrol stations will continue to face an existential threat.
Why? Due to the growth of alternative electric- (solar energy) or hydrogen-based vehicles.
New revolutionary high-powered electric battery systems will be launched for the automobile industry in the coming years. It’s the end of the road for dangerous, highly flammable lithium-ion batteries. What’s more, the acceptance and number of new approvals for EVs is on the rise. Fuel sales will continue to fall as a result. We should view the fast pace of this technological shift with caution. But it could suddenly snowball like the time when mobile telephones launched on the market.
Another factor that influences the growth of service stations is supermarkets and shopping centres: the new consumer temples. It was the automobile that made the development of shopping centres or large supermarkets on the outskirts of town a reality. Today, it is the car that enables us to quickly and easily drive to such supermarkets for our weekly shopping. And more and more supermarkets offer their customers the opportunity to refuel at the same time: be it with petrol, diesel, or electricity. Sometimes such purchases are additionally rewarded with bonus points, plus customers save time and money by not having to go to the service station as often.
What does this mean for the future of fuel retail?
- Motorway filling stations and filling stations on busy trunk roads will continue to exist due to demand. Fuel sales will remain fairly stable.
- Remote petrol stations for lorries that offer a variety of services for motorists and vehicles will continue into the future. You come across such service stations every 50 to 100 kilometres. They will continue to generate high fuel sales.
- Regular petrol stations in towns and villages are inflexible and expensive to operate. Profit margins are low on account of reduced sales. Operations are or will be unprofitable.
- It is imperative that a modern supply network of buffer tank facilities is developed in rural areas. Otherwise, it will not be profitable to transport lower volumes of fuel to customers. Due to existing infrastructure, buffer tanks should be positioned near lorry service stations where possible.
- Fuel supply logistics – from the refinery to larger tank systems through to buffer tanks and local filling stations – must be automated. Otherwise, effective supply routes cannot be planned for filling vehicles. This requires fully automatic monitoring and remote signalling of the fill levels in all tanks and filling vehicles.
- The tank volume in the countryside will be in the range of 2,000 to 5,000 litres.
- Fuel is dispensed via automated pay-at-pump systems. Staff will no longer be required.
- Containerised fuel systems are used. They consist of a tank and pump. They are portable and can be replaced if necessary.
- The design of petrol stations in the future will focus on functionality and not necessarily aesthetics. State-of-the-art, functional, portable units that can handle every fuel logistics activity will be in demand.
- These new double-walled filling systems are extremely secure and will be monitored by fully electronic systems. They are assembled on CSC-approved ISO container frames. They have fully electronic access to the chambers and the back office. They allow for economical dispensing.
- Hardware and electronics are merged into one module in these new filling systems. Precision sizing allows these modules to be customised to suit changing needs.
- Due to their modular construction in the container frame, these modules can easily be replaced or retrofitted, for example.
- If the technological shift towards e-cars means there is no longer a need for fuel filling stations in a particular locality, these can be dismantled and transported to a new location.
Krampitz tank containers and applications
Krampitz offers a wide range of tank container modules (above-ground, cubic storage tanks instead of tank farms according to DIN 6616).
1.) Challenge: Large petrol stations with a high volume of customers (cars and lorries) on trunk roads
Solution: KCU universal modular systems
Up to four vehicles can refuel at any given time. If additional dispenser platforms are used, it can accommodate from six to eight vehicles.
These are configured for two and three chambers as optional and can accommodate up to three media. They can store up to 40,000 litres. These can be combined with an AdBlue tank.
2.) Challenge: Lorries and larger petrol stations
Solution: KCU station modules combined with a large buffer storage tank .
Lorries and smaller filling vehicles that supply fuel to the locality can refuel here.
Up to 50,000 or 100,000 litres of fuel per medium are stored temporarily in a buffer storage tank system. The buffer tanks automatically supply fuel to the KCU station.
3.) Challenge: Urban refuelling stations for cars
Solution: KCM model
Two vehicles can refuel simultaneously. Volume: 40,000 litres.
4.) Challenge: Rural micro-filling stations for cars and tractors
Solution: KCC gas stations
These are available with one chamber only. These modules can store from 2,000 to 5,000 litres.
The modules are fitted with a pump for each medium. Billing and payment are handled at the pump terminal.
How will the developments forecast for petrol stations impact the sales activities of oil companies?
- Oil companies will reduce their business activities as service station operators. Instead, they will act as third-party producers and suppliers.
- Smaller local petrol stations will close, so that oil companies will have to reorganise their logistics as fuel suppliers. It would be conceivable for them to set up buffer tank systems next to their existing petrol stations, for example. Smaller fuelling vehicles would be filled here and the fuel delivered to micro-filling stations.
- As new renewables such as hydrogen are gaining traction, oil companies are currently strengthening their activities in this sector. An article on Handelsblatt.com published on 29 September 2020 reported that “Shell wants to become a leading supplier for green hydrogen”. And BP states on its website: that “its goal is the long-term transition from fossil hydrogen to significantly reduce carbon emissions in fuel production”. In addition to production, the distribution and sales (petrol station technology) must thus be developed and established for end customers.
What is a modern filling station module?
What are the technical characteristics of a modern filling station module?
- Double-skinned steel units with vacuum leak detection: a secure and modern leak detection system.
- CSC-approved frames for containers (instead of round tank according to DIN 6616) – critical for proper international transport and acceptance.
- Electronic display: fill levels are monitored remotely from the head office.
- Use of secure and quality electronic overfill prevention systems combined with input motor valves to close filling lines prevents overfill during refuelling.
- Convenient SPS touch-screen controlling system: easy to install, monitor and access all filling station data.
- Electronic door locking system: secure remote monitoring and access control.
- Use of etonation arresters and ATEX-approved equipment at petrol stations: prevents explosions.
- Anti-siphon protection installed in suction lines.
The future of conventional petrol stations is under threat. Traditional petrol stations are too expensive to maintain, making them unprofitable. The sales from petrol stations do not meet the requirements for the premises and staffing. This calls for technical solutions that generate a profit despite lower sales. To achieve this goal, modular fully automatic filling stations are a must in any forecourt. Although there is declining demand, petrol and diesel will continue to be relevant as a fuel over the next 20 or 30 years.
Our filling stations can be installed and operated in villages or even supermarket car parks. This will prove popular with customers seeking a fair and intelligent service concept.
Fully automated filling stations with a centralised, automated supply design are the only profitable, technical solution for fuel supply over the coming decades.