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Fuel for Thought

The other day it was suggested to me that it was time for me to consider writing down some of the things I have learned over the last decade and a half about vehicle fuel and particularly the kind of fuel that commercial vehicles use.

My background is in designing and manufacturing fuel and oil measurement devices and in my time I have supplied a wide range of sensors and systems for some of the worlds top F1 and World Rally motor racing teams as well as for light and ultralight aircraft and their manufacturers.

These days I am focussing on heavy commercial vehicles where there is a growing need for effective measures of any sort to reduce fuel consumption and wastage. The cost of fuel has long since become the highest single running cost of a heavy commercial vehicle while the profit margin of the vehicle for the haulage operator is only a paltry few percent of the enormous total annual ownership and running cost. The cost of fuel is going up, so the profit for the hard pressed haulier is in danger of coming down and becoming unsustainably low. If this happens then the haulier goes out of business.

This is important because it affects you and me and anyone who goes to the shops to buy goods. Everything you find in the high street (or any other street for that matter) shops has been brought in by trucks of one sort or another. We pay for the delivery cost of these goods when we buy anything and so the cost of what we buy is going up along with the price of fuel on top of all the other fluctuations in the prices of goods.

These days when our economies seem almost to be lying in ruins ordinary people become desperate due to unemployment or just sheer inability to make ends meet. They know that fuel is expensive, so expensive in fact that it is almost a form of liquid cash that can be redeemed easily by selling it to anyone who runs a car. So some few steal fuel and sell it or use it themselves.

If they happen to be truck drivers they may siphon fuel tanks, they may divert fuel into a jerry can when fuelling their vehicle, they may do deals with crooked forecourt owners to overcharge or under-deliver and take a share of the profit. Or, at least the fleet operators think they do because they have a lot of trouble sometimes reconciling their fuel bills with what their vehicle has been doing. So they suspect theft but often cannot be sure, let alone prove it.

The reason they can’t be sure is because the amount of fuel they use in their trucks varies all the time and there are lots of possible causes that are just part and parcel of running a truck and that affect fuel consumption. Things such as tyre pressures, tyre type, road gradient, trailer aerodynamic drag, fairings, air temperature, age and condition of vehicle, make of vehicle, wind, weather and variations in load.

Then there are other factors that they may be less aware of such as fuel temperature variation, which affects the amount of fuel they get for their money. American motorists lose $1.5 billion dollars in the summer paying for fuel which has expanded in the summer heat and which they pay for by the gallon. In the summer each gallon weighs less so they get fewer miles from it. The same problem afflicts Europe, of course, except that fuel costs more here so we lose more.

Then there are fuel pump delivery variations, fuel leakage, fuel overfilling and spillage and on and on.

Fuel delivery pumps are set up by law to have no more than plus or minus half a percent delivery error. However, that that one percent variation is equivalent to around seven percent of the vehicle’s annual profit margin. If only the fleet operator could identify which pumps are giving that extra half a percent then it would really help towards his running costs. Actually, it is worse than that: just today I was reading that the AA have reported that some forecourt pumps over-deliver by up to 4.4%. That would be worth up to a third of a heavy truck’s profit margin if such pumps could be easily identified and regularly used. And then, of course, there are under-delivering fuel pumps, illegal, sometimes dramatically out of spec and easily identified but more often only a little under-performing so that they cost the truck owner and you and me money we would rather keep in our pockets.

Trouble is, no one is selling anything that that a truck owner could use to reliably identify and discriminate between theft and fuel expansion loss. Or leakage, small under or over delivery, small-scale diversion into a container when fuelling or spillage due to overfilling followed by fuel expansion in the tank resulting in overflow. And nothing which could give guidance as to which fuel delivery pumps to use at a forecourt or which secure fuel source or fuel storage tanks will give best value depending on the local environment and recent weather history. Nothing, also, which could keep an eye on and accurately quantify the fuel placed in the tank, corrected for temperature, and so to audit its usage against the fuel used by the engine, allowing nothing to escape or be taken without the operator knowing until it is all used up.

If it could be done then the fleet operator could save a fortune or at least be sure that his vehicles were running honestly and well.

Such a system is currently being developed. It is called FMT and is being produced in my works in Kent, UK, with some government R&D grant assistance, some future regional growth funding and some private finance. It will be commercialised in a few months time and will save you, the fleet operator, a lot of worry and possibly a lot of money.

It’s not on my company website yet but if you are interested I would love to keep you informed and if you think, as I do, that this will be a commercially very successful product or would like a shareholding in it, then drop me a line at –

Alternatively, if you are from the haulage or other automotive industry, have a marketing background and would like to work with me to make this product a worldwide success, then send me, Ed Jelonek, a message and your CV to the above email address.