Shell are one of Britain’s largest Liquid Petroleum Gas producers, and have supplied bulk LPG for many years to fuel manufacturers’ and other industrial users’ operations. In numerous cases, alongside meeting their production processes’ energy needs, these customers have also used LPG to power their forklift fleets. In 2008, as the environmental pressures on industry mounted, Shell Gas recognised the growing demand from forklift truck operators for the cleaner energy that LPG uniquely delivers, and decided to highlight this area of their business. Shell Gas (LPG) put together a tailored service proposition that enables medium to large fleet users to buy LPG in bulk from Shell direct, to save on cost and reduce their C0O2 footprint. Shell’s key account managers can advise on energy-related matters and arrange tailored LPG storage and supply service, and full technical assistance. In 2010, two years after the dedicated service began, more and more businesses are looking at balancing their energy needs and their carbon footprint, and turning from diesel and electricity to LPG from Shell to power their forklift fleets.
This autumn, Shell Gas (LPG) is actively bringing the message about using LPG for forklifts to the wider industry audience, by taking a high profile at IMHX 2010. It is sponsoring the Show’s environmental zone, to highlight the fact that LPG is cleaner burning and safer than diesel; more flexible than electric power, because it doesn’t involve time consuming battery changing and charging areas that take up room on site; and unlike them is suitable for forklift working both inside and out.
Shell Gas (LPG) is of course part of Shell, a world-leading oil company, and to help draw spectators to their stand at IMHX (number 20B18) Shell Gas (LPG) are running a competition to win tickets to the 2011 F1 British Grand Prix. As Shell is one of the Ferrari team’s main sponsors, Shell Gas (LPG) will also have a 2010 car on the stand for people to see. Andrew Mann, Marketing Manager, Shell Gas (LPG), spoke to Warehouse & Logistics News.
Warehouse & Logistics News – First of all, Andrew, what does your role as Marketing Manager at Shell Gas (LPG) cover?
I’m responsible for marketing Shell’s LPG in the UK and increasing the market, both consumer and B2B.
As part of this, I lead our efforts in developing LPG solutions for forklift truck users and the industrial community generally, and driving this business forward. We started looking at this area three years ago, but waited to bring it to market until we were fully confident our offering was right and would have an impact on forklift users.
WLN – What is LPG’s chemical composition?
LPG is liquid petroleum gas, which in the case of forklift trucks means propane. We have two means of production: the first is extraction from North Sea gas at our Mossmorran processing plant. This is field grade LPG, the cleanest in the UK, which Shell is proud to supply. The other method is as a by-product of crude oil refining at our Stanlow refinery near Ellesmere Port.
WLN – How does your LPG for forklifts measure up against other providers?
We manufacture our LPG to defined British Standards. Shell is Britain’s largest LPG producer, and has unrivalled experience in this area.
WLN – How does LPG compare in energy value with diesel and other fuels?
LPG’s on a par with diesel in terms of energy for powering forklifts and is cleaner, producing less CO2 and particulates. It’s hard to compare LPG with electricity as different truck engine types vary, but LPG normally delivers a higher lifting capacity.
WLN – How clean are LPG-powered forklifts’ emissions in terms of CO2?
See the table on this page from the Global Propane Education & Research Council.
WLN – What share of UK LPG sales for forklift fuel does Shell have? What is the picture globally?
We have no specific UK figures at present, but we definitely see a major growth opportunity. Other countries where LPG is widely used to power forklifts include Argentina and France, and we’re seeing growth in Far Eastern countries particularly Malaysia, India and Hong Kong.
WLN – In what form do you supply LPG to customers?
We supply LPG in bulk, and offer varied storage and filling solutions. Part of our team’s job is to design fuelling systems to fit specific customers’ needs. As a point of difference, our systems are owned and maintained by Shell and include the individual fuel cylinders for the trucks, which are removable and refillable on site.
A major benefit of switching to our bulk LPG systems to fuel forklifts is the elimination of manual handling of gas cylinders. If you buy individual cylinders from a commercial LPG supplier, the operator has to lift them off the ground and manoeuvre them onto the trick by hand, which can result in trapped fingers, injured backs and time off work. With our bulk systems, the cylinder stays on the truck, resulting in lower risk of injury.
WLN – What level of care do people need to take when refuelling with your LNG systems?
We provide full training to everyone involved. That said, we design the valves on our bulk tanks and our gas cylinders to very high safety standards, exceeding the HSE requirements, and the system only transfers gas when the connection is in place and it is safe to do so.
WLN – How often do you need to refuel LPG trucks?
LNG trucks typically have 36-litre gas cylinders, which last a whole shift or longer, depending on the power of the forklift and the work it is doing and are refillable in 10 minutes.
WLN – Can you use LPG-powered trucks around sensitive goods like foods or in ultra-clean areas like pharmaceuticals?
The low particulate levels LPG generates make it ideal for powering forklifts in food factories and other clean areas. LPG engines are safe in areas with limited ventilation, as long as these are not airtight.
WLN – How easy is it to convert forklifts to LPG? What does it cost per truck?
The leading manufacturers will happily supply new trucks ready equipped for LPG, but you can have diesel trucks modified to LPG by talking to the truck supplier. We don’t modify them ourselves. The cost varies according to the truck model and the customer’s service agreement with the supplier.
WLN – What proportion of UK forklifts run on LPG? What could the eventual figure reach?
The current figure is 30% of IC trucks on LPG versus 70% on diesel, and the trend is moving upwards. The rate of movement from here will depend on the forklift suppliers: there is pressure for companies to reduce their carbon footprint and make their trucks more environmentally friendly, and this is where LPG scores over diesel.
WLN – Are LPG trucks quieter than diesel or electric? Do they vibrate less? How robust are they?
LNG trucks aren’t quieter than electric but are probably on a par with diesel. Depending on the size of truck, they’re certainly no noisier, and no worse in terms of vibration. LPG trucks have a different engine to diesel, but are otherwise identical, and just as robust.
WLN – Do LPG fork lifts ‘feel’ different to operate, compared to diesel? Are the running and maintenance costs less?
LPG trucks are identical to diesel ones in operation. The running costs are likely to be lower because of the reduced maintenance, but the maintenance schedule will ultimately depend on the individual contract with the truck provider.
WLN – Which makes of forklift come ready fitted with LPG engines? Are you working with the manufacturers and distributors to help them develop better engines to work on LPG?
The majority of suppliers will supply LPG trucks if required, and availability is as good as diesel or electric. We are working with various major manufacturers and distributors to encourage use of LPG engines.
WLN – Getting down to basics, how do you supply LPG to forklift operators?
First, we carry out a site visit and then design the refuelling station to fit the area available. We ask the customers to organise the necessary civil engineering works, which provide a reinforced base for the tanks and crash protection, or we have links with engineers who we call in.
After we install the refuelling station, Shell does everything else. We deliver the gas by road tanker from our terminals or distribution centres and pump it into the tanks, and then the end user refuels their trucks at the station, just like they refuel their diesel trucks. Shell also provides bulk diesel and lubricants for major users of forklifts and road fleets.
WLN – What is your UK distribution network?
Our distribution network is nationwide in mainland Britain, with 16 sites across the UK.
WLN – How many forklifts does someone need to use your on-site refuelling systems?
For our systems, we need a minimum of five forklift trucks: there’s no upper limit. We don’t supply smaller users or people only using fork lifts occasionally: our market is truck fleets in constant use.
WLN – Which UK industry sectors have adopted LPG for their forklifts?
The two main sectors are the food processing industry, with people wanting a cleaner burn, and logistics operations, moving large quantities of pallets.
WLN – Do you have case studies to show the financial savings and other benefits of switching to LPG?
Yes we do. You can see some examples on the previous page.
WLN – Can you predict companies’ likely results from switching to LPG?
Yes, we have a calculation that our sales team uses when they are with the customer, to show the likely emission savings from switching to refuelling on site.
WLN – Can you advise customers in detail about what they need to do to convert their trucks, and also set up the necessary infrastructure and safety procedures for refuelling them?
W we employ a team of technical experts, who offer detailed advice. The customer tells us how many trucks are in use, and we then design a bespoke facility to a higher standard than the HSE minimum, drawing on our depth of experience. Shell maintains the installation, and supports it with engineers available on 24-hour emergency callout. Our LPG team is based in Chesterfield: we also employ field engineers as remote workers, covering the UK.
WLN – Do you provide staff and management training in operating and refuelling LPG-powered forklifts?
We offer free training to clients’ drivers and the other staff who will be filling the LPG trucks, supported by a certificate for their HSE case. We carry out training on site or in Chesterfield.
We offer training for individual users, trainers and the HSE advisers in a company who train the trainers. We can also provide refresher courses as our systems change.
WLN – When companies decide to move to LPG, do you advise a ‘big bang’ changeover, or should it be gradual?
To get the full benefits it’s best to change trucks to LPG all in one go. The shift from supplying cylinders to bulk happens in one go, and as I mentioned everything is done by Shell.
WLN – If someone’s considering changing their trucks to LPG, should they talk to their forklift supplier in the first instance, or to you?
People thinking about switching over should talk to us about the cost and emission savings, and the end benefits, and then they need to talk to their forklift supplier. How soon they can switch over will depend on the contract with their supplier and the length of the lease for their trucks. We can install the infrastructure for LPG and start supplying gas within a month.
WLN – What will you be exhibiting at IMHX?
We’re sponsoring the environmental zone, and focusing on the cleaner burn LPG delivers. We’ll have a small refuelling unit there to demonstrate how it works, and to attract the maximum number of visitors to the stand we’ll have a replica of the F1 Ferrari car which Shell is sponsoring. There will also be an opportunity for visitors to the stand to win tickets for the 2011 British Grand Prix.
At the Show we’ll also be running a demo video of an existing customer’s operation, which shows the installation and fitting of the cylinders to the trucks. We’d like to invite people in the warehouse and logistics industry to come and talk to us at the NEC about the cost savings they can expect with LPG, and the environmental and Health & Safety issues, and afterwards we’ll be happy to come to their premises to discuss storage facilities and other practicalities.
WLN – Where do you see Shell Gas (LPG)’s forklift truck business going from here?
We’re seeing a growing number of end users with diesel trucks who are looking to change to LPG, once they see it’s beneficial. Currently there isn’t a lot of awareness of the benefits of bulk LPG solutions, so we need to increase understanding of the difference they make to the cost of energy and the carbon footprint.
We have two ambitions in this area: the first is to raise awareness that LPG is an efficient fuel for forklifts, and that Shell is the UK’s leading LPG supplier, and the other is to become the number one bulk LPG supplier for FLTs.
In terms of credentials, we bring with us the full Shell portfolio – if a company has a need for diesel, commercial fuel or lubricants we can supply it, and the same goes for LPG. We’re unique as an LPG supplier in having these other parts of our portfolio that are ideal for the materials handling and logistics industry. The bottom line is that Shell is the only real vehicle fuel expert in the LPG industry, and is a specialist in fuel and vehicles in all areas of transport, so people need to talk to us first.