Pump technology could solve 'hot fuel' troubles altogether

| 2/26/2007

The warmer liquid gets, the more it expands, right? To put it simply - if the fuel that flows from the nozzle of a gas/diesel pump is too warm, you don't get as much Btu bang for your buck.

For years, consumers have been ripped off by fuel sold at temperatures warmer than the national standard of 60 degrees, according to plaintiff groups involved in five lawsuits filed in December 2006 in federal courts.

The devil is in the details, and while a little piece of pump equipment known as a temperature-compensation device does not change the temperature of the fuel, it does "compensate" for warm, expanded fuel. So why don't fuel pumps in the U.S. all have one?

At this point, temperature compensation is not mandatory, and the sale of "hot fuel" is not illegal. The consumer plaintiffs want to change that because, according to an investigative series in The Kansas City Star, hot fuel costs consumers between $1.7 billion and $2.3 billion per year.

It looked like an equipment manufacturer called Gilbarco would lead the charge to a technological fix in California, but last week, a company spokeswoman confirmed Gilbarco would not be bringing its already-certified equipment to market due to technical and logistical problems.

But, another company is standing by that knows the ropes.

Officials with Kraus Global of Canada are moving to get their equipment certified by the California Division of Measurement Standards. That would make Kraus Global the first company to market temperature-compensation devices in the U.S., a move that could be the first step toward essentially ending the sale of "hot fuel."

"With any product in any new market, the first one out of the gate will do well. We want to try to get to that," Kraus Global spokesman Gord Wedel told Land Line.

Kraus Global supplies the majority of temperature-compensation equipment at Canadian fuel pumps. Canadian business moved voluntarily in the early 1990s to include the equipment as a cost-saving measure.

"It was the oil companies in Canada that pushed for it, because of the (lower) fuel temperature," Wedel said.

U.S. retailers claim a full-scale switch to temperature compensation would be cost-prohibitive, and that the equipment would need to be certified in each state.

The National Conference of Weights and Measures has a scheduled vote in July on a model regulation for states to voluntarily implement a temperature-compensation program at retail pumps. The annual conference is scheduled for July 8-12 in Salt Lake City.

The earliest possible vote relating specifically to certifying temperature compensation equipment could not happen until July 2008.

?Dennis Johannes, director of the California Division of Measurement Standards, said California continues to work ahead of the national weights and measures group by certifying equipment like what Gilbarco did and what Kraus Global hopes to do.

"A lot of times, companies will have us test equipment and approve it, and maybe it goes in the marketplace and maybe it doesn't," Johannes told Land Line. "They have to be approved before they can be sold here in California for commercial use."

Plaintiff groups in the five U.S. District Court lawsuits in California, New Jersey, Missouri and Kansas want to see temperature compensation become mandatory at the federal level.

The groups of plaintiffs, all seeking class-action status, include owner-operators and OOIDA members. OOIDA is not a party in the lawsuits, but OOIDA Foundation Project Leader John Siebert is contributing research to the legal teams.

Siebert presented his research at an interim meeting of the National Conference of Weights and Measures in January and was instrumental in getting the vote for voluntary temperature compensation on the group's July agenda.

"Temperature compensation is available, it is the correct way to do it, it is the equitable way to do it, and it is going to happen," Siebert says with confidence. "They will try to slow down the train as much as possible, but they won't stop it."

- By David Tanner, staff writer