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Stage II & ORVR: Will state proposal expose motorists to an increase in toxic benzene vapors at the petrol station? - PART 1

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Technology corner
Posted / Last update: 08-03-2013

Publication: PetrolPlaza Technology Corner
Issued: December 2012
Author: Ted Tiberi, ARID Technologies, Inc.

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Article by Ted Tiberi, Luke Howard and Mike Heffernan, ARID Technologies, Inc.

Executive Summary

Gas stations; also called gasoline dispensing facilities (GDF) typically store fuel in underground tanks (called UST’s). The gasoline is dispensed through nozzles to the motorist’s vehicle tank. When the vehicle tank is refilled, the liquid gasoline entering the tank will displace a volume of vapor phase gasoline; for example, if 10 gallons of fuel are pumped into the vehicle tank, approximately 10 gallons of vapor will be displaced. This displaced vapor is comprised of air and hydrocarbons. Some of the hydrocarbons (also called VOC’s – Volatile Organic Compounds) contain HAP’s (Hazardous Air Pollutants), and direct exposure to some HAP’s are known to increase risks for cancer; for example benzene. In addition, the emissions of VOC’s to the atmosphere are ozone precursors; where ozone formation in the lower atmosphere is detrimental to human health. 

To reduce emissions of VOC’s and HAP’s to humans and the environment, Stage II vapor recovery systems were put in place. The Stage II systems use a small vacuum pump located in the fuel dispenser along with a coaxial hose (hose within a hose) arrangement to allow liquid gasoline to flow from the UST’s to the vehicle and at the same time to collect displaced vapors from the vehicle tank and then direct these collected vapors back to the UST’s.

The operation of Stage II vapor recovery provides three key benefits:

  • Reduced health risks to motorists as direct exposure to benzene and other HAP’s is avoided
  • Reduced impact of hydrocarbon emissions to the environment as the displaced vapors are captured and directed back to the UST’s
  • Operational savings to the GDF owner/operator since the recovered vapors from the motorist’s vehicle tank are used to blanket the liquid gasoline stored in the UST’s. By keeping the hydrocarbon vapor concentration at elevated levels in the vapor space of the UST’s, the natural phenomena of evaporation of liquid gasoline to vapor phase gasoline is avoided. In this manner, there is a kind of linked or interdependency between the Stage II system and the UST’s
    • The vapor space above the liquid gasoline has a hydrocarbon vapor concentration that attains some “equilibrium level”, where the rate of liquid evaporating to vapor equals the rate of vapor condensing to liquid. When the equilibrium hydrocarbon concentration is altered by ingestion of atmospheric air, liquid fuel will evaporate to increase the hydrocarbon concentration back up to the original equilibrium level. During this process of “re-saturation” of the UST vapor space, the storage tank pressure will increase and excess volume of hydrocarbon vapors will be exhausted from the UST vapor space (One gallon of liquid gasoline evaporates into 520 gallons of vapor phase gasoline, at 40% hydrocarbon concentration). This storage tank breathing loss is the primary reason that very large above ground storage tanks at bulk gasoline terminals, refineries and distribution facilities use so-called “floating roof tanks”; these tanks use a roof that literally floats on the surface of the gasoline, therefore eliminating any vapor space above the liquid, to subsequently eliminate the breathing loss dynamics.

A debate emerged between the Auto and Oil Industries as to what party should be responsible for controlling the refueling losses. The Oil Industry prevailed and the Auto industry was forced to equip new vehicles with the so-called ORVR (On Board Refueling Vapor Recovery) system. The ORVR system is primarily comprised of an activated carbon canister, which captures the displaced vapor during refueling. As the motorist drives down the highway, the carbon canister is regenerated by a portion of engine intake air “back flushing” through the carbon canister, where the hydrocarbons are desorbed and burned as fuel in the engine. Since the ORVR systems are not retrofit to vehicles, but rather incorporated into new vehicle production, the population of ORVR equipped vehicles has been slowly increasing throughout the United States. Passenger vehicles were first equipped in 1998, with 40%, 80%, and 100% of new vehicle production having ORVR systems in 1998, 1999 and 2000, respectively. 

At the time of the Oil Industry “victory”, the oil industry wanted to remove the Stage II hardware from GDF. Since only a low proportion of vehicles had ORVR systems in 1998, immediate removal of the Stage II systems was not possible. However, the oil industry negotiated for a timed “phase-out” of the Stage II hardware in conjunction with a greater proportion of ORVR equipped vehicles in the fleet. The notion of widespread use (WSU) was discussed between USEPA and the Oil Industry; whereby a certain population of ORVR equipped vehicles would trigger the removal of Stage II vapor recovery controls. The rough idea formulated at that time (without in-depth study or understanding) was that after a threshold population of ORVR vehicles was attained in the fleet, the use of overlapping controls (Stage II at the GDF and ORVR within the vehicles) would be counterproductive since the emissions controlled by ORVR Alone would exceed the emissions controlled by either Stage II Alone or Stage II in conjunction with ORVR. However, in practice, these fundamental assumptions are not accurate or true. For the first assumption regarding the refueling emissions controlled by ORVR Alone in comparison to Stage II Alone; we show in our CHART1 of this report, that there is a cross-over for the ORVR Alone curve with the Stage II Alone curves; however, in practice Stage II is never able to be used “Alone” as there will always now be some proportion of ORVR equipped vehicles in the fleet. Thus, our CHART2 shows that the combination of Stage II + ORVR provides the lowest emissions in comparison to ORVR Alone over the entire interval presented; which incorporates increased proportion of ORVR vehicles in the fleet. Basically, the presence of the Stage II system acts as a “backstop” to provide a chance to capture the refueling emissions from non-ORVR vehicles. Therefore the combined Stage II + ORVR efficiency will always be higher than ORVR Alone.

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