Coronavirus Casts Pall Over China’s Propane Dehydrogenation Plants

(March 2, 2020) — China’s coronavirus outbreak has triggered concerns about the country’s LPG demand. Propane dehydrogenation (PDH) plants may be forced to reduce operating rates as travel curbs extend across the country’s eastern provinces, causing transport and logistical disruptions that impact feedstock and product flows, trade sources tell S&P Global Platts.
shipping containers barges quarantined at sea due to corona virus reports BPN propane industry leading source for news since 1939
Such fears have taken a toll on Asia’s LPG market, with cost-insurance-freight (cfr) north Asia prices sliding to near five-month lows early in February before recovering. Meanwhile, the Saudi front-month March contract propane swap price fell to a near six-month low before edging higher, on worries of lower imports of Middle Eastern LPG, China’s main supply source.

Chinese LPG wholesale buyers source their propane feedstock cargos mainly via trucks from nearby terminals. However, the Chinese provincial government’s transport controls to limit the spread of the deadly virus is making it difficult for some buyers to get their loads, market source say.

They add that domestic LPG demand is estimated to have been cut by as much as 50% to 70% due to the outbreak. People are advised to remain at home and avoid unnecessary travel, while many factories are being required not to restart, exceptions being those manufacturing essential goods.

Another logistical concern sources cited were delays caused by the quarantine of very large gas carriers (VLGCs). Any crew member suspected of being infected would cause the ship to be placed under a 14-day mandatory quarantine, resulting in delays and congestion. But Chinese sources say many PDH plants have their own terminals to receive VLGCs, and most of them have their own downstream petrochemical plants to consume product.

However, PDH operations that require feedstock to be transported by truck from nearby terminals to plants are being impacted by the government’s transport controls. The sale of petrochemical products is also expected to be affected by the transport curbs, which could in turn constrain PDH plants’ operating rates, according to market sources.

Zhejiang Satellite Petrochemical is running its PDH facility at 70% to 80% capacity, sources close to the company tell S&P Global Platts, adding that Zhejiang Satellite has no plans to increase its run rate unless logistical issues improve. Zhejiang, located in eastern China, uses about 720,000 metric tons (MT) a year of propane as feedstock when operating at full capacity of 450,000 MT/year to produce propylene.

Tianjin Bohai Chemical will likely postpone the restart of its PDH plant due to sluggish demand, a company source says. This came as the facility, located in northeastern China, delayed the restart of its 600,000-MT/year propylene plant, extending the Lunar New Year holidays in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Tianjin Bohai uses 720,000 MT/year of propane when at full capacity.

Other PDH operators were said to have resumed operations, although Shaoxing Sanyuan may shut down again due to limited propane feedstock, market sources report. The company typically transports propane feedstock on trucks from Oriental Energy’s Ningbo terminal, but since traffic is being controlled in many regions, it is difficult to get propane delivered. However, Oriental Energy says it has been operating at full capacity since its polypropylene production is the main material used in the manufacture of medical masks and protective clothing.

Chinese PDH plants’ average operating rate was estimated at around 76% over Feb. 1-5, up from an average of 68% in January, according to a survey by the information provider JLC. However, one source familiar with the matter says China’s PDH operating rates could fall to 50% in coming weeks. On the other hand, buying interest for propylene has declined as Chinese buyers reduced purchases owing to slowing demand following the spread of the coronavirus.

(SOURCE: The Weekly Propane Newsletter, March 2, 2020. Available by subscription.)

40-Year Propane Veteran Shares Valuable Career Lessons, Free Book

(February 28, 2020) — At the age of 20, while still a student, Chris DeCarlo started his first business. In the 40 years since then, he launched a couple more, the principal business being Fairfax Propane (Fairfax, Va.). He also married and, with his wife, is raising five children.
Propane indsutry Veteran Chris DeCarlo shares lessons from 40-year lpg career reports BPN leading source of industry news since 1939
Over the last year or so, he has also piloted a new project—writing, publishing, and now promoting a handbook for teenagers. In it, he shares his experiences in business and in life, and explains how today’s teens can think strategically, prioritize the right things, and recognize opportunities to build a career and a meaningful life.

“What Now? The Teen Handbook” is primarily written for young people between the ages of 16 and 22, but DeCarlo says its buyers are likely to be concerned parents and grandparents who will then share it with their children or grandchildren.

“What I’ve learned in business is, you have to solve a problem,” he tells BPN. “What is a problem for parents? Teenagers—how to raise them and help them mature.”
Propane Veteran shares career lessons chris DeCarlo w BPN lpg source for news since 1939His 40 years as a small business owner have given DeCarlo a variety of stories to tell and knowledge to share. Raised by parents who worked for the federal government and in higher education, DeCarlo began preparing for adulthood by studying electrical engineering at Georgia Tech. He did not enjoy it, though, and he did not like the potential future he saw during a visit to the office of some working engineers. He left Georgia Tech after two years.

Returning home to Virginia, he enrolled in business classes. While still a student, he started his first business in 1979 by renting a gas station.

“I was always one to think outside the box and project into the future,” DeCarlo says. “I enjoyed challenging myself and I saw that business owners seemed to have an improved quality of life and flexibility.

“I also saw that the owner of the gas station down the street was doing pretty well and he didn’t have to take a lot of calculus to be successful. So I thought owning a business couldn’t be that hard if one could just figure out the formula.”

In addition to selling gasoline, DeCarlo began renting cars he had purchased used. Later, he also began renting trucks. Then, he noticed that people were stopping for directions to where they could buy propane. DeCarlo investigated that business and began selling propane in 1981.
BPN the propane industry leading source for news shares career tips from propane industry veteran chris DeCarlo feb 2020
“That was just when gas grills were becoming popular,” he says. “There was limited competition and people would call desperate for someone who could help them with propane-related products and services. Our record for refills occurred on a Saturday of Memorial Day weekend when we filled 630 20-lb cylinders. I caught the industry’s growth phase just right.”

Then, when he started getting calls from construction sites needing temporary heat, he added 100-lb cylinders and a truck, growing to 3000 cylinders. He serendipitously found some industrial land for a propane storage tank and was able to begin installing tanks at homes and delivering propane in 1986. Nearly 40 years later, he still runs Fairfax Propane, even though he stopped expanding it 20 years ago. He kept it small for many reasons, including all the inherent problems with the business model.

Innovating New Products
In 2008, in an effort to offset the seasonality of propane demand, DeCarlo founded Easy Stone Center (Vienna, Va.) to provide custom natural stone cutting and carving using computer numeric controlled (CNC) machines.

The company fabricates both simple and complicated pieces and ships them nationwide. Its products range from simple 8-ft fireplace hearths to intricate custom fireplace surrounds. Pieces are also fabricated for restoration products for everything from row house steps, to sandstone crosses at Georgetown University, to marble pieces for the U.S. Capitol.

He now recognizes that stone fabrication is very challenging, difficult to scale, more complicated than he ever imagined, and probably not a good investment of time and resources.

Experience with CNC machines did play a part in DeCarlo’s next enterprise. Having learned from a patent attorney that the success of many companies is anchored in intellectual property, in 2013, he turned his attention to inventing a new product. One day, while watching one of his sons shoot hoops, he got the idea to mount a backboard to a robotic arm that had been used for stone fabrication. The idea was to create a moving sports goal so a solo player could practice in a simulated dynamic game environment. With this and later additions, such as sensors that can measure how close to the center of the hoop the ball lands, DeCarlo has secured four patents, the most recent being to use two or more moving sports goals in a game.

One of his most recent applications is for a tunnel filled with thousands of horizontal and vertical laser beams, spaced as close as possible to each other, for the purpose of measuring the various deviations of a pitched baseball as it travels to a catcher’s mitt. Pitch accuracy can also be measured with the use of the robotic sports goal for manipulating the target, which has been outfitted with impact sensors, for various possible positions a catcher might choose.

Another pending application is for a propane cylinder cabinet with doors on the front and back such that a forklift can lift the cabinet and move it to the bed of a truck stocked with prefilled cylinders for exchange, without having to lift the cabinet from the back. This simple invention will reduce the majority of the physical work related to cylinder handling.
LPG professional Chris DeCarlo shares career tips from 40-year propane career reports bpn feb 2020 offers new book to colleagues
“The biggest part of business I have learned is, you have to keep evolving while you have the money to do it,” DeCarlo says. “You have to keep innovating even when you think you don’t have to. As your markets mature, you need to have new products and services in development.” He admits that being innovative is hard and risky.

Sharing Knowledge
When he wrote his handbook for teens, DeCarlo incorporated knowledge he had gained as a business owner and as an active member of the propane industry. “Being a business owner has provided me with a huge focus group for engaging with different people and learning every day,” he says. He also credits mentors and peers from other companies in the industry.

“My participation in the propane industry helped me write the book in many ways,” DeCarlo says. “The open and welcoming camaraderie of the industry provided a solid foundation for my own personal growth and development, and the relationships I made provided me with a lot of knowledge about human behavior and life, as well as insight into how the real world works.”

In addition to his own stories, he has weaved stories from the lives of others associated with the industry into his book. Among those whose stories are shared in the book are Marty Braithwaite, Woodgate Petroleum (Stephens City, Va.); Dean Haldeman, Blue Flame Inc. (Berkeley Springs, W.Va.); David Archer, ARCOSA Tank; and Steve Barton of Gas Equipment Co. Inc.

“Their personal stories and perspectives helped anchor the book in the realities of life,” DeCarlo says.

Of course, DeCarlo’s other life experiences have provided material for the book as well. He has been married for 25 years and has five children, ages 13 to 21. When he launched “What Now?” last summer by distributing copies at the national convention of the American Library Association, he was asked about his credentials. He answered, “I have five teenagers!”

DeCarlo has also returned to school recently, taking undergraduate classes for the first time in 40 years. His personal classroom, homework, and testing experiences and the tales he has heard from teachers and students have been incorporated into the handbook as a warning. He explains, “Technology is having a negative effect on the students, teachers, and schools, and parents don’t realize how much college has changed for the worse from when they were in school.”

In one chapter of his book, DeCarlo asks readers to ask themselves, “Who are you?” He guides them in taking an inventory of their characteristics and their skills. He explains he is helping them assess themselves like an employer would—“Would you want to hire yourself?”

He tells BPN, “As a business owner, I recognize the traits that are important.”

In another chapter, DeCarlo outlines the “phases of life,” with special focus on the education and career phases. “It is important to understand each phase and to understand what you should be accomplishing as you progress through each and why each is important to your future,” he writes.

Other chapters in “What Now?” cover relationships; “pitfalls, risks, and dungeons”; and coming of age. Addenda include a reproduction of the death certificate of a friend who died only three weeks after they had both graduated from high school, and a eulogy for a next-door neighbor and auto mechanic who became a mentor when DeCarlo was in his teens.

Developing Skills, Fundraising
Summarizing for BPN the experiences in business that have influenced the advice he gives in the book, DeCarlo says, “As in business, the need for one to act maturely and think strategically are two of my important themes, and I caution readers about accepting the school version of how the world works versus reality.”

He adds, “I also highlight my interpretation of the difference between being in school and being in business on page 271. I explain that, ‘in school you are told what you need to know, given a test on the material, and it is graded for you. In business you have to figure out what you need to know, test yourself, and grade your test every day.’”

Along with sharing this advice, DeCarlo hopes his book can be used to help parents and teens learn about business principles firsthand. He has restricted the channels of distribution of the book, selling it priced at retail through his own online store but only offering it with wholesale pricing to PTAs and student clubs. He explains, “I want PTAs and student clubs to be the primary channel of distribution, without outside competition, so they can have a lucrative and efficient means of raising funds for their particular academic needs, interests, and activities.”

DeCarlo invites readers of BPN to call or text him to request complimentary copies of “What Now? The Teen Handbook.” He can be reached on his cell phone, (703) 973-8102. — Steve Relyea

Alliance AutoGas To Unveil New Technology at NTEA Work Truck Show

Asheville, NC (February 27, 2020)  —  Alliance AutoGas (AAG) will be unveiling its latest technology at the 20th Anniversary NTEA Work Truck Show in Indianapolis, IN, March 4th – 6th. The show features the latest advancements in technology in the work truck industry, and AAG will have their new aftermarket autogas system on display in a 2020 Ford F250 7.3 8v in the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) booth.
Alliance Autogas Offers Propane Autogas Ford 7.3L V8 0220 BPN 
This Bi-Fuel engine will provide an average savings of $1.00 per gallon on fuel and extend operating range over 700 miles between refueling, giving fleets an added advantage of not servicing complicated emission control systems or buy DEF fluid, as with diesel engines. 
 
Ed Hoffman, President of Blossman Services (the distribution partner for Alliance AutoGas systems) says, “It is exciting to finally see a modern high torque engine in the marketplace. With our Alliance AutoGas engineered system, this engine will offer a diesel-like performance at a fraction of the cost." The autogas powered truck will be on display in the PERC booth (#5591) throughout the Work Truck Show.
 
When speaking on the upcoming event, Tucker Perkins, President and CEO of PERC, said, “PERC is proud to have AAG in our booth, displaying the latest engine technology from Ford and showcasing the benefits of propane. This technology is a great example of innovation, providing benefits of reduced operating costs to fleets that choose it, while offering significant benefit to the community in cleaner air and quieter streets.”
 
For more information, please contact Jessica Johnson, Partner and Projects Liaison, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 
 
About Alliance AutoGas
Alliance AutoGas (AAG) is an international network providing a comprehensive propane autogas solution to light, medium and heavy-duty fleets. Alliance AutoGas is managed by its parent company Blossman Gas, Inc., the largest privately-owned propane company in the United States. Alliance AutoGas is comprised of more than 120 independent propane marketers and authorized conversion centers throughout North America. Alliance’s partners are aligned to provide EPA certified propane and propane autogas systems to vehicle fleets and lawn care companies, including the sale of, installation, and ongoing service to keep these systems on the road. www.allianceautogas.com

Greenhouses A Growing Business, Propane Marketers Say

(February 26, 2020) — When a customer is operating a greenhouse, the propane marketer’s service is a key to success. Proper installation of the heaters and the system that fuels them, a steady supply of fuel, and the availability of service around the clock are needed for the customer to keep those plants alive.
Propane Clean Reliable Economical Energy of Choice for Greenhouse operators reports BPN LPG industry leading source for news since 1939
“During the winter, the grower’s business is in the propane marketer’s hands,” says Sam Fox, director of business development at McCraw Propane (Bonham, Texas). “If they lose heat, they can lose their crop. For the same reason, it is also very important to be available for emergency services after hours.”

McCraw Propane offers a turnkey program for growers that includes site planning, permitting, system design, installation, and training.

“An improperly designed system can lead to poor combustion,” Fox says. “Poor combustion can produce carbon monoxide, which is toxic to humans. It can also produce ethylene, which can damage and even kill plants. So it is very important to properly size each component to the Btu load that it will carry.”

Once the greenhouse is up and running, McCraw Propane offers remote fuel monitoring.

“Tank monitors provide a high level of security for us and the customer,” Fox notes. “Being able to check the percentage offsite and schedule deliveries efficiently makes taking care of greenhouse customers much easier than in previous years.”

A Niche Market
In Southern California, Ferrellgas works with greenhouse installers and contractors. The contractors install the heaters, while the propane marketer puts a propane tank on a concrete foundation or block, runs pipes underground, and places bollards around the tank.

“We don’t install heaters; we work with the contractor to make sure it is done according to code,” says Ted Olsen, account manager at Ferrellgas. “We do the pressure test, fire up the heater, and document that everything is working. We do a GAS Check. We don’t just hook it up; we are there for the whole process.”

“Greenhouses are a niche market for the propane industry,” Olsen adds. “If you have good contractors or greenhouse installers you work with, you can be very successful.”

Both of these propane marketers see greenhouses as a growing market.
Clean Emmissions Propane Is Number One Energy Source For Greenhouses reports BPN it is Reliable Portable economical remotely montiored feb 2020
“As the Texas population continues to grow, we see a lot of local nurseries expanding to meet the demand from the construction boom,” Fox says. “As they add greenhouses to increase production capacity, they are also adding heaters, which increases propane demand. In this scenario, a marketer gets a better return for the investment in tanks and equipment that is already on site.”

McCraw Propane currently has a handful of greenhouse accounts, he adds. Some are local operations serviced with bobtails, while one is a large operation set up to take transport deliveries.

In Southern California, Ferrellgas, similarly, has a dozen greenhouse accounts of different sizes. “Some are big, some are small. We have some who are huge and use a huge amount of propane,” Olsen reports.

“Some greenhouses use tens of thousands of gallons, but when it’s warm they use none. It depends on the weather,” he adds. “It’s hard to predict; it’s not like autogas.”

Overall, Olsen says, “It’s growing. We see a lot more contractors building greenhouses, so there is definite growth.”

The Best Choice
The marketers agree that propane is often the best choice for greenhouses, especially when they are located beyond the mains. Propane is both economical and efficient.

“In the south, the other choices are natural gas or electric,” Fox says. “Natural gas can make sense if it is available to a grower. I don’t know that electric heat really makes sense in Texas, but possibly out in California.”

“When greenhouses are outside the reach of the natural gas lines, propane is, in my opinion, the only economical choice for growers,” he adds. “They appreciate how quickly and efficiently propane heats the air. Some growers also use hydronic heat to warm the root systems by running warm water through pipes inside the beds; these systems are typically powered by propane as well.”

In Southern California, Olsen has some customers who heat for growth, and others who just want to keep the plants from freezing. In its pitch to growers, Ferrellgas notes that greenhouse gas heaters powered by propane can be installed or portable, allowing the grower to customize the set-up.

“Propane is the best choice for greenhouses that are beyond natural gas,” he says. “It is affordable, cost-effective, and easier to install. You just place a tank and run the pipes. The portability of propane is key, whether it’s in a cylinder or a bobtail.”

“Electricity is the other option, but it’s more expensive,” Olsen adds. “Plus, propane burns hot, so it is effective at producing heat.”

“My customers use propane for other applications too. They may have a house on the property or they may use a forklift. So, in a lot of cases, we serve other uses or add other applications. Many are farmers, so they are accustomed to using propane.” —Steve Relyea

New Mexico's First Propane School Buses
 Save District Money, Helps Environment

MORIARTY, N.M. (February 19, 2020) — In a partnership with the New Mexico Public Education Department, Los Lunas Public Schools, Magdalena Municipal School District and Moriarty-Edgewood School District have each purchased school buses fueled by propane autogas. The 17 Blue Bird Vision Propane Buses will be the first propane school buses to operate in the state.
Moriarty Edgewood School District in New Mexico purchases new Propane autogas School Bus fleet to reduce pollution, costs, noise reports BPN propane industy leading source for news since 1939 
“Our district has had to dip into operational monies to supplement our transportation costs over the last eight years. Adopting propane technology will be significantly cheaper in fuel and maintenance costs,” said Teresa Salazar, superintendent of MESD, which hosted the event.
 
Propane autogas prices average 50 percent less than diesel and reduces maintenance costs and wear and tear on the engine and components.
 
“It is very rewarding to see these New Mexico school districts lead the state toward adopting these near-zero emission propane school buses,” said Mark Terry, chief commercial officer of Blue Bird Corporation. “They will experience the cost- and emissions-reducing benefits with Blue Bird propane school buses, resulting in district savings that can find their way into the classroom.”
 
The districts’ propane buses emit fewer total hydrocarbons and harmful nitrogen oxides, and virtually eliminate particulate matter. Exposure to NOx exhaust can have negative health effects on children and is a leading cause of asthma, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
ROUSH logo

“Propane buses help districts lower their transportation budget by saving on fuel, fluids and filters,” said Ryan Zic, vice president of school bus sales for ROUSH CleanTech. “Districts get all the emission-reducing benefits while also saving costs so that budgets can go to educating students and paying teachers.”
New Mexico schools upgrade to clean propane autogas Blue Bird School Buses to reduce costs, pollution from dirty diesel and noise reports BPN the propane industry's leading source for news since 1939
Additional savings are available thanks to the extension of the Federal Alternative Fuel Excise Credit, which covers propane at 36 cents per U.S. gallon and propane fueling equipment up to $30,000 per property. VW Environmental Mitigation Trust and diesel replacement funds can also help districts with propane bus purchases.
New Mexico Schools Upgrade With 17 new clean-fuel Blue Bird propane Autogas School Buses saving district money and environmental benefits to community reports BPN the propane industry leading source of news since 1939. 021920
The event included a fueling demonstration and a propane school bus ride-along. In addition, school district transportation directors, drivers and technicians participated in a day-long training session presented by Tillery Bus Sales. The hands-on training included an overview of the propane fuel system, properties of propane, diagnostics and maintenance, and propane school bus fueling. Driver habits were also discussed to prepare for the adoption of the new propane buses.
Propane school bus training in New Mexico as new autogas fleet rolls out to lower costs, pollution and noise from dirty diesel buses reports BPN the propane industry's leading source for news since 1939
“Our drivers learned a lot about propane school buses, including their cleaner and quieter ride and quick fueling,” said Bryan Baca, transportation director for Magdalena Municipal School District. “They were impressed with the benefits and can’t wait to drive them on their routes.”

The school buses, equipped with ROUSH CleanTech propane fuel systems, will begin operation for the 2020-2021 school year. More than 1.2 million students across the U.S. ride to school in safe, quiet propane autogas buses, making it the fastest growing segment of pupil transportation nationwide.
 
About Blue Bird Corporation: Blue Bird (Nasdaq: BLBD) is the leading independent designer and manufacturer of school buses, with more than 550,000 buses sold since its formation in 1927 and approximately 180,000 buses in operation today. Blue Bird’s longevity and reputation in the school bus industry have made it an iconic American brand. Blue Bird distinguishes itself from its principal competitors by its singular focus on the design, engineering, manufacture and sale of school buses and related parts. As the only manufacturer of chassis and body production specifically designed for school bus applications, Blue Bird is recognized as an industry leader for school bus innovation, safety, product quality/reliability/durability, operating costs and drivability. In addition, Blue Bird is the market leader in alternative fuel applications with its propane-powered, electric and compressed natural gas-powered school buses. Blue Bird manufactures school buses at two facilities in Fort Valley, Georgia. Its Micro Bird joint venture operates a manufacturing facility in Drummondville, Quebec, Canada. Service and after-market parts are distributed from Blue Bird’s parts distribution center located in Delaware, Ohio. For more information on Blue Bird’s complete line of buses, visit www.blue-bird.com.
 
About ROUSH CleanTech: ROUSH CleanTech, an industry leader of advanced clean transportation solutions, is a division of the global engineering company Roush Enterprises. ROUSH CleanTech develops propane autogas and electric propulsion technology for medium-duty Ford commercial vehicles and school buses. With more than 25,000 vehicles on the road, the Livonia, Michigan-based company delivers economical, emissions-reducing options for fleets across North America. Learn more at ROUSHcleantech.com or by calling 800.59.ROUSH.