In this interview, Matthew Beecham talked with members of PlasFuelSys, the Brussels-based non-profit organisation representing the interests of European plastic fuel system manufacturers.  The group discusses matters of common interests while maintaining a competitive business environment. Its members include Inergy, Kautex, Magneti Marelli, TI Automotive and Total Petrochemicals.

What are the factors influencing the design of a fuel tank these days?

Generally speaking, the available vehicle environment and the required fuel system functionality drive fuel tank design. As today’s car becomes smaller and more compact, the packaging constrains are increasingly becoming more complex.

Other challenges are also adding to the design of a plastic fuel tank such as environmental considerations. In an effort to reduce CO2 emissions, both the system weight and electrical consumption of the fuel delivery system are reduced. Moreover, hybrid cars also add the challenge of packaging of the battery and electric motor. Hybrid cars require also, when the engine is completely switched off, very quiet fuel systems.

As we understand it, lighter weight plastic tanks for hybrids are currently favoured while steel fuel tanks for such vehicles are under development. Is that correct? Could steel do a better job?

Many of today’s hybrid vehicles launched with traditional plastic fuel systems.   When the level of electric only operation is high, as for a PHEV, there is less and less opportunity to purge the carbon canister.  If you can’t purge the canister sufficiently, you need to seal the fuel system to prevent breathing emissions to the canister.  A sealed fuel system typically builds a pressure of 350mbar during a diurnal cycle.   Metal tanks and plastic tanks need structural reinforcements to contain 350mbar pressure.  Structure reinforced plastic tanks are expected to bring additional weight benefits over thicker steel tanks.

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During the past two decades, we have seen the gradual increasing fitment of plastic fuel tanks in place of steel. Is that situation changing at all? And are there greater opportunities for steel tanks in emerging markets or is plastic the way forward?

The shift from steel to plastic continues to take place at a very fast speed in emerging markets due to the various benefits plastic fuels tanks bring to the overall design of the car, functionality and environmental considerations.

How do plastic tanks square in Europe given the end-of-vehicle-life requirements?

Plastic fuel tanks are recyclable. PlasFuelSys members across Europe are fully aware of compliance and recycling targets as highlighted in the End-of-Life of Vehicles Directive (Directive 2000/53/EC). Together with the car manufacturers, we are supporting industry value chain activities oriented in this direction.

On the other hand, biodiesels bring different challenges and may also generate more NOx. Indeed, the challenges presented by biodiesels are significantly different.  Handling and storage is a big issue. Is that correct? In what ways does biodiesel impact on the fuel tank and system?

Handling is not different than regular diesel, and does not generate significantly more NOx. The NOx are treated by the SCR system and this system will equip a growing number of diesel vehicles in the future. Some shortcomings concerning biodiesel are related to uncontrolled sources for which events such as algae proliferation could occur if no regular refuelling takes place. This could happen for steel and plastic tanks.

As we understand it, BMW is now fitting its incorrect fuelling protection system (IFPS) to all diesel-powered models. Could we expect to see more of this type of mis-fueling technology among other carmakers?

The remainder of this interview is available on just-auto’s QUBE research service