Retail Fuel Stations, as with any other asset, must be upgraded at times to say up to date with modern safety standards and changing customer requirements.
Upgrading an existing, established, retail fuel station presents different challenges to developing a new (or, so-called “greenfields”) station. You will have to contend with an established layout, flow of vehicles and people, and adapting the old infrastructure for new customer requirements.
In this article, we will highlight some challenges we have faced, and solutions developed/proposed on our Retail Fuel Station Upgrade projects. They could assist the reader to make their own refurbishment project a success.
Table of Contents
1 The process
1.1 Owner Consultation
When planning a fuel retail refurbishment project it is crucial to engage the station’s owners and assess what currently works, does not work, and what they envisage after the project is completed. In many cases, the owners are unsure themselves as to what they required. In which case you would need to guide them to understand what it would take to get their station operating efficiently.
1.2 Placement of Tanks
With regards to the infrastructure, one of the first things to consider is where to place new tanks. From an ease of construction perspective, it would be beneficial to place them in the location of the current tanks, as removing the current tanks, the void that is created will assist with reduction in construction time and cost to place the new tanks.
One often underestimates the size of the tanks that are placed in a fuel retail station. A 30m3 tank excavation will be at the absolute limit of what a normal TLB would be able to achieve. Keep in mind that adequate drainage is needed around the tanks. These tanks also sit on a bed of soft soil in order to aid in compaction and protection of the tank integrity. Once the tanks are in the ground, it is crucial to fill them with water. These tanks often tend to pop out of the ground if they are empty and the backfilling process begins. Backfilling of the soil should be done in layers of approximately 300mm and compacted throughout. There are a lot of fittings, piping and sump material that attaches to the tank so take that into account when determining the excavation depth.
Newer tank manufacturing processes involve making the tank by means of fibreglass and special plastics. These tanks are double walled and quite easy to handle. Throughout America and Europe, these tanks have become the gold standard. They are also secured in place by means of a special foundation beams on each side and straps holding the tank down.
1.3 Excavation of Pipe Trenches
When the tanks are excavated of the piping trenches should start. One thing to note is that the piping from the tanks to the first dispenser should be free of any bends or unnecessary loops. This ensures that adequate fuel flow is always maintained. The piping trenches between dispensers should be the shortest minimal distance. These trenches also have to be wide enough to accommodate the piping as well as cable sleeving.
1.4 The Positioning of Dispenser Sumps
At the site of the dispensers, it is advisable to first place the dispenser sumps into the excavation and then align them. The sumps should be properly secured as there will be a lot of tugging and pulling to get the final pipework in. Be sure about the specific retailers’ requirements on how the final island should look like, and what position the dispensers should be. As once your piping is secured and welded together, it is challenging to change positions.
1.5 Connecting The Tanks and Sumps
At this stage, the tanks and sumps are in position, and they need to be connected.
It is advisable to install a shutoff valve on each line leading from the tanks. This makes maintenance and fault finding easier with minimal spillage, and ultimately increases safety.
The industry standard is to use HDPE piping which will be electro fusion welded. These pipes can be in a single or double walled variety. The double walled pipes are usually used between sumps and the single walls on internal piping. The welding process itself is quite easy but the welder needs to be trained and competent to setup each and every weld. On every weld, the welder needs to indicate the following details: number of weld in sequence, the date, the time, welder’s name. This ensures that the welder is cognisant of the time the weld is executed and if the weld has soaked enough. These welds are strong, but the key to them is preparation and leaving enough time to soak and dry. It is strongly recommended to weld all the pipes including the ones going into the dispenser. It is usually at this point where the system is prone to leaks.
1.6 Pressure Testing the System
You must pressure test the system before backfilling. If not done, you run the risk of fault finding later by having to excavate all piping and dealing with fuel, while you are searching for the problem.
1.7 Tanks Flange
There are 4 main points on the tank flange that you need to take care of:
The pumping point – Where the STP (Submersible Tank Pump) sits. All your piping going to the dispensers connect to it.
The filling point – This is where the fuel truck connects to fill the tank
The dip hatch – This is where daily dips are done to track fuel levels.
The vent point.
1.8 Vent Stacks
If you are refurbishing a fuel station you might want to use the old vent stacks. This is only advisable if they comply with current regulations. The main problem is that the vents need to be high and far enough to release vapour safely from any electrical supply or human interaction. We have found on occasion that these older vents are blocked or partially blocked. This will cause the overall system pressure to rise and could cause a leak on hotter days.
To clean these vents you can simply attach a compressor on one end and blow them out. For more stubborn blockages, connect a nitrogen cylinder to the piping and blow out any debris that is stuck.
1.9 Cable Sleeving
Before backfilling of the excavations make sure that the cable sleeving is in place. The electricians connect all the cabling last. The piping and cable sleeving require a layer of soft sand around the equipment in order to protect them from damage.
The area over the excavations can now be concreted or paved as specified by the client.
1.10 Fuel Station Aesthetics/ Branding
Usually, the fuel stations would require an aesthetic upgrade as well. This will include the painting of the canopy, installing new lights and upgrading the branding of the overall site. This is the final item the client and the public will see so it pays to keep a close eye on the finishing.
1.11 Fuel Station Licensing
Once all the hardware is in, the branding is done it is just a matter of getting the license to operate from the fire department and welcoming customers to your new station.
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