‘Fuel race’ winner should guide engine development
By Julian Buckley05 April 2023
The K.EY Energy Transition Expo is a showcase event for companies developing and delivering new power generation technologies. Held in Rimini, Italy, the trade fair featured a broad range of new energy solutions, from solar to hydrogen. But together with the renewable energy displays, the event still featured a hall dedicated to internal combustion engines, underlining the critical role diesel still plays in energy generation.
The display of diesel power was organised by Distributed Power Europe (DPE), in collaboration with Generazione Distribuita (GD). Formed just three years ago, GD acts as a representative for Italian companies working in the energy generation market. The group has a series of functions, including: promoting sales and services in the final market; fostering cooperation across the supply chain; contributing to the definition and interpretation of national and regional technical legislation; defining quality standards; and building related training programmes.
Marco Monsurró is president of Generazione Distribuita. “We are the Italian association that resides between the OEM manufacturer and distributors of generator sets, engines and components. We were established in 2020, as part of the Italian Employer’s Association. We look primarily to contribute to laws being written that affect our industry, while also promoting our members internally and outside Italy.”
This does not cover specific products; as Monsurró puts it, the market is “quite liquid” and it’s difficult to identify what is and what’s not Italian – particularly when a given gen set could use parts supplied from across Europe. Instead, he says that as the European market has started to embrace renewable energy sources, gen set manufacturers have been branded as ‘dirty’ energy providers. It is groups like the GD which can help to change these negative opinions.
“Other than gen sets, there is no other way to deliver the backup power needed by schools, hospitals or data centres,” he points out. “We’re not the opposite of renewable resources, we are just a part of the new [market] infrastructure. So we need to reposition ourselves with respect to the public and the European Union, to say that if you need a new microgrid, generators must be a part of that.”
Monsurró says that the GD further works with the European association made up of similar national associations to lobby on behalf of its members. Most recently, this involved working on guidelines covering the introduction of Stage 5 engines for power generation.
“We have suggested a series of different approaches, largely based on technology neutrality. For example, we are currently required to use a specific engine. We should really be following the automotive sector, where each brand uses their own [engine] technology to meet emissions levels. We have to respect those emissions requirements, but there should be room for companies to design their own solutions from all the available components. As it is, it’s not a very efficient solution.”
Asked about how the overall gen set market is performing, Monsurró says that with electricity being the “new energy vector”, so the wider market is following this trend, leading to an increase in sales. “The mood of the market is to electrify. That means you need a generator. There is a lot of talk about battery storage systems (BESSs) and while they’re good for some applications, they are a storage system, not a generation system. The power density of even the best battery is considerably less than a generator. We’re recommending that the best solution now available is a generator, a BESS and an energy management system to optimise the two.”
While businesses in the power sector are benefitting from this electrical energy vector, the cost of generator production (from sourcing and logistics, through to plant power and labour) is increasing on an almost daily basis. Monsurró observes that the engine makes up about 60% of the value of a gen set. This raises issues with profitability, further compounded by availability.
“We’ve had cost increases, but they’ve not been as high as we thought they might be,” says Monsurró. “But especially with European and North American manufacturers there have been problems with availability, which can become a potential cost. This has created an opportunity for gen set manufacturers in the Far East to fill that demand.”
But he adds that the situation is starting to improve: “While I cannot say the market has fully rebounded since the days of COVID, I think we’re on the way there. As for companies supplying from East Asia, the only way an Italian or European company can protect itself is to invest in technology.”
According to Rinaldo Marengo, general manager for Sales and Purchasing, Bimotor was created as a distributor for FPT Industrial engines in the early 1980s. The company role remained largely unchanged through about 2010, about the time Stage 3-compliant engines were introduced. It was at this point, says Marengo, that Bimotor started to extend its remit.
“We were largely acting as a trading company, but moved into validation of the final installation. This ensures the engine is still performing within the emissions levels. So now, we are more than a distributor, we are a solutions provider. We work with the customer from project start, through prototyping, to installation and sign off.”
The process includes “scope of supply” which, while including the engine, also involves sourcing the electronic components and accessories needed to achieve homologation and support a given project through to delivery. The process is so in-depth that it can result in the modified engine/system being considered a Bimotor product, with the addendum ‘Powered by FPT’. This is the case with the Bimotor fire-fighting solution, certified by UL/EM authorities.
“I think we would be out of business quite quickly if we remained just a trading company,” adds Filippo Brunero, Business Development manager at Bimotor. “Our unique selling proposition is that we cover a wide range of engine outputs and the knowledge to develop turnkey systems using those engines.”
Going back to the comments from Generazione Distribuita’s Marco Monsurró, availability has been an issue for Bimotor. “During COVID, we had issues with part supply, particularly injector units, radiators, electronic components,” says Marengo. “The shortage of components really impacted availability. But from about the middle of last year the situation has been improving.”
Securing volumes to support demand has played a key role in Bimotor’s sourcing strategy. In 2020, the company became a one of the lead European distributors for China-based engine company Raywin. The deal has extended the product portfolio and with it, helped to alleviate related supply issues.
“We met with Raywin and they showed us how the product was engineered by [UK-based] Ricardo using a series of high-quality components. This is not your typical engine coming out of China. This is an engine engineered in Europe and manufactured in China for the international market,” says Marengo.
Continuing, he says that Bimotor also helped to prepare Raywin for its European launch. “We advised them on the products that would sell in Europe. One of the reasons we’re [at K.EY in Rimini] is to introduce the new Stage 5 engines from Raywin. Following on from our discussions, there will be both water- and air-cooled Stage 5 engines.
We have a dual role, sales promotion and supporting development of technical documentation that is in line with European standards. Documentation is crucial for a successful launch of the Stage 5 engine in Europe. Air-cooled versions will tap into a market that is short of options and product.”
“We have a different relationship with Raywin than with other companies,” says Brunero. “In Europe, there is a presumption that the engine OEM knows what the market wants. With Raywin, they asked for our advice as to how the engine should be designed to be successful in Europe and you can see those features on the engines.”
Lead times from China are also favourable. Marengo says that from an order being placed with Raywin, the engines will be delivered in 12 weeks. This includes shipping, which takes about six weeks. At the same time, FPT is running at full capacity to fill record demand. This means that even as a distributor, deliveries to Bimotor can average 50 weeks.
“I’m also responsible for purchasing and I’m already having to consider our requirements for 2024,” says Marengo. This, despite Bimotor currently having more than 3000 engines in stock. The figure represents considerable capital investment, but Marengo sees this as a requirement of doing business: “It’s one of the reasons we’re so successful in the market.”
Engine development direction
According to FPT Industrial, Stage 5-compliant engines using common rail injection are compatible with HVO, which effectively makes them carbon neutral in operation. As for Raywin models, Marengo says that while there are plans to produce engines which support different fuel types, the company will wait to see which is the most successful before committing to a given direction.
According to Giuseppe ‘Joe’ Gelonese, who is responsible for Marketing Communications at Isotta Fraschini, the story there is much the same. While the company is well-known for its work with marine engines (it is a division of ship builder Fincantieri), the decision was made to target other power markets in advance of a major new engine launch in 2027.
“With the V170G Series engine, we decided to come back into the energy production market. Even if electricity will be the future, there is going to be an extended transition period where diesel will still be required to produce energy, before it is substituted by something else,” said Gelonese.
As with Bimotor, Gelonese states that the power generation market will demand tailor-made solutions. He says that this is a natural progression for Isotta Fraschini, as supporting Fincantieri in development of power systems for naval and cruise vessels the manufacturer has generally been required to deliver wholly new, ground-up solutions for each application.
“We expect that each request will come with specific features due to the way the energy will be used, so we’re making a lot of investment to support integration, to be able to deliver plug-and-play solutions based on individual applications,” said Gelonese.
But looking at the wider market, he points out what might have been missed in the race to develop engine ranges based on a series of fuel types: “It appears that the market will move from diesel to gas fuels, possibly involving hybrids, and then to hydrogen. But that doesn’t mean that we’ll end up with engines using the most efficient fuel. Logistics should dictate the winner of the fuel race, it should be the one which is easiest to move around. In turn, that should dictate which direction engine manufacturers should take when looking at next-generation developments.”