Why is refined fuel so expensive?

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Egil Skallagrimsson
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Why is refined fuel so expensive?

Postby Egil Skallagrimsson » Wed Aug 24, 2011 10:55 am

Unrefined fuel, 100Cr, refined, 500Cr. We have always opperated ships with fuel processors, so you buy a tank of unrefined, refine it yourself and save a fortune.

The thing is, fuel processors are cheap, a basic one costs 50000Cr and can process 20t/day, so 7300t/year, thus generating fuel which can be sold for 3650000Cr, less unrefined fuel costs of 730000Cr, less processor cost of 50000Cr, annual profit of 2870000Cr before labour and maintence costs (maintence about 4Cr a month, using the measure for starship maint).

There are one or two assumptions about continuous use and low maintenance costs, but basically the mark up is ridiculous.

If refined fuel was sold for 110CR it should still make a moderate profit, earnings 803000, less unfined fuel costs of 730000, less processor cost of 50000Cr, profit of 23000Cr before labour and maintenance costs (and in second and subsequent years you keep the processor).

You will need power (pretty cheap with trav technology) and pay your taxes, but starports are also the home of cut throat capitalist competition, with megacorps operating huge economies of scale, so perhaps a cost of 110-125Cr is about right. 500Cr will price yourself out of market.

Any thoughts?

Egil

Edit for grammar
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Re: Why is refined fuel so expensive?

Postby rust » Wed Aug 24, 2011 11:05 am

One of the first things I did for my Traveller settings was to
delete the different costs for refined and unrefined fuel at
starports, there was only refined fuel available for 150 Cre-
dits per dton.
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Re: Why is refined fuel so expensive

Postby far-trader » Wed Aug 24, 2011 11:24 am

Welcome to the far future :) ;)

I've heard a few ideas for the whys and hows, mostly setting laws and such. My take is a little different.

I too soon realized when HG (the CT version) came out ages ago with its onboard fuel purifiers that nobody would build a ship without them or ever buy refined fuel again. The cost breakpoint for a merchant came out just short of even for the basic Free Trader factoring loss of revenue cargo space iirc. And anything bigger or with longer legs was saving money. And with misjumps nobody would use unrefined if onboard purifiers were as small and cheap as they were.

Rather than mess with changing the prices I reinvented the fuel definitions based on the loose terminology as an excuse.

Originally there was unrefined (causing problems but free for skimming or only available at poorer ports for Cr100/ton) and refined (no problems and only available at better ports for Cr500/ton). Then along comes purified (note the minor difference in nomenclature) that is described as refined.

My solution was three fuel qualities:

Unrefined: Free for the taking by skimming or scooping with the proper equipment, but unusable as is. Before it can be used it must be purified.

This is a new definition of the term, and a new fuel type, really a non-fuel type.

Purified: By employing small, basic, cheap purifiers unrefined fuel can be easily and quickly made serviceable for drives though at some risk of contamination of the drives leading to breakdowns or misjumps. Shipboard purifiers are common on almost all ships as a backup but not to be relied on for routine use. Purified fuel is also routinely available at smaller backwater starports (C and D) for Cr100/ton where better facilities don't exist or demand can't support them.

This is the old unrefined fuel, with a new name and explanation, that incorporates the onboard fuel purifier rules.

Refined: Only possible with large and expensive installations and requiring considerable time purified fuel can be further processed until it is refined to the point of being pure enough to reliably perform without complications. Only better quality starports (A and B) can afford the infrastructure to produce this level of fuel and it sells for a premium price, Cr500/ton, but is worth it for the safe operation and long life of the expensive drives. Some large ships may include such aboard but it is rare except for military ships due to the expense, volume and time required to refine. Smaller military ships routinely use purified fuel under strict practices to reduce the chance of drive malfunction.

This is of course the old Refined fuel given a new reasoning and not being permitted as a small or cheap onboard option.

It works for me :)
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Re: Why is refined fuel so expensive?

Postby Sturn » Wed Aug 24, 2011 11:27 am

My change for Traveller was to make any field processed fuel Unrefined but any good starport (A, B) had fully Refined fuel. Just gathering a belly full of water gave you just water. Ship processors make the water into Unrefined fuel with its jump risks. Players would not normally be able to make Refined fuel which required a larger processor. I think I made these, "refineries", 10x the size and cost of normal processors.
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Re: Why is refined fuel so expensive

Postby Egil Skallagrimsson » Wed Aug 24, 2011 11:43 am

far-trader wrote: Rather than mess with changing the prices I reinvented the fuel definitions based on the loose terminology as an excuse.

Originally there was unrefined (causing problems but free for skimming or only available at poorer ports for Cr100/ton) and refined (no problems and only available at better ports for Cr500/ton). Then along comes purified (note the minor difference in nomenclature) that is described as refined....
Clever! :) Just a little bit over complicated for me, but thanks for the detailed explanation.

Egil

Edit PS However, I am quite happy to mess with the prices :wink: , so will probably go for 110-120Cr, for refined fuel in most cases.
Last edited by Egil Skallagrimsson on Wed Aug 24, 2011 11:53 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why is refined fuel so expensive?

Postby Egil Skallagrimsson » Wed Aug 24, 2011 11:46 am

Sturn wrote:My change for Traveller was to make any field processed fuel Unrefined but any good starport (A, B) had fully Refined fuel. Just gathering a belly full of water gave you just water. Ship processors make the water into Unrefined fuel with its jump risks. Players would not normally be able to make Refined fuel which required a larger processor. I think I made these, "refineries", 10x the size and cost of normal processors.
I like this, redefining how different fuel qualities are produced, could see this driving up galactic shipping costs. :shock:

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Re: Why is refined fuel so expensive?

Postby Egil Skallagrimsson » Wed Aug 24, 2011 11:49 am

rust wrote:One of the first things I did for my Traveller settings was to
delete the different costs for refined and unrefined fuel at
starports, there was only refined fuel available for 150 Cre-
dits per dton.
This fits with my keep it simple approach, but rules out the use of unrefined fuel for non-jump journies.

Egil
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Re: Why is refined fuel so expensive?

Postby far-trader » Wed Aug 24, 2011 11:51 am

You're quite welcome Egil Skallagrimsson. The explanation is far more complicated than the implementation once you've grasped it, and Sturn (great minds and all... ), condensed the explanation nicely with his own similar (if not identical) solution :)
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Re: Why is refined fuel so expensive?

Postby rust » Wed Aug 24, 2011 12:28 pm

Egil Skallagrimsson wrote: This fits with my keep it simple approach, but rules out the use of unrefined fuel for non-jump journies.
You could not buy unrefined fuel from the starport fuel service,
but the local water service would most probably be happy to
sell you a few hundred cubic meters of drinking water - and in
most cases this would be far less expensive than buying unre-
fined fuel from the starport would have been.
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Re: Why is refined fuel so expensive?

Postby BFalcon » Wed Aug 24, 2011 12:35 pm

Well, to put it from a businessman's perspective, someone has to go fetch the fuel (preferably from a gas giant or from stellar ice (eg comet) rather than terrestrial fuel sources (which are finite and often needed to live).

Therefore, I consider that the following are all considerations on planetary fuel sources: Water is needed for the eco-system, so needs to be replaced at some point - possibly by shipping it in from a more water-heavy world or by refining the hydrogen and combining with the oxygen produced when refining.

Stellar sources: Someone needs to go survey sources. Someone else needs to go fetch it. All that needs fuel and upkeep for the ships and wages for the crews. Robots probably aren't trusted for the job since people tend to be cheaper and are more adaptable.

Refined fuel is needed for bulk freighters and passenger ships - they can't waste the time to go fetch the fuel - and don't forget, you do spend quite a time going to fetch the fuel from even a gas giant (which may be on the other side of the system), let alone having to do the 100d trip from the gas giant itself...

In all cases, you also need the crews and facilities (which need upkeep and maintenance) to supply the fuel - refined fuel especially needs strict safety measures to prevent explosions (case in point the fuel depot fire that happened in the SE of England a few years ago - imagine if that had been hydrogen which would have exploded all at once instead of catching fire).

I don't see refined fuel as being supplied for the smaller ships, just for the larger ships or those with strict deadlines to meet. If you want the service, you pay for it, if not, nobody's forcing you to.

In systems without a known stellar source, the planet is the only place you can get fuel - the local navy would probably enforce a "no landing planetside without a permit, except at the downport" policy, making the fuel at the spaceport the only source (possibly to safeguard the ecosystem or because of fuel cartels).

In systems where there's no planetary water and no stellar fuel sources, the fuel is shipped in - I'd charge at LEAST triple the normal fuel cost per catagory and up to 10x would be acceptable if it's on a trade route (price gouging, I know, but supply and demand). After all, in such a system, the fuel cartels have you by the "happy sacks"... :)

I think you need to remember one thing - it may be expensive, but then how much are you going to have to pay for the time you have to spend going to get the fuel and refine it... are those extra days worth less than the cost of the fuel or more? If more, just pay the man and use the saved time to earn more money... a few days is enough time to find a job on the planet or on the highport and earn more, potentially, than the fuel would cost if nothing else.
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Re: Why is refined fuel so expensive?

Postby rust » Wed Aug 24, 2011 12:39 pm

Ah, but survey, transport and all that costs the same for
unrefined and refined fuel at the starport, the problem is
why the refining of the fuel increases the price by 400 Cr.
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Re: Why is refined fuel so expensive?

Postby BFalcon » Wed Aug 24, 2011 12:43 pm

rust wrote:
Egil Skallagrimsson wrote: This fits with my keep it simple approach, but rules out the use of unrefined fuel for non-jump journies.
You could not buy unrefined fuel from the starport fuel service,
but the local water service would most probably be happy to
sell you a few hundred cubic meters of drinking water - and in
most cases this would be far less expensive than buying unre-
fined fuel from the starport would have been.

Remember that you're not the only ones requesting the service - and that planetside water, once gone, is gone forever. You remove a few billion tons of water off a planet in a year, let's say, and you could soon end up with the ecosystem collapsing. Sooner or later, you'd need to replace it at your own cost.

Also, by refining said water locally, at least you know that you'd only need the hydrogen to replace the water, so could ship in stellar hydrogen if need be - if someone takes off with unrefined fuel and then refines in space, you've lost the oxygen and other "impurities" that would be needed to replace the water (especially seawater).

(I do like the updating before posting on the new forum...) :)

Rust: Not true necessarily - the ship still needs upkeep. Each ton of processors is one less ton of fuel per run and you have to wait before the fuel is refined. If you have enough processors that you can refine in the time you take to get back to the spaceport, then you've probably lost 1/3 or more of the fuel shipping capacity of the ship. If you refine when you get back, you need the facilities to do so, meaning staff and storage facilties. Also, like I said before - storage for refined (explosive) fuel is going to be more expensive than for unrefined (inert) fuel.
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Re: Why is refined fuel so expensive?

Postby Ishmael » Wed Aug 24, 2011 1:22 pm

There are obviously more costs involved that eat into any profit than are mentioned here.

Crew salaries to run the thing 24/7 and the base assumption seems to be 0 down-time.
Acquisition and transport of raw materials to be 'filtered' along with crew and maintenance costs for that equipment. If from skimming, its very dangerous ( based on older versions at least ).
Rare and controlled additives* to the fuel.
The costs of disposing the waste left over after filtering the stuff.
Taxes and environmental regulations and tariffs for everything.

Prices will be related to supply and demand, therefore, will it be cheaper for a ship to get their own purified fuel with their own purifiers given time lost going to a gas giant?..or paying various fees to use main world resources?
For systems without GG's I suppose the prices will be much higher.

*Refined fuel isn't about only filtering out impurities, but is also about certifications concerning proper isotope ratios and carefully controlled additives to make fuel flow more consistent, anti corrosion, etc. After all, 'hydrogen' fuel is an abstraction that covers a myriad of consumables including lubricants and coolants ( at least in TNE's FF&S1 ).

Like with so many other things about the economics of Traveller, its simplified abstraction for game balance and not realism.
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Re: Why is refined fuel so expensive?

Postby DFW » Wed Aug 24, 2011 1:41 pm

Ishmael wrote:*Refined fuel isn't about only filtering out impurities, but is also about certifications concerning proper isotope ratios and carefully controlled additives to make fuel flow more consistent, anti corrosion, etc. After all, 'hydrogen' fuel is an abstraction that covers a myriad of consumables including lubricants and coolants ( at least in TNE's FF&S1 ).
This isn't TNE. It is P-P fusion using H2. Nothing else.
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Re: Why is refined fuel so expensive?

Postby Egil Skallagrimsson » Wed Aug 24, 2011 1:46 pm

BFalcon wrote:
rust wrote:
Egil Skallagrimsson wrote: This fits with my keep it simple approach, but rules out the use of unrefined fuel for non-jump journies.
You could not buy unrefined fuel from the starport fuel service,
but the local water service would most probably be happy to
sell you a few hundred cubic meters of drinking water - and in
most cases this would be far less expensive than buying unre-
fined fuel from the starport would have been.
Rust: Not true necessarily - the ship still needs upkeep. Each ton of processors is one less ton of fuel per run and you have to wait before the fuel is refined. If you have enough processors that you can refine in the time you take to get back to the spaceport, then you've probably lost 1/3 or more of the fuel shipping capacity of the ship. If you refine when you get back, you need the facilities to do so, meaning staff and storage facilties. Also, like I said before - storage for refined (explosive) fuel is going to be more expensive than for unrefined (inert) fuel.
Not the case, a Free Trader/Far trader or Fat Trader using one or two processors (1 or 2 tons) will refine all a full load of fuel in less than two days, which can be done while over business is being carried out in port (trade etc). The loss of cargo space is limited, the savings enormous.

Egil
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Re: Why is refined fuel so expensive?

Postby Egil Skallagrimsson » Wed Aug 24, 2011 1:55 pm

BFalcon wrote:Well, to put it from a businessman's perspective, someone has to go fetch the fuel (preferably from a gas giant or from stellar ice (eg comet) rather than terrestrial fuel sources (which are finite and often needed to live).

Therefore, I consider that the following are all considerations on planetary fuel sources: Water is needed for the eco-system, so needs to be replaced at some point - possibly by shipping it in from a more water-heavy world or by refining the hydrogen and combining with the oxygen produced when refining.

Stellar sources: Someone needs to go survey sources. Someone else needs to go fetch it. All that needs fuel and upkeep for the ships and wages for the crews. Robots probably aren't trusted for the job since people tend to be cheaper and are more adaptable.

Refined fuel is needed for bulk freighters and passenger ships - they can't waste the time to go fetch the fuel - and don't forget, you do spend quite a time going to fetch the fuel from even a gas giant (which may be on the other side of the system), let alone having to do the 100d trip from the gas giant itself...

In all cases, you also need the crews and facilities (which need upkeep and maintenance) to supply the fuel - refined fuel especially needs strict safety measures to prevent explosions (case in point the fuel depot fire that happened in the SE of England a few years ago - imagine if that had been hydrogen which would have exploded all at once instead of catching fire).

I don't see refined fuel as being supplied for the smaller ships, just for the larger ships or those with strict deadlines to meet. If you want the service, you pay for it, if not, nobody's forcing you to.

In systems without a known stellar source, the planet is the only place you can get fuel - the local navy would probably enforce a "no landing planetside without a permit, except at the downport" policy, making the fuel at the spaceport the only source (possibly to safeguard the ecosystem or because of fuel cartels).

In systems where there's no planetary water and no stellar fuel sources, the fuel is shipped in - I'd charge at LEAST triple the normal fuel cost per catagory and up to 10x would be acceptable if it's on a trade route (price gouging, I know, but supply and demand). After all, in such a system, the fuel cartels have you by the "happy sacks"... :)

I think you need to remember one thing - it may be expensive, but then how much are you going to have to pay for the time you have to spend going to get the fuel and refine it... are those extra days worth less than the cost of the fuel or more? If more, just pay the man and use the saved time to earn more money... a few days is enough time to find a job on the planet or on the highport and earn more, potentially, than the fuel would cost if nothing else.
All very valid, but in a mature space going economy this is being done on a huge scale, companies skim gas giants, and ship the fuel to space ports, inexpensively.

There is an issue with systems that lack gas giants and have dry main worlds, collecting and cracking ice balls would be slightly more expensive, but not hugely so. The "starports" supplement suggests that the SPA subsidies fuel costs for starports in systems that have these difficulties.

I don't see that any of your points justify an extra 400Cr per ton, and many of them would apply to the cost of unrefined fuel as well.

Not sure about fuel cartels, would expect to see lots of healthy competition, certainly in 3I starports, all helping to keep prices down.

Egil
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Re: Why is refined fuel so expensive?

Postby Egil Skallagrimsson » Wed Aug 24, 2011 2:04 pm

Ishmael wrote:There are obviously more costs involved that eat into any profit than are mentioned here.

Crew salaries to run the thing 24/7 and the base assumption seems to be 0 down-time.
Acquisition and transport of raw materials to be 'filtered' along with crew and maintenance costs for that equipment. If from skimming, its very dangerous ( based on older versions at least ).
Rare and controlled additives* to the fuel.
The costs of disposing the waste left over after filtering the stuff.
Taxes and environmental regulations and tariffs for everything.
Yes, but not enough to justify the huge price difference. Crew salaries will be low, and much automated and computer controlled anyway, no need for additives in MgT fuel as far as I can see, and skimming in MgT is also pretty risk free, failure just leads to a delay, disposing of waste may be a problem on down ports, in a High Port you just chuck it into the vacuum. If you look at the figures in the first posting, you can see that even with a little down time, the profits are still huge.

The biggest cost will be the raw, unrefined fuel or water, because of the scale of the operation.

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Re: Why is refined fuel so expensive?

Postby hdan » Wed Aug 24, 2011 2:35 pm

I'm sure my memory is faulty on this, but in CT I was under the impression that skimming took a week of time, and even refueling from a water source took days to process into fuel. Refined fuel was there as a way to get fuel when the few days of processing time is worth more to you than the cost of the refined fuel.

Having said that, I also take far-trader's approach IMTU - you can't refuel at all in "the wild" without fuel processors and scoops, and those machines only give you what would be considered "unrefined" fuel. You have to pay for the good stuff - you can't buy unrefined fuel and process it further on your ship.

The upshot of this is that IMTU, huge commercial liners and freighters won't be willing to risk the -2 DM on their jumps, so won't bother to install processors or visit worlds that don't sell refined fuel unless they have competent engineers and well maintained engines. The "tramps" are the only ones who generally *can* visit Class E or X Starports.
/hdan
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Re: Why is refined fuel so expensive?

Postby DFW » Wed Aug 24, 2011 2:46 pm

hdan wrote:I'm sure my memory is faulty on this, but in CT I was under the impression that skimming took a week of time, and even refueling from a water source took days to process into fuel. Refined fuel was there as a way to get fuel when the few days of processing time is worth more to you than the cost of the refined fuel.
No, CT didn't have a time period of a week to skim. Processing was by the amount of proceessor installed. Like other versions.
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Re: Why is refined fuel so expensive?

Postby hdan » Wed Aug 24, 2011 3:38 pm

DFW wrote:No, CT didn't have a time period of a week to skim. Processing was by the amount of proceessor installed. Like other versions.
You're right (unsurprisingly) - I just looked it up in my handy copy of the "starter edition" PDFs. 8 hours to fill the tanks from a gas giant, 4 hours from an H2O ocean, both resulting in a tank full of unrefined fuel.

After doing some more crunching, I think my original "takes a week" impression came from the average travel time for a 2G ship to a "close gas giant" (96.2 hrs) combined with the time to refuel - if you jump in at the GG then head for the main world, you spend 5 days. A 1G ship spends just under 7 days.

So yeah, not at all related to fuel processing, but related to gas giant skimming in general for merchant type ships.
/hdan

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