The alternative fuels terrain is tough to navigate. With the various fuel and technology options available for commercial vehicles, how do you make the right choice for your organization?
Know that you’re not alone, and that many resources can help you research and decide on the best option for your fleet.
According to the World LP Gas Association, there are more than 27 million on-road vehicles fueled by propane autogas around the world. In the US, there are over 18,000 propane autogas-fueled vehicles equipped with ROUSH CleanTech technology on the road.
You don’t need to have a large fleet to garner the benefits—current propane technology enables you to order the number of vehicles you need, whether that’s one, a dozen, or 100. Plus, funding is available to help pay for these alt fuel vehicles. The US Energy Department’s Alternative Fuels Data Center showcases state and federal funding opportunities, and these vehicles could be eligible for funding from the Volkswagen settlement’s Environmental Mitigation Trust.
Propane autogas vehicles all run on nontoxic, colorless, and clean-burning propane autogas, which is an approved alternative fuel under the Clean Air Act. Currently, more than 90 percent of US propane supplies come from domestic production, making propane autogas a readily available alternative to imported oil. Propane autogas vehicles must meet the same safety standards as conventionally fueled vehicles. To learn more, visit the Propane Education & Research Council’s website at www.propane.com.
3 STEPS TO AUTOGAS
Step 1: Understand how propane autogas vehicles can benefit your fleet.
Propane autogas, the term used for propane when used in an on-road engine, has both economic and environmental benefits.
Compared with diesel, propane costs less per gallon. On average, propane autogas is about 40 percent less than gasoline and 50 percent less than diesel. In addition to fuel savings, fleet operators have experienced lower costs for oil changes and routine maintenance due to the fuel’s clean-burning properties.
Engines powered by propane autogas require less oil per oil change than diesel (seven quarts vs 17-30 quarts), and no additional diesel emissions fluids or hardware. Propane autogas vehicles eliminate the need for particulate trap systems, EGR systems, and turbochargers and intercoolers. Filter packages cost about 60 percent less on propane autogas vehicles than diesel vehicles.
Propane autogas has the added environmental benefit of reducing emissions. Vehicles fueled by propane autogas emit up to 18 percent fewer greenhouse gases with 20 percent less nitrogen oxide, 60 percent less carbon monoxide, and fewer particulate emissions than models fueled by gasoline. When compared to conventional diesel, fueling with propane autogas results in an estimated 80 percent reduction in smog-forming hydrocarbon emissions and virtually eliminates particulate matter.
All engines of any fuel type must be certified to the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard. Look for propane engines that go beyond that certification. For instance, the ROUSH CleanTech propane engine is certified to the optional low NOx level 0.05 g/hph-hr, making it 75 percent cleaner than the EPA’s current standard.
Step 2: Assess your fleet.
Assess which of your current and future fleet vehicles could move from conventional fuels to propane autogas. You’ll have the option to purchase new propane vehicles or to convert existing ones. Either way, you can experience cost savings and emissions reductions.
Newly purchased propane autogas vehicles should have the benefit of the original equipment manufacturer warranty intact. A new propane autogas-fueled vehicle will also have the necessary hardened valves and valve seats installed directly from the automotive factory. This valve configuration accommodates propane’s different lubricity (compared to gasoline and diesel) and keeps valves and valve seats from receding.
Comparing total cost of ownership between various vehicles can help you make a more informed decision. The higher the annual miles driven and the lower the vehicle’s fuel efficiency, the more likely propane autogas will provide a quick return on investment. How much could your fleet save with propane? The savings calculator from the Propane Education and Research found at www.propane.com will help you measure the cost per mile.
The City of Santa Ana purchased seven vehicles fueled by propane autogas as part of its ongoing green initiatives effort to enhance its commitment to conservation and the environment. The new ROUSH CleanTech Ford F-550 trucks will reduce carbon emissions, lower fuel and maintenance costs, and decrease reliance on imported oil.
Step 3: Determine a fueling strategy.
The last step in making the transition to propane autogas is to determine a fueling strategy. Your choices are to fill up at public propane autogas fueling stations, at a private pump on your fleet’s premises, or to contract for onsite fueling services.
Because many companies’ vehicles return to a central point at the end of each day, an onsite propane station can easily take care of your fueling needs. There are underground storage tanks for longer-term use or aboveground skids that can be replaced or removed, depending on your available space and storage necessity. Look for a local fuel supplier to install low or no-cost propane infrastructure. These propane providers specialize in helping fleets choose the right fueling option based on the fleet size, routes, budget, and facility space.
According to the Alternative Fuels Data Center, the upfront cost of propane infrastructure is very affordable. In fact, propane autogas fueling infrastructure costs less than any other type of fueling station—conventional or alternative. Fleet owners may only be responsible for installing permanent equipment like a concrete pad or electricity line for the fuel station. The other costs (that could include a tank, pump, and dispensing equipment) may be picked up or offered at low cost when you sign a fueling contract with a propane provider.
Another option is to contract with a propane supplier to perform onsite propane autogas fueling services. The propane supplier comes to your location and fuels from their bobtail truck. And for fleets with limited space, public stations can be the solution. There are already thousands of propane stations across the US. To find stations near you, visit the Alternative Fuels Data Center at www.afdc.energy.gov.
As part of this step, you should vet both providers of the fuel and the fueling stations. Propane providers can answer your questions about fueling your fleet. You may even already have a propane provider for other equipment, like forklifts or commercial mowers.
With conventional fuel prices on the rise, and the federal government’s strict environmental controls, the total ownership cost of diesel vehicles is heading upward. For the public and private sector, this trend creates a well-timed opportunity to transition vehicles to clean-burning, cost-effective propane autogas.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Todd Mouw is president of ROUSH CleanTech, an industry leader of alternative fuel vehicle technology. Mouw has more than two decades of experience in the automotive and high-tech industries. As former president of the NTEA Green Truck Association, Mouw helped set standards in the green trucking industry. Find out more, visit www.roushcleantech.com.