Alternative Fuels

Propane autogas fuel offers advantages for variety of fleet sizes


Smaller fleets also can benefit from the lower cost of propane autogas. For the last 30 years, the cost of propane autogas has been, on average, 30 percent less than the cost of gasoline. Austin Gutter King’s Kulp says he saves approximately 40 percent on propane autogas compared with the diesel he buys for his other fleet vehicles.

Additional savings comes from a federal tax credit for the use of propane autogas. Fleets can claim 50-cents-per-gallon on fuel purchases through December 31, 2011.

Vehicles fueled by propane autogas also have saved both Austin Gutter King and INDOT money through reduced maintenance costs. Propane autogas burns hotter, cleaner and more efficiently than gasoline and diesel, resulting in reduced wear to engines and longer engine life.

“We have seen significantly reduced maintenance costs because we don’t have to change the oil nearly as often since propane autogas burns so much cleaner,” says Kulp. “We expect the engines to last twice as long because there are fewer hydrocarbons in the fuel. We’re expecting to get about 300,000 miles out of those engines.”

Manufacturers are able to calibrate engines fueled by propane autogas for increased efficiency and higher combustion so the vehicles provide the same horsepower, torque, and towing capacity as gasoline-fueled versions of the same models, while emitting fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

INDOT has not experienced any difference related to the performance of its converted trucks, which is being measured as a part of the contract for its conversion to test the amount of torque and rear wheel horsepower produced.

“It feels great to know that there’s a viable option out there that isn’t using gasoline,” says Jason Jones, INDOT’s director of highway maintenance. “It’s great to drive a vehicle fueled by propane autogas. You can’t tell any difference.”

“It’s just like a regular truck,” agrees Kulp. “I’ve got a 60-gallon tank in the bed of the truck, and I like it because it moves the weight forward and allows me to tow more because I no longer have the 35-gallon gas tank at the very rear of the vehicle.”

REFUEL METHODS

Ease of refueling has accelerated the use of vehicles fueled by propane autogas among fleets of various sizes.

Many fleets are realizing the advantages of installing an on-site refueling dispenser, which is compact and easy to install. The cost of installing a propane autogas refueling station is comparable to the cost of installing a gasoline or diesel refueling station.

Propane autogas providers can help fleet managers select the best on-site refueling option, and coordinate ongoing delivery of propane autogas.

Fleets also can refuel off-site at one of thousands of refueling stations across the United States. There are more propane autogas refueling stations in the country than for any other alternative fuel, including one in every state, according to the Energy Department’s Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicle Data Center.

INDOT and Austin Gutter King each have installed on-site dispensing for their fleets, but on very different scales.

INDOT has 115 refueling sites set up across the state of Indiana, spaced about 30 miles apart, which were installed by a state contractor. Each site has a 1,000-gallon tank with a dispenser accessible to drivers 24 hours a day. A fuel card issued to each driver provides access to the facility.

The state has contracts with various regional propane autogas providers to facilitate fuel deliveries. As more of the INDOT vehicles are converted to propane autogas, INDOT anticipates installing larger tanks at some of the refueling sites.

Austin Gutter King has a 500-gallon tank at its headquarters to refuel vehicles. The infrastructure was installed by its propane autogas provider, which also facilitates fuel delivery.

Drivers in both fleets have completed safety training sessions to learn the proper procedures for refueling vehicles.

“Our propane autogas provider conducted training to refuel vehicles, which is a relatively simple process - just as simple as gasoline,” Kulp says.

SUSTAINABLE OPERATION

Vehicles fueled by propane autogas not only provide high performance, cost savings and easy refueling, but also reduce emissions. On average, fleet vehicles fueled by propane autogas emit 12 percent less carbon dioxide, about 20 percent less nitrogen oxide and up to 60 percent less carbon monoxide than gasoline-fueled vehicles.

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