Propane autogas yields savings and environmental benefits to Illinois’ capital city

 

As operational and traditional costs continue to rise for municipalities to expand and manage light duty vehicle fleets, the decision to choose an alternative fuel is often easy, as this helps support a city’s economic and environmental goals.

The City of Springfield, IL, desired lower fuel costs, decreased maintenance intervals and longer life of vehicle engines to better utilize taxpayer dollars. As well, it sought to benefit the environment through cleaner vehicle engine emissions and utilization of a domestically produced and abundant fuel source.

As one of 22 municipalities recognized as “top energy performers” in green power, energy efficiency and conservation by the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Smarter Cities Project, it was not surprising when the capital city chose to convert vehicles to propane autogas.

NRDC is an environmental action group. Its Smarter Cities Project develops and promotes approaches to address important specific issues that affect quality of life and the long-term health of cities.

Propane autogas refers to liquid petroleum gas (LPG) when it is used in an on-road engine. Propane autogas is nontoxic, colorless and virtually odorless. An identifying odor is added so it can be readily detected.

 

ASSISTANCE

Springfield converted 24 police patrol cars and pickup trucks with the help of CleanFUEL USA, an industry leader in propane autogas fleets and fueling infrastructure (www.cleanfuelusa.com). Last year, the company installed an on-site refueling station with its P2100 propane autogas dispenser to fuel the vehicles.

The P2100 is a simple-to-use dispenser with all the electronic functionality of bigger retail dispensers. Plus, it communicates to most fuel management systems.

City leaders structured the pilot program around utilization of both federal and state grants, as well as a public/private partnership with their fuel supplier. In turn, the city paid nothing for the conversions of its first 24 vehicles and the refueling station.

 

CONCERNS ABOUT COST

“It was obvious to us from the beginning that propane autogas was the best and most cost effective alternative fuel for the type of assets we wished to convert,” says William D. McCarty, finance director for the City of Springfield. “Propane autogas presented the best opportunity to precipitously decrease fuel, capital and maintenance costs, while emitting less greenhouse gases with an American-made fuel.” 

On average, propane has been less than half of the cost of traditional fuel, and the city has experienced significant fuel savings in a relatively short period of time.

The city originally approximated a first annual fuel cost savings of $82,000. It now anticipates slightly diminished planned savings to a level of around $70,000 due to the spike in propane costs this winter and government rebate levels. Yet, city officials expect being back up to predicted savings amounts this coming year and in years to come.

 

REFULEING SYSTEM

The propane autogas refueling infrastructure was also less expensive than any other alternative fuels’ refueling infrastructure on the market, Springfield’s McCarty says.

While installation took a bit longer than planned, given it was a new concept for the city, it was worth the wait as there was quick adoption, he notes. The fuel dispenser’s operation largely mirrors that of a regular fuel pump – an important piece of the puzzle in getting drivers to warm up to and embrace the alternative fuel.

Another thing that helped with the adoption of the alternative fuel is that propane autogas’ power, acceleration and cruising speed are similar to those of conventionally-fueled vehicles.

“With minimal upfront costs and substantial fuel savings, propane autogas fuel systems and dispensers are excellent solutions for municipalities and other light duty fleets looking to achieve both budget and sustainability goals in a relatively short amount of time,” says Curtis Donaldson, founder and managing director of CleanFUEL USA.

Already the leading alternative fuel in the United States, propane autogas costs an average of 30 to 40 percent less than gasoline and up to 50 percent less than diesel. Vehicles fueled by propane autogas, the lowest greenhouse gas emitting fuel, discharge 20 percent less nitrogen oxide, 60 percent less carbon monoxide and up to 25 percent less greenhouse gases.

 

VEHICLE MAINTENANCE PLUSES

Propane autogas vehicles have lower maintenance costs due in part to the fuel’s high octane rating and clean burning characteristics. The fuel burns so cleanly that it produces considerably less emissions and releases low amounts of combustion by-products, like unburned fuel, carbon (soot) and acids into the motor oil.

When motor oil stays cleaner longer, the intervals between oil changes can be extended. Additionally, the engines themselves often have a longer service life and reduced maintenance costs.

 

ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS

“Adopting propane autogas technology, with its positive environmental impacts, was simply good public policy given our city’s dedication to enhanced sustainability efforts,” Springfield’s finance director McCarty says.

The community has embraced the adoption, as have surrounding Illinois cities that have reached out for on-site tours and discussions to learn more about Springfield’s conversion to propane autogas for their own deployments.

As far as plans for more propane autogas conversions in Springfield, the city plans to purchase additional propane autogas systems for more vehicles by the end of this year.

Springfield’s original fleet conversion to propane autogas was funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Energy Department’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, an initiative to help displace millions of gallons of petroleum annually.

 

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