Looking at Propane Autogas for Transit Fleets

As the government continues to develop new standards for vehicle emissions, fleet managers are looking to incorporate vehicles that meet sustainability requirements while maintaining organizational cost and performance goals.

One option growing in popularity is incorporating buses, shuttles and vans fueled by propane autogas into fleets. New models feature the latest in propane autogas technology, and successfully meet cost, performance and sustainability expectations, while offering a viable alternative to conventionally fueled vehicles.

Mammoth Cave National Park uses buses fueled by propane autogas to transport more than 200,000 visitors annually. Because of the success the park has already seen, it recently bought four new Blue Bird Propane-Powered Vision school buses to replace aging buses in its fleet through a grant from the Energy Department and facilitated by the Kentucky Clean Fuels Coalition.

Sustainable, high-performing solution

The cost, performance and sustainability attributes are a few of the reasons that Mammoth Cave National Park converted its entire fleet of six buses from gasoline to propane autogas more than a decade ago.

Mammoth Cave’s buses join more than 270,000 on-road vehicles today in the United States, according to the Energy Department, running on propane autogas, the nation’s third-most-common vehicle fuel after gasoline and diesel.

The park’s concessionaire, Forever Resorts, owns, operates and maintains the buses. The buses travel up to 10 hours a day for a combined 475 miles during the park’s busy season.

“Fueling our buses with propane autogas matches Mammoth Cave’s mission to be an environmental leader and employ sustainable practices,” says Mammoth Cave National Park Superintendent Pat Reed. “The buses allow us to transport visitors while reducing our carbon footprint.”

Propane-autogas-fueled vehicles emit 12 percent less carbon dioxide, about 20 percent less nitrogen oxide, and up to 60 percent less carbon monoxide than gasoline-fueled vehicles, ultimately reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 25 percent.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has granted certification approval for many buses, vans and shuttles fueled by propane autogas. The U.S. EPA also has certified these vehicles.

High performance with reduced maintenance

Along with sustainability comes high performance. Operators of vehicles fueled by propane autogas experience the same horsepower and torque as gasoline- and diesel-fueled engines.

“The performance is exactly the same as a gasoline- or diesel-fueled bus; there is immediate acceleration and lots of power,” Davis says. “If you drive a bus, you would never know it didn’t run on gasoline.”

Mammoth Cave services the buses through certified mechanics who have been trained to perform maintenance on the buses.

“Our engines are getting more years of service with propane autogas,” Davis says.

Propane autogas also burns cleaner in engines than gasoline and diesel, which traditionally results in reduced maintenance costs throughout the life of a vehicle, and extended engine life. While vehicles fueled by propane autogas may have a purchase price that can be up to $4,000 to $12,000 more than that of traditional gasoline- and diesel-fueled vehicles, these costs can be offset by the reduced maintenance costs and less expensive propane autogas fuel.

As a practice, the park continues to change the buses’ oil approximately every 3,500 miles, but technicians have noted that the cleaner-burning fuel does not require oil changes as frequently as conventional fuels.

Implementation that can curb costs

Federal and state incentives support adoption of buses, shuttles and vans fueled by propane autogas and create new opportunities in the market.

The federal government and many states offer programs encouraging the use of alternative fuels, with most states offering at least one incentive. This includes a propane autogas fuel tax credit of 50 cents per gallon through Dec. 31, 2011, as part of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010.

Federal tax credits also are available for up to 30 percent of the cost of installing alternative fueling equipment. This amount cannot exceed $30,000 and must be in service before Dec. 31, 2011.

Convenient, straightforward refueling

Approximately 56,000 miles of pipeline and more than 6,000 retail dealer locations make propane autogas increasingly available throughout the United States. In addition, using vehicles fueled by propane autogas can play a key role in lowering the national dependence on foreign oil, as 90 percent of propane autogas used in the United States today comes from domestic production sources.

Many fleet managers are realizing the advantages of installing on-site dispensing, which includes a large tank and a no-spill dispenser. The cost of installing a propane autogas refueling station is comparable to the cost of installing a gasoline or diesel refueling station.

For example, Mammoth Cave owns a 1,000-gallon, on-site refueling dispenser, while Forever Resorts negotiates an annual fuel contract and manages weekly fuel delivery with a local propane provider. During the busy summer months, the buses use around 80 gallons of fuel daily. All drivers have been trained on proper refueling procedures. Safety and training classes can be taught by local propane providers on-site.

Fleets also can refuel off-site at thousands of refueling stations across the United States. Fleet managers and drivers can locate stations via the Energy Department’s Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicle Data Center.1

Getting started

The combination of advanced propane autogas engine technology and availability of vehicle and refueling options means that fleet managers can begin to integrate vehicles fueled by propane autogas into their existing operations immediately.

The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) supports the research and development of engines and liquid propane autogas injection systems for vehicle platforms. In the past two years, more than a dozen new platforms fueled by propane autogas have been developed with funding from PERC.

Fleet managers can choose from buses fueled by propane autogas from companies such as Blue Bird Corp., Collins Bus Corp., and soon from Thomas Built Buses. These manufacturers have collaborated with well-known automotive companies to provide liquid propane autogas injection engines for their respective bus offerings.

Other applications include shuttle bus and van applications from Roush CleanTech through a partnership with Ford Motor Co., and CleanFuel USA through a partnership with General Motors, each of which has new platforms in development. These include Ford E-series vans and GM 6.0L G4500 Cut-Van Chassis and GM 6.0L G3500 Cut-Van Chassis.

Fleet managers also are able to convert their existing gasoline-fueled vehicles to run on propane autogas. Aftermarket conversion kits are available from manufacturers such as Alliance AutoGas, Landi Renzo, RGR Alternative Fuels, IMPCO, ICOM North America and others. MT

Read the complete story at www.MassTransitmag.com/10441661


Steve Wayne is chief commercial officer for the Propane Education & Research Council.

1 Energy Department’s Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center