Propane Autogas – Conversions and Infrastructure

Fleets Use Propane Autogas in the Real World

January 2013, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature

by Sean Lyden - Also by this author

Also known as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), propane autogas is the world’s third most common vehicular fuel, behind gasoline and diesel, powering more than 15 million vehicles globally. That number is expected to reach 23 million by 2020, according to Pike Research, a part of Navigant, with growth driven by lower fuel prices relative to gasoline and an expanding fueling infrastructure.

However, with a $4,000 to $12,000 investment to convert vehicles to run on either dedicated propane autogas or bi-fuel systems, is there a sufficient business case for fleets to switch to the alternative fuel?
Green Fleet spoke with representatives from several organizations that have made the switch to
propane autogas.

GO Riteway Transportation Group
● Sector: Transportation.
● Total fleet: 683.
● Total propane-autogas vehicles: 36 airport shuttle vans and school buses.

Overview: GO Riteway Transportation Group is a ground transportation company that employs 900 people and operates out of 13 locations in Wisconsin, with a fleet of 683 vehicles, including school buses, motor coaches, shuttle coaches, limousines, executive sedans, and vans. Since starting its propane-autogas initiative in November 2011, the company has converted 31 Ford E-350 airport shuttle vans and five school buses to operate on propane autogas.

Reason for switch: “Overall, there’s a cost savings involved,” said Jason Ebert, fleet facilities manager, GO Riteway Transportation Group. “When we converted our vehicles from gasoline to propane autogas, most of the cost savings was achieved from the cost of the propane autogas itself. We pay roughly half [per gallon] what a consumer pays for gasoline. When you factor in that you’re only losing about 10-15 percent on efficiency (with propane autogas), you’re gaining about a net 35-percent lower cost per mile.”

While GO Riteway has purchased a few hybrid-electric buses, Ebert said current hybrid technology is too cost-prohibitive to achieve a payback within a reasonable amount of time, compared to propane autogas. “We’re getting 10- to 12-percent better fuel economy [compared to diesel] with our hybrid-electric buses, but we’re paying twice as much for the bus. So, the payback is not there when you’re talking about hybrid electric at this point.”

The company also considered compressed natural gas (CNG), however, the fuel tank for CNG would take up too much cargo space, compared to the propane-autogas tank, Ebert said. “CNG is only about 30 percent as efficient as gasoline, but the same volume of propane autogas is 90 percent as efficient [as gasoline]. It allows us to maintain our cargo space, without sacrificing fuel range of the vehicle as we would have to do with CNG.”

Results: “With our shuttles getting 100,000 miles per year, we’re looking at a year to a year-and-a-half turnaround on our investment,” Ebert said. “In terms of power, our drivers can’t tell the difference between propane autogas and gasoline.”

Impact on operations: “We were concerned that, since propane autogas burns hotter than gasoline, we would have shorter oil change cycles. But, we did an oil change analysis and found that we could extend our oil change interval by 1,000 miles over gasoline by using propane autogas because it also burns cleaner than gasoline,” Ebert said.

Challenges: “You can’t just go to any auto parts store or dealership to buy parts for your propane-autogas fuel system,” Ebert noted. “The turnaround time [for replacement propane-autogas parts] can take three to five business days, whereas I can get parts for gasoline systems by noon same day. As more companies buy propane-autogas conversion kits and the market expands, this should help with parts availability.”

Future plans: “I think we’re going to keep expanding. I think it makes sense, especially with the fast turnaround we’re getting in terms of payback,” Ebert said. “We’ll likely expand [propane autogas] use in our sedan and limousine service, which is housed in the same facility our airport shuttle service is based, onsite with our fueling station. The issue has been that there aren’t [conversion] kits available that are dedicated propane autogas-only for those vehicles we use for our limousine and sedan services.”

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