Propane Autogas – Conversions and Infrastructure

Paths to Propane Autogas

September 2013, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature

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The following four fleets did their research and found that the already established propane autogas fueling infrastructure provided a more cost-effective business case compared to the  alternatives. Each company either converted their vehicles or purchased new vehicles and chose either bi-fuel or both bi-fuel and dedicated propane autogas.

Lewis Pest Control uses a Prins bi-fuel propane autogas system, which starts on gasoline and switches to propane autogas after the engine heats up.
Lewis Pest Control uses a Prins bi-fuel propane autogas system, which starts on gasoline and switches to propane autogas after the engine heats up.

Lewis Pest Control Strikes a Deal with a local Dealership

Prompted by the gasoline spike of 2008, Scott Lewis, president and general manager of Lewis Pest Control, began to look for alternatives to traditional gasoline and diesel fuel. “We looked at everything. Natural gas had a lot of funding and press behind it, but it wouldn’t work for us,” Lewis said, citing that the infrastructure for the fueling system “would have been cost prohibitive.”

Lewis Pest Control is a family-owned residential and commercial pest control company serving South Alabama and Southeast Mississippi. Of 40 total fleet units, the company converted eight to run on propane autogas: three Chevrolet ½-ton and two ¾-ton pickups as well as three Ford F-150s. Two more conversions are on the way. Lewis uses a Prins bi-fuel propane autogas system, which starts on gasoline and switches to propane autogas after the engine heats up.

He struck a deal with his local dealership, Brooks Chevrolet of Thomasville, Ala., to train a service technician on installing the conversions and servicing them. Lewis said the dealership had to get up to speed on the conversions, which caused initial delays. However, “the last two went relatively smooth,” Lewis said.

With total annual savings of $16,573, Lewis Pest Control calculated a return on investment in 13 months for its eight bi-fuel propane autogas and gasoline trucks. The calculations include the truck conversion costs and fuel costs for both gasoline and propane autogas, minus grants. The per-gallon propane autogas cost also factors in a 10-percent loss in fuel economy compared to gasoline.
With total annual savings of $16,573, Lewis Pest Control calculated a return on investment in 13 months for its eight bi-fuel propane autogas and gasoline trucks. The calculations include the truck conversion costs and fuel costs for both gasoline and propane autogas, minus grants. The per-gallon propane autogas cost also factors in a 10-percent loss in fuel economy compared to gasoline.

The Prins conversion cost Lewis $5,800 per unit. The company converted three trucks and then secured a grant from the Virginia Clean Cities program to fund the other five.

The cylindrical propane tank is installed in the truck bed against the back of the cab. According to Lewis, there was a little grumbling in the beginning regarding the loss of bed space, though it just forced the technicians to be better organized.

The smaller trucks have 60-gallon propane autogas tanks while the larger ones have 80-gallon tanks, providing a 600- to 700-mile range. The average fuel economy for the company’s propane-autogas-powered fleet is 13.5 miles per gallon, which includes a 10-percent loss in mpg with propane autogas.

The cost of the propane autogas per gasoline gallon equivalent (GGE) runs about a dollar a gallon less than gasoline. The company had enjoyed a 50-cent tax credit for the fuel, though that expired. That was hard to swallow, Lewis said, though the savings are still substantial. Lewis said the company is saving $1,380 per month in fuel, or more than $16,000 a year total. This translated to a return on investment in 13 months.

The route trucks average 30,000 miles per year and gain up to 250,000 miles total before retiring. The propane-autogas-powered trucks burn about a tank of regular gasoline per month.

Lewis installed propane autogas tanks at two of the company’s locations using two different propane autogas providers. Each provider agreed to furnish the tanks for free in exchange for the fuel contract.

Lewis hasn’t remarketed a truck yet, but he’ll experiment with removing the propane autogas system from the de-fleeted vehicle and installing it on the new vehicle for a second life. With four years using propane autogas, Lewis said the initiative has worked well internally and externally.

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