Propane as a light- and medium-duty fleet alternative fuel

Growing popularity of propane as a light- and medium-duty fleet alternative fuel

Several developments reflect the growing popularity of propane autogas as a light- and medium-duty fleet alternative fuel. A central part of the recent Green Truck Summit’s focus on clean vehicle technologies and alternative fuel trends was propane autogas. In fleet terms, the business case for propane autogas in his company’s 30 cargo vans was explained by David C. Rhoa, president of Lake Michigan Mailers, a Kalamazoo, Mich.-based data, document and distribution services company.

“We evaluated several alternative fuel options and found that propane met the criteria for vehicle, conversion, maintenance and fuel costs,” Rhoa related, “as well as range and an available fueling infrastructure, including a private depot option. Propane autogas offered the best ROI for a majority of our fleet, and had a positive ROI with or without tax
credits.”

Those conclusions led Lake Michigan Mailers to develop a conversion plan for switching about three fourths of its existing fleet and new vehicles to propane autogas by the second quarter of 2016. “The current average ROI is 1.2 years,” Rhoa noted, “so vehicles driving at least 17,800 miles per year will be converted because the ROI is less than the expected remaining service life. Our fleet traveled 477,000 miles and consumed over 53,000 gallons of gasoline in 2011. With this plan, we are displacing 62% or 33,000 gallons of gas annually.”

Propane autogas was also in the news recently when Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. (FCCC) announced it had delivered the first field-test unit of its propane-autogas S2G work truck. Slated for the production by the end of June, the S2G is being evaluated by a select group of fleets, including Amerigas, which will put the first 25 S2G units through an extended delivery service field test.

Available with a GVWR of up to 33,000 lbs., the FCCC S2G features an 8.0-liter GM LPG engine rated at 339 HP at 4,100 RPM and 495 lb./ft. of torque at 3,100 RPM. The engine was modified by Powertrain Integration for dedicated propane autogas operation and uses a factory-installed CleanFuel USA liquid propane system.

Powertrain Integration was also chosen to equip 1,000 FCCC medium-duty delivery vehicles with propane autogas powertrain packages for UPS. The systems consist of GM 6.0-liter engines, CleanFuel USA Liquid Propane Injection fuel systems and Allison automatic transmissions.

“This package more than handles demanding delivery fleet requirements for increased power while reducing tailpipe emissions,” said Powertrain Integration President Robert Pachla. “UPS bringing 1,000 of these units online is proof the medium-duty sector has embraced propane autogas as a gasoline and diesel replacement.”

Across the board, alternative fuels are gaining ground among fleets. Opening the 2014 Green Truck Summit, held in conjunction with NTEA’s The Work Truck Show 2014, keynote speaker Patrick Davis, director, Office of Vehicle Technologies, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy, began by noting that choices in fuel-efficient technologies continue to expand.

“As of August 2013, there were 25 tractor, 13 refuse truck, eight van, 17 transit bus and 18 vocational truck models powered by alternative fuel sources on the market,” Davis stated. “Fleets are putting more alternative fueled vehicles [AFVs] on the road than ever before, helping displace the use of petroleum.”

By fuel type, Davis reported that 60.9% of that fuel reduction was for natural gas engines, followed by biodiesel, ethanol, propane and electric vehicles. The high number for natural gas also reflects an expanding fueling infrastructure, which now includes 1,334 CNG, 90 LNG and 2,978 LPG stations.

“As many as 23 major fleets are now part of the National Clean Fleets Partnership and Clean Cities participants have surpassed 5.4 billion gallons of fuel savings,” Davis related. “As alternative fuel engine and battery system development continues, the costs for fleets will continue to be reduced while energy density, which has doubled in five years, will
continue to grow.”

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