Two Kingsport police cars to run on propane

The city of Kingsport is participating in a federal program that funds the conversion of vehicles to allow for the use of propane as a fuel source.

Kingsport is participating in the Virginia Clean Cities Propane Autogas Corridor Project through James Madison University, which will fund the conversion of two police cruisers to accept propane. The cruisers will still have the option to be powered by gasoline.

“Since the documents have been signed, my next step is waiting on Blossman Gas (of North Carolina) — an automobile gas supplier — to pick up the cars and take them to Asheville where the conversion facility is at, put the kits on them, and bring them back,” said Steve Hightower, fleet maintenance manager for the city.

The work to convert the vehicles will take two to three days to complete, but due to the number of vehicles being converted nationwide, a pickup date has not been determined, Hightower said, noting some larger cities are getting 100 to 120 vehicles converted. Originally, Kingsport requested 15 vehicles be converted.

The $11,600 grant will cover the cost of the conversion kits and labor. JMU plans to convert more than 1,000 active fleet vehicles across the Southeast to propane autogas hybrids, resulting in the displacement of 15.7 million gallons of gasoline over the four-year period of the project, Hightower said.

The two cruisers are 2008 models with 15,000 miles under their hood. Hightower said Kingsport plans to keep these vehicles in service for seven years.

When Kingsport submitted its application to the program, the city was buying gasoline at $2.35 a gallon, and the conversion would save the city about seven cents per mile. Now that the city is buying gasoline at $2.13 a gallon, the projected savings has dropped a little.

“I think (propane) stays more stable, but it is an energy commodity, and since we’re using it as investment tools, you’ll still get some fluctuation,” Hightower said, touting other positives of the conversion. “You don’t have the nitrous oxide, the solids potentially being emitted, and a cleaner exhaust compared to gasoline.”

However, propane has less energy output when compared to gasoline, which could affect vehicle performance.

“That’s one of the considerations being made when estimating the potential savings,” Hightower said. “There’s savings over time and savings in the price of the product even though we use more propane.”

Hightower said Kingsport would be tracking the results of the converted vehicles.

Kingsport has about 780 pieces of equipment in its fleet, everything from cars and pickup trucks to dump trucks, fire trucks, school buses and street sweepers. A majority run on gasoline, nearly 250 run on biodiesel, and over the past few years the city has added a number of green vehicles to its fleet — 19 hybrids, one electric truck, and now two propane cruisers.

Hightower said Kingsport is not looking to spend capital funds to convert other vehicles to propane but is hoping to work with the East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition at the University of Tennessee in getting three more vehicles converted.

- Matthew Lane

Click here to view the story on timesnews.net.

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