Banner week for propane fleet conversions
BSTUART WEIDIE - Special to the Sun Herald
Gov. Phil Bryant and oil titan T. Boone Pickens are touting natural gas as Mississippi’s transportation fuel alternative. However, they are overlooking the world’s most viable alternative fuel, propane autogas.
Natural gas and propane autogas are both clean-burning, American-made fuels that significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and harmful pollutants. They both cost less per gallon than gasoline or diesel, but autogas is affordable to implement while for most Mississippi fleets, CNG is not.
Autogas powers over 17 million vehicles worldwide, making it the most widely used vehicle fuel after gasoline and diesel. In the state of Mississippi, autogas fleets include Coast Transit Authority; the cities of West Point and Starkville; Mississippi State University police; and the Pearl River, Oktibbeha and Jones County sheriff’s offices. Also, the State fire marshal is transitioning part of its fleet to propane autogas.
These fleets are saving thousands of dollars a month because autogas is less expensive than gasoline. Over the past five years, the cost differential has averaged more than $1.25 per gallon. At the same time, these fleets are contributing to cleaner air and national energy security. Autogas is 30 percent cleaner than gasoline, and 98 percent of our autogas is made in America.
On a per-gallon basis, natural gas is an affordable vehicle fuel. However, natural gas is much more expensive to implement than autogas. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 15 to 20 autogas stations can be built for the cost of a single CNG station. For example, in 2011 Indiana covered the entire state with 115 autogas stations for the cost of just six small CNG stations.
In addition, converting a vehicle to run on CNG is much more expensive than converting to autogas. A light-duty CNG conversion costs $12,000 to $18,000, whereas autogas conversions for light-duty vehicles range from $4,000 to $8,000. In other words, about two autogas vehicles can be converted for the price of converting one CNG vehicle.
Another important distinction between autogas and CNG is the time it takes to fuel a vehicle. Autogas pumps as quickly as gasoline, while natural gas vehicles take much longer to fuel. Even a “fast-fill” CNG station can take up to half an hour, meaning more vehicle downtime and money lost for Mississippi fleets.
Our state and our country need transportation fuel options that address economics, the environment and energy security. Despite the fact that special interests are aggressively promoting natural gas with lobbying teams and advertising campaigns, fleets across the country are deploying thousands of autogas vehicles each year.
Autogas is simply a more economical alternative fuel and a more realistic option for the majority of Mississippi businesses and public agencies.
Stuart Weidie, is CEO of Mississippi-based Blossman Gas, president of Alliance AutoGas and the founder of Autogas for America. Visit www.allianceautogas.com for more information.

It was a busy week in the propane autogas world, with a number of fleets unveiling new buses, taxis, pickup trucks and passenger cars that have severed their tethers to gasoline and diesel.

Down in Georgia, dignitaries including the governor and lieutenant governor joined with a number of industry partners - ROUSH CleanTech, Blue Bird Corp. and Ferrellgas among them - to commemorate Hall County School System's deployment of propane-powered buses.

The district recently purchased 20 72-passenger Vision units from Blue Bird through Yancey Bus Sales. These vehicles are all equipped with ROUSH liquid propane systems, and they are fueled via three 1,000-gallon tanks located on school property. Ferrellgas provided the fueling infrastructure.

Right now, Hall County is paying less than $2.00 a gallon for propane, which will equate to more than $36,000 in fuel cost savings this year alone, the district says.

Up north in Newport News, Va., the Southeast Propane Autogas Development Program (SPADP) assisted the city's fleet in rolling out a number of propane vehicles: 12 Ford Crown Victorias and 10 Chevrolet Silverado 2500s.

"We're saving on fuel costs, reducing vehicle emissions, the infrastructure cost is lower than for other alternative fuels, and vehicle performance has actually improved," Bob McElheney, vehicle services director for the city, said in a press release. "We intend to purchase more propane autogas-capable vehicles in the future."

Baker Equipment handled the propane conversions on the vehicles, and Phillips Energy installed a 1,000-gallon autogas tank at the fleet's headquarters. The city anticipates that it will save more than $20,000 a year in fuel costs with these 22 new vehicles.

And today, the city of Baltimore is officially launching its first propane autogas taxi fleet. Taxi operator Veolia Transportation has converted 50 Checker and Yellow taxis to run on autogas, and these vehicles will be served by a fueling station that the company built in the city.

Veolia performed the conversions in partnership with the SPADP. The company is converting another 250 taxis in Pittsburgh, Denver and Jacksonville, Fla., to run on autogas by the end of the year.


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