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From expected costs to refueling, here’s what fleet owners need to know.

Written by: Steve Whaley of the Propane Education & Resource Council

There’s something to be said about finding a good routine. It can bring reliability, predictability and peace of mind. But on the flip side, it can also mean you might be missing out on something new or even better.

Fleet owners who are reluctant to transition away from gasoline or diesel because they’ve developed their routine are missing out on benefits they could see with alternative fuels like propane autogas. While most fleet owners know propane autogas can reduce their company’s emissions profile, many are surprised to find that propane autogas also provides the lowest total cost of ownership of any fuel thanks to its low fuel and maintenance costs.

The Propane Education & Research Council gets questions all the time from fleet managers ready to break the routine and take the next step with an alternative fuel. Not surprisingly, many questions are focused on how to begin the transition process to propane autogas. Here are answers to some of your most common questions.

How clean is propane autogas?

Propane autogas is a low-carbon energy source that’s moving the needle in the collective effort to decarbonize. Propane autogas engines are 90% cleaner than mandated EPA standards, with effectively zero particulate matter emissions and emit 96% fewer NOx emissions than clean diesel engines. The latest propane autogas engine technology is classified as near-zero and has moved this fuel option even closer to achieving zero emissions levels.

What options are available for fleets interested in transitioning to propane autogas?

The good news is that gasoline-powered fleets don’t have to wait until they’re ready to purchase new vehicles. Rather, they can convert their existing gasoline fleet vehicles to propane autogas. In fact, half of the propane autogas vehicles that are on the road today were converted with a certified aftermarket bi-fuel system. EPA-certified bi-fuel systems operate on propane autogas as the primary fuel (and reap the fuel’s lower total cost of ownership benefits) but still have a reserve tank of gasoline for added resiliency.

An increasing number of high-demand light- and medium-duty trucks, vans and car models can be converted to operate on a bi-fuel system. Certified conversion system partners across the U.S. can assist with converting existing fleets to propane autogas.

While diesel vehicles cannot be converted using the aftermarket fuel system, they can be replaced with a new, comparably powered propane autogas vehicle that will have a much lower total cost of ownership.

How long will a conversion take?

Conversion to propane autogas does not take an exorbitant amount of time. Generally, aftermarket conversion system installations range from six to 10 labor hours to install. If scheduling in advance, most service centers are able to service the vehicle in one day.

How much will it cost to convert my vehicle? 

The cost of an aftermarket conversion system for class 1-4 vehicles generally ranges from $6,000 to $9,000 depending on the vehicle make/model and fuel tank capacity. This includes the labor costs to install the conversion system.

What other cost savings might I see?

One of the most immediate benefits fleet owners see after transitioning to propane autogas is a drop in their fuel costs. The average fuel costs for propane autogas are up to 50% lower than gasoline or diesel.

Not to mention, propane autogas is a clean energy source, so the engine will be less costly to maintain than a diesel engine because propane autogas vehicles don’t require the expensive exhaust after-treatment systems diesel engines need to meet emission standards. Compared to gasoline, propane autogas won’t degrade or prematurely wear engine component parts like gasoline can. When properly maintained, propane autogas has fewer residual contaminants in the oil that can damage engines, and there is also less carbon build-up on the valves that naturally occur in gasoline engines.

When properly maintained, propane autogas users enjoy a longer life cycle with much lower maintenance costs.

How difficult will it be to fuel my fleet after conversion?

Fleets can choose from several refueling options, each of which offers distinct advantages to help a company identify and customize a solution that best fits its business and maximizes productivity. Here are five propane autogas refueling infrastructure options that can meet the needs of any fleet.

Standard Private Station

This refueling station is similar to an advanced private station but is best for fleets with fewer than 50 vehicles. It includes a 1,000- to 3,000-gallon propane storage tank plus one or more dispensers.

With both advanced and standard private stations, fleets may have the option to lease or own the infrastructure. Propane suppliers and infrastructure providers will work with you to determine the best solution for your fleet.

Advanced Private Station

This option is best for fleets with 50 vehicles or more and requires a centralized refueling location. This station includes a large propane tank(s) and two or more fuel dispensers. Like all permanent propane autogas refueling solutions, the station can easily grow with the expansion of the fleet.

Temporary Refueling

Propane suppliers may be able to provide a fuel storage tank and dispenser mounted on a trailer that can be delivered to designated locations or work sites. This scenario works for both short-term and extended use and is also a viable solution for fleets that require refueling while working for long periods on sites located away from the centralized refueling location.

A propane bobtail truck will replenish the fuel supply on a specific delivery schedule created by you and the propane supplier. Costs and situations will vary with this option, so check with your propane supplier for details and pricing.

Mobile Refueling

This solution allows fleets to take advantage of the benefits of propane autogas without installing permanent infrastructure.

Fleets can work with a propane supplier to customize an on-site refueling plan utilizing a propane bobtail delivery truck. Like temporary refueling, costs and situations will vary.

Public and Private Refueling Networks

There are public and private refueling networks in most areas of the country that provide fuel for fleets as needed. Refueling networks offer 24/7 security and convenience and use a card lock system that tracks fuel usage and costs per vehicle while providing convenience along routes. A complete list of public refueling stations is available from the U.S. Alternative Fuels Data Center on the Propane Council website.

How difficult will it be to maintain my fleet after conversion?

Compared to a diesel engine, maintaining a propane autogas engine is overall more cost-effective and convenient. Propane autogas emissions systems are less complex and the fuel burns clean, eliminating the need for additional fluids and filters required to operate correctly. Plus, propane autogas engines require less oil by volume than diesel engines, which can decrease preventative maintenance costs at each interval over the life of a vehicle.

What if my service technicians have never worked with propane autogas?

Propane autogas is a very approachable energy source from a service and maintenance standpoint — even for those who are completely new to it. New propane engines are similar in appearance to gasoline engines and require similar equipment for maintenance, diagnosis, and repair.

There are also plenty of opportunities for technicians to train and become certified to diagnose, maintain, and repair propane autogas fuel systems. Comprehensive training can be provided by OEMs, dealers, and aftermarket fuel system manufacturers.

How difficult will it be to remarket the vehicle?

According to annual sales data compiled by PERC, the used propane autogas vehicle inventory is increasing and the number of buyers for used propane autogas vehicles is increasing with it.

For vehicles equipped with an EPA- or CARB-certified bi-fuel conversion system, fleet owners can easily remove the propane autogas fuel system and sell or trade it as a gasoline truck. This is a preferred option when the local market is demanding more for gasoline vehicles at the time of sale.

With this in mind, there’s no reason for fleets to fall back into the way they’ve always done things without further consideration. I encourage fleet owners to learn more about propane autogas vehicles at Propane.com/Fleet-Vehicles.

Steve Whaley is director of autogas business development for the Propane Education & Research Council. He can be reached at stephen.whaley@propane.com.

Originally posted to FuelsFix.com