Save 50% to 60% in Fuel Costs with Propane

Tucker Perkins

President, CleanFUEL USA

Tell us about Clean­FU­EL USA.  

Clean­FU­EL is com­mit­ted to the propane auto­gas alter­na­tive fuel space, where we focus on two pri­ma­ry things. We design propane auto­gas engine sys­tems and at the NTEA show, we are fea­tur­ing two of those sys­tems and vehi­cle plat­forms. One, the six liter engine that is inside the GM G4500 van and debut­ing this week, and an eight liter engine in the Freight­lin­er Cus­tom Chas­sis medi­um duty truck. Both engines offer tremen­dous poten­tial and we are eager to show them off.

Beyond engine sys­tems, we build what is per­haps the world’s best auto­gas dis­penser; we also have sev­er­al oth­er dis­pensers fea­tured in dif­fer­ent booths around the show which are specif­i­cal­ly used to dis­pense auto­gas. A key ben­e­fit of auto­gas is the low cost and ease of installing the infra­struc­ture; our equip­ment offers the user the same func­tion­al­i­ty they’ve grown accus­tomed to with gaso­line or diesel.

Oth­er ser­vices we offer in the auto­gas are­na are a very robust safe­ty depart­ment, train­ing, war­ran­ty and ser­vice group, all of which help our cus­tomers as they work through famil­iar­iz­ing them­selves with propane auto­gas.

Last­ly, we are able to help our cus­tomers find a fuel provider and secure an eco­nom­i­cal­ly appeal­ing price as they source auto­gas.

What would be the ide­al fleet for propane, and what kinds of sav­ings can a fleet expect?

The ide­al fleet would be a fleet that is dri­ving each of their vehi­cles twen­ty five to thir­ty thou­sand miles a year and keep­ing those vehi­cles eight to twelve years. Aspects of the fleet own­er and/or man­ag­er which make them an ide­al can­di­date include a desire to uti­lize a domes­tic fuel, lim­it emis­sions and save 50% to 60% in fuel costs..

His­tor­i­cal­ly we have found that the price of propane auto­gas is about $1.00 to $1.25 a gal­lon cheap­er than the post­ing price of gaso­line. Over the last year we have dis­cov­ered more and more nat­ur­al gas in the US; along­side that nat­ur­al gas is more and more propane, decreas­ing the price quite a bit. Today we are enjoy­ing a dif­fer­en­tial to gaso­line of well in excess of $2.00 a gal­lon, there­fore fuel cost has become sig­nif­i­cant.

The first fleets that come to mind are a cou­ple of munic­i­pal­i­ties that we work with who have school bus fleets run­ning on propane auto­gas and are begin­ning to migrate some of their oth­er ser­vice vehi­cles. Most of them have sav­ings of  — that they pub­lish — in excess of three dig­its, over $100,000.00 a year.

Why would a fleet not want to use propane? What are the bar­ri­ers?

When you con­sid­er the attrib­ut­es, most impor­tant­ly the cost sav­ings, it is dif­fi­cult to under­stand why fleets don’t  just auto­mat­i­cal­ly choose propane auto­gas. What fleet is not inter­est­ed in sav­ing mon­ey? Real­is­ti­cal­ly, there are very few bar­ri­ers, but the most bind­ing bar­ri­er is the need to return to a cen­tral refu­el­ing loca­tion. It is not an absolute bar­ri­er because we can pro­vide infra­struc­ture and crit­i­cal points along their route, but if you have a high­ly decen­tral­ized fleet that has no hub for main­te­nance and/or fuel­ing, it tends to be a bar­ri­er.

The oth­er bar­ri­er is a fleet with a wide dis­par­i­ty in the vehi­cles they use; a fleet which uses dif­fer­ing makes and mod­els of vehi­cles and not very many of any one type. A per­fect fleet for propane auto­gas uti­lizes vehi­cles that they can pur­chase today from the OEM. Our key prod­uct here is a Gen­er­al Motors G4500 van; if you use that prod­uct in your fleet and you have four or five garaged in one loca­tion, we are pre­pared to han­dle you and GM is pre­pared to ser­vice you.

Those are, frankly, the only two bar­ri­ers that I think should pre­vent any­one from adopt­ing our tech­nol­o­gy.

Some years ago there was a con­cern about propane with respect to main­te­nance issues with the vehi­cle.  Is that still an issue?

Cer­tain­ly the sys­tems of the 50s and 60s were fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent sys­tems than we have today. The sys­tems we are pro­mot­ing at NTEA are all liq­uid inject­ed and very robust. Our Gen­er­al Motors sys­tem has been through every check and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process that Gen­er­al Motors con­ducts on any oth­er vehi­cle they pro­duce. We put a tremen­dous amount of time and mon­ey into each and every aspect of the sys­tem, such as brack­ets and cor­ro­sion pro­tec­tion.  We went the extra mile in every ele­ment of the design to ensure longevi­ty and help elim­i­nate war­ran­ty expens­es. This process is not typ­i­cal­ly con­sid­ered in today’s after mar­ket sys­tems.

Today’s sys­tems are main­tained with typ­i­cal mechan­ics tools and the fault codes read out just as if the mechan­ic is work­ing on a gaso­line vehi­cle. Any mechan­ic who is trained to work on a gaso­line or diesel engine is usu­al­ly quite capa­ble of work­ing on our tech­nol­o­gy as well. We find a mechanic’s appre­hen­sive­ness to be less and less of a bar­ri­er and one of our lat­est ini­tia­tives is devel­op­ing a nation­al cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for an alt-fuel train­ing pro­gram.

Do you envi­sion a time when propane is going to be as ubiq­ui­tous as diesel or gaso­line?

I would like to envi­sion a time when propane is as ubiq­ui­tous as gaso­line and diesel,  but the prac­ti­cal per­son in me says that prob­a­bly wont ever hap­pen because we are a nation that has and like­ly always will, use gaso­line as our pri­ma­ry fuel. That said, I sense a time when it will be quite com­mon for fleets who pur­chase OEM pro­duced vehi­cles to have a 100% propane auto­gas pow­ered fleet.

We are begin­ning to see some school bus fleets who, at one time, only had one, two, or three per­cent of their fleet pow­ered by alter­na­tive fuel, now mak­ing a con­scious deci­sion to move their fleet to 100% propane auto­gas.

In my expe­ri­ence, over the last thir­ty years, I have watched quite a few fleets make the tran­si­tion to oper­ate ful­ly on propane auto­gas. Once fleets under­stand the ben­e­fits and cost fea­tures they real­ize that mak­ing the switch gives them a tremen­dous com­pet­i­tive advan­tage.

How about CNG? Do you view it as com­pet­i­tive?

We cer­tain­ly take pride in the fact that propane auto­gas is the most wide­ly used alter­na­tive fuel in the world. Gaso­line and diesel are clear­ly num­ber one and two, but beyond that we have 17 mil­lion vehi­cles run­ning on auto­gas in the world. Nat­ur­al gas shares a lot of ben­e­fits with propane. It is a domes­tic fuel, it is plen­ti­ful and seems to be becom­ing more plen­ti­ful, and it has clean burn­ing emis­sions char­ac­ter­is­tics. That said, those char­ac­ter­is­tics are shared exact­ly by propane. We come from nat­ur­al gas, we are plen­ti­ful, we are domes­tic, we seem to have a grow­ing sup­ply and our emis­sions are also quite clean.

I am par­tic­u­lar­ly mind­ful that the nat­ur­al gas group is a very strong and pow­er­ful lob­by, which gives them trac­tion at the state and fed­er­al lev­el. They also have a sig­nif­i­cant advan­tage on us in the heavy duty mar­ket right now. Our biggest engine to date is this eight liter engine with Freight­lin­er and we don’t have exten­sive prod­uct plans right now for engines larg­er than that eight liter.

Our vehi­cle tanks are steel, so they are far less expen­sive to make and they are also sig­nif­i­cant­ly lighter, which boasts well with cus­tomers who are con­cerned about pay­load and range. While we use a steel tank, con­sid­er­ably lighter than a CNG tank, our fuel is also sig­nif­i­cant­ly lighter than gaso­line. So, over­all our pay­loads are rarely affect­ed and that mat­ters to a fleet dri­ving medi­um duty trucks who are con­cerned about their car­go weights.

The oth­er issue is infra­struc­ture cost. We try to think of our­selves as a part­ner to CNG because there are many sit­u­a­tions where CNG works. If you have a large, heavy duty fleet and you have a part­ner who is will­ing to pay the sig­nif­i­cant cost of the CNG fuel­ing sta­tion, then it is a great prod­uct for you. Our infra­struc­ture is most always giv­en as a part of a fuel con­tract to a fleet. We see a sig­nif­i­cant advan­tage in our sys­tems because of our infra­struc­ture costs and because of our low pres­sure tanks; it becomes a cheap­er alter­na­tive fuel choice, all the way around.

Thomas E. Perkins, Jr. (“Tuck­er”) cur­rent­ly serves as Pres­i­dent for Clean­FU­EL USA, a lead­ing sup­pli­er of propane auto­gas engine sys­tems and infra­struc­ture equip­ment.  Clean­FU­EL USA is a pri­vate­ly-held com­pa­ny which prides itself on qual­i­ty employ­ees who are ded­i­cat­ed to excep­tion­al prod­uct and the advance­ment of alter­na­tive fuels across the world.
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