In this interview for AZoCleantech, Stuart Weidie, President of Alliance AutoGas, talks about how conversion to propane power could change the future of American transportation.
GT: Could you please provide a brief introduction to the industry that Alliance AutoGas works within and outline the key drivers?
SW: The propane autogas industry is growing in the U.S. as more fleets are discovering the cost-savings and environmental benefits of this American-made clean fuel. For propane marketers, working with autogas helps offset the seasonality of their traditional sales cycle. Autogas is a viable alternative fuel that’s readily available, now, with more than 2,500 autogas fuel stations already in place nationwide (and growing). It is the most widely used alternative fuel in the world, powering more than 18 million vehicles. Our mission with Alliance AutoGas is to help more U.S. fleets switch seamlessly to autogas. By focusing on fleet transportation, we can grow the number of on-road vehicles and expand the availability of autogas fuelling infrastructure simultaneously, which will ultimately help us get more of these clean vehicles on American roads.
The key drivers are the fact that propane suppliers provide the refueling infrastructure to fleet customers once a minimum number of fleets are deployed. This reduces upfront costs for the fleet. The cost savings on fuel are providing a strong return on the vehicle conversion investment.
GT: Could you please give a brief overview of Alliance AutoGas?
SW: Alliance AutoGas is a nationwide partner network comprised of fuel providers, equipment suppliers and certified vehicle conversion centers that helps U.S. fleets switch to clean, affordable propane autogas. The Alliance complete program includes vehicle conversions, installation of a fuel station at the fleet base, data integration for fuel management systems, operational and safety training, and ongoing technical support for fleets. We also offer funding programs that enable fleets to switch to autogas at no upfront cost.
GT: What is autogas? How is it beneficial to the environment?
SW: Propane is called autogas when it’s used as vehicle fuel. The most widely used alternative fuel in the world, it’s safe, proven and reliable. Autogas is 30 percent cleaner than gasoline, producing significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions and harmful pollutants.
GT:How is autogas produced?
SW: Propane autogas is a by-product of both natural gas processing and the crude oil refining process. In 2011, 70% of propane came from natural gas production as the U.S. natural gas shale finds are very rich in natural gas liquids such as propane. More than 98 percent of autogas used in the U.S. is produced domestically.
GT: How does Alliance AutoGas convert existing fleets to autogas?
SW:Alliance provides fleets with a single point of contact to guide them through our complete program; and, as I mentioned previously, we offer competitive financing so fleets can make the switch at no upfront cost. The majority of conversions we perform use the Prins VSI conversion system, from Prins Alternative Fuel Systems. The VSI system is EPA-certified for more than 200 vehicle types. It’s a bi-fuel vapor sequential injection system that can revert back to gasoline if the autogas tank is running low. Many enjoy the peace of mind of the bi-fuel system; but for fleets that want to operate exclusively on propane autogas, we will also offer the Prins liquid-injection system. The national Alliance AutoGas partner network includes certified conversion centers that convert and maintain autogas vehicles, and our experts can also train fleets’ in-house mechanics to perform the conversions and maintenance on their own. Additionally Alliance can provide new OEM autogas vehicles through partnership with ROUSH CleanTech.
GT: Once the fleets are converted, how easy is it to refuel vehicles?
SW: Autogas refueling is easy, especially since Alliance AutoGas installs an onsite autogas fuel station at a fleet’s home base—again, at no upfront cost to the fleet—and provides a year-round fuel supply through our partner network. Propane autogas no-spill dispensing equipment operates similarly to a gasoline fuel pump and is extremely simple to use. Training drivers to properly and safely refuel their new autogas vehicles is also part of the Alliance complete program for fleets.
GT: Can Alliance AutoGas help companies to decide whether it is the right move for them?
SW: Definitely. Alliance AutoGas representatives consult with fleet operators and managers to make sure propane autogas is the right fit for their fleet by evaluating the benefits of switching fuels and projecting return on investment.
An autogas cruiser from the Raleigh, N.C., Police Department in front of an Alliance AutoGas fuel tank. Image Credit: Alliance AutoGas
GT: Is using autogas expensive for companies?
SW: Propane autogas is the most viable alternative fuel option for fleets on the market today. U.S. autogas fleets currently save around $1.50 per gallon compared to gasoline, and Alliance AutoGas financing options allow fleets to start experiencing fuel cost savings right away. Conversion costs depend on the type and amount of vehicles being converted, but a typical gasoline-to-autogas conversion is around $5,300 (with potential for grants and tax incentives). Vehicle conversion through the Alliance AutoGas program requires no upfront cost, so fleets often report an immediate ROI. Those who do pay for conversions upfront typically see a return on investment within 12 to 24 months, depending on mileage.
Autogas vehicle conversions and fuel stations are much more affordable compared to other clean fuels, such as compressed natural gas (CNG). For example, converting a vehicle to CNG costs three times as much as converting a vehicle to autogas, and CNG fueling stations cost around 15 times as much as autogas stations.
GT: Is the service available for both public and private fleets? Is there a difference in the process?
SW: Yes, the Alliance AutoGas program is available to both public and private fleets. From municipal fleets and sheriff’s offices, lawn care companies to limousines, the only real difference is in the structure of the financing program but the net positive impact for public fleets is the same as that for private fleets.
GT: Could you tell us about an Alliance AutoGas success story?
SW: We have a growing number of success stories as more fleets discover how the Alliance AutoGas complete program can make the switch to clean fuel simple and cost-effective. One recent example is the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia, which converted 31 vehicles to propane autogas through Alliance AutoGas and predicts a $35,000-40,000 savings annually with the clean cruisers. Muscogee deputies say they are pleased with the performance of the propanevehicles. Not only will the autogas vehicles help improve community air quality for generations to come, there’s less wear-and-tear on the vehicles because autogas is cleaner than gasoline.
Another fleet finding success through the Alliance AutoGas complete program is the Buncombe County, North Carolina, fleetMountainMobility, which has saved thousands in fuel costs since converting 10 passenger vans to autogas. They anticipate annual savings of more than $53,000 with the 10 autogas vehicles. Fueling is supplied by Alliance founding partner Blossman Gas, which installed an onsite fueling station at Mountain Mobility’s home base at no upfront cost to the fleet.
And now Mountain Mobility is saving even more with the versatile Prins VSI autogas systems that Alliance utilizes for vehicle conversions. When Mountain Mobility recently retired two Ford E-350 autogas passenger vans, Alliance seamlessly transferred the autogas systems to newer models and had them back on the road in no time. The versatile Prins bi-fuel vapor systems are especially cost-effective and versatile because they can be easily transferred from one vehicle to another, and the retired vehicle can be resold in its original configuration.
A Veolia Transportation propane autogas taxi filling up at an Alliance AutoGas station. Image Credit: Alliance AutoGas
GT: You have recently partnered with Fyda Energy Solutions, could you tell us more about this?
SW: Fyda is one of many new partners who are joining Alliance AutoGas to help getting more American fleets running on clean, affordable propane autogas. They are an Alliance AutoGas certified conversion center, specializing in converting vehicles to run on propane autogas and providing maintenance support for fleets. Based in Canonsburg, Pa., they serve the areas of Pittsburgh, Barkeyville and Dunningsville, with a location in Columbus, Ohio, that services Cincinnati, Columbus and Youngstown.
GT: As autogas is 98% made in America, how does this affect America’s dependency on foreign resources and how may this affect the economy?
SW: Fleets that switch to domestic clean fuels like autogas are helping to enhance our national energy security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Utilizing American-made autogas also supports our domestic economy by helping to create more jobs right here in the USA.
GT: How do you see the future of autogas progressing in the next 10 years?
SW: I think we’ll see propane autogas adoption in the U.S. grow over the next 10 years as Alliance AutoGas continues to make switching to autogas a smart, cost-effective option for more American fleets. And as more businesses and private fleets run on autogas, we’ll see the fueling infrastructure expand nationwide to make it a viable option for even more American drivers.