Winning big with alternative fuel vehicles.

Author:Farquhar, Andrew
 
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Visions for future U.S. vehicles seem to be in a constant state of fluctuation. These questions are commonly asked: What will people be driving one year, five years or even 10 years from now? Engineers and executives at U.S. and oversea auto companies agree only on two things: Cars and trucks will have to be more fuel-efficient, and they will have to be less harmful to the environment--according to Mark Bentley, executive director of the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition.

As a number of alternatives to fuel efficiency are now available to reduce reliance on foreign petroleum, stretch fuel dollars and better protect the air, many in businesses, school systems and government agencies have already begun using propane autogas to fuel vehicles, saving thousands of taxpayer dollars a year in fuel charges and maintenance costs while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), one state agency using alternative means for conserving fuel and lowering costs, considered these alternative fuels for their 15-passenger vans--which are used to carry work-release inmates to and from their respective locations--that average 5,000 miles per month at an annual cost of $1.3 million.

After investigating several options, ADOC launched a pilot alternative fuel project in 2014 to find the most beneficial transportation options for their facilities. They began by purchasing 10 vans and converting them with bi-fuel kits, so they could run on either gasoline or propane autogas and, through an existing state contract, a 2,000-gallon propane refueling station was also acquired.

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With two years of performance data collected, the vans logged more than 1.4 million miles on propane with no significant equipment or maintenance issues. And despite a decline in gasoline prices, ADOC is realizing considerable cost savings while protecting the environment in the process. When fueled by propane, the vans post an 8.6-cents-per-mile advantage in operational fuel costs, compared to the same vans operated on gasoline. In addition, more than 70 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to carbon dioxide have been avoided.

Since launching the program, each van has proved an annual cost savings of $6,600, which is equivalent to 90 percent of conversion cost. The savings exclude rebates from the Alternative Fuels Excise Tax Credit that Congress renewed in December 2015. A 36-cents-per-gallon refund or credit is...

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