By Tom Kelley
Propane autogas, or just “propane,” is widely used as an automotive fuel throughout the U.S., and elsewhere around the world, but it hasn’t made significant penetration into beverage distribution fleets in spite of the industry’s current interest in alternative fuels. Even though it’s somewhat common for distributors to operate propane-powered forklifts, only a few fleets have chosen propane power as an alternative to gasoline power in their on-highway vehicles.
Part of the reluctance to adopt propane in the beverage market is related to the negative experiences that many fleets had with propane conversion vehicles a few decades ago. However, just as gasoline and diesel engines have been subject to improvements over the past few decades, propane powered engines also have improved dramatically, addressing the problems experienced with earlier hardware.
Roush Enterprises’ CleanTech division offers state-of-the-art, dedicated, liquid propane fuel systems for a variety of light- and medium-duty Ford vehicles. Roush CleanTech’s VP of Sales & Marketing, Todd Mouw, shares why propane-fueled trucks deserve fresh consideration.
Beverage World: What makes the current propane technology different from that of the 1970s and 80s?
Todd Mouw: First, we are now dealing with liquid propane injection technology compared to the previous generation of carbureted vapor systems. Keeping propane as a liquid from the fuel tank to the intake helps us maintain factory ratings for horsepower, torque, towing capacity and performance. Second, the new generation of liquid propane fuel systems are fully supported by Ford and Roush CleanTech. Previously, unknown companies would commercialize a system that would have zero support from the OEMs. Finally, integration is a big change from previous generations. Our systems are integrated into the base vehicle so seamlessly that it’s as close as you’re going to get to buying a factory Ford-built propane vehicle.
BW: What are some of the key reasons to make the switch to propane?
Mouw: Propane can cut operating costs by up to 40 percent compared with gasoline. The fuel itself is much less expensive and offers the same end-user experience.
We also need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil; and propane helps do just that. Over 90 percent of the propane we use today in the U.S. comes from domestic supplies, and another 7 percent comes from Canada. Our country regularly exports upwards of 2 billion gallons of propane per year, while importing foreign oil from countries that don’t like us much. How does that make sense?
And finally, consumers want to see the companies they do business with making an effort to reduce emissions. Propane, when compared to gasoline, reduces emissions of greenhouse gases by 24 percent, nitrogen oxide by 20 percent and carbon monoxide by 60 percent.
BW: What’s the ROI for a fleet using propane technology?
Mouw: For a fleet with trucks running 20,000 to 30,000 miles per year, a positive return on investment can take approximately 18 months. This is directly related to the number of gallons of fuel consumed and the price difference between gasoline and propane, which can differ from year to year between fleets. We have a savings calculator available on our website at ROUSHcleantech.com that can be used to figure out the total savings a fleet might see while using propane.
BW: Explain the nuts and bolts of the Roush CleanTech propane fuel system.
Mouw: What we’ve done is completely replaced the gasoline fuel system, from the refueling nozzle all the way to the injectors. The fuel-fill port is a standard fitting found at all propane refueling locations. It’s a closed system so that if a proper seal between the fuel dispenser nozzle and the vehicle is not in place, fuel will not dispense. Our fuel tanks are made of quarter-inch-thick steel and typically sit in the same location as the gasoline tank. Propane allows you to operate on a clean-burning, less expensive and domestically produced fuel without sacrificing cargo space. Fuel lines are designed to follow the same routing as the OEM gasoline fuel lines, but are made of stainless steel. This ensures there is no loss of pressure of the fuel from the tank to the engine. Once the fuel reaches the engine, a Roush-designed-and-manufactured one-piece billet aluminum fuel rail replaces the OEM fuel rail, with new fuel injectors specifically for propane. The design minimizes the risk of leaks and maintains pressure of the fuel.