Propane Pickup Power
Part 2 of 3-part ProPickup Special Feature Series
Dispensing Propane Refueling Concerns
Why infrastructure isn’t your biggest barrier to alternative fuels; Refueling on the road is now easier than ever
by Melissa Dohmen
Once a contractor has decided on the right propane autogas vehicle for their operations, the crucial question becomes “How will I refuel?” For many contractors, this important question is often a barrier when it comes to adopting alternative fuels.
Tucker Perkins, chief business development officer for the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), says that’s the first concern he addresses when speaking with contractors or new adopters.
“Propane is the most widely available alternative fuel in the U.S. right now, and more than 17 million vehicles in the world operate on propane autogas,” Perkins says.
“There are more refueling stations in the U.S. with propane than any other alternative fuel. That’s in large part because propane refueling stations are incredibly affordable and easy to install and operate.”
De-mystifying the Refueling Process
Refueling with propane autogas is comparable to filling up with gasoline in terms of ease and efficiency, and the process is both simple and safe.
“All fuel systems have an automatic shutoff valve so the pump shuts off just like gasoline,” says Perkins, “and a ‘fast-fill’ propane autogas dispenser fills at the same rate as gas – seven to 10 gallons per minute depending on horsepower of the pump.”
The main difference between refueling with gasoline or diesel and propane autogas is that the nozzle is threaded into the fuel tank, which eliminates spillage and fuel theft.
Because it’s a closed fuel system, propane is safer than gasoline or diesel and it doesn’t pool or soak in the ground when spilled.
As for concerns about safety, Perkins has heard those fears before, and that it’s important to educate users about the fuel.
“Propane has a narrow flammability range,” explains Perkins, “and the fuel tanks on the trucks are 20 times more puncture resistant than gasoline tanks. They are made of carbon steel rather than plastic, and are actually the strongest part on the vehicle.”
Infrastructure Built for Flexibility
Unlike compressed natural gas (CNG), contractors can install a refueling dispenser in even the most remote locations, and the setup takes up very little space.
“You can put a small pump right on location – about the size of two parking spaces,” Perkins says.
Because propane operates at low pressure – 200 psi – there are no special facility requirements or maintenance requirements.
The low startup cost for a dispenser is another enticing factor for a contractor.
Depending on the number of vehicles and equipment running on propane, a contractor can install a single dispenser for as little as $10,000 to $15,000. Fifteen propane autogas refueling stations can be installed for the financial equivalent of just one compressed natural gas station.
Some propane retailers may even cover the installation cost when a fleet agrees to a fuel contract. Coupled with current federal incentives for infrastructure, which provide up to 30 percent of the total cost, installing a propane autogas dispenser is extremely cost effective.
“If you do choose to put a station right on location,” adds Perkins,” you can sign a contract with a fuel provider to lock in pricing, so you can more accurately forecast fuel costs for the year and stay on budget.”.
Refueling on the Road
Propane autogas provides the most affordable infrastructure solution for fleets that need a central refueling location, or for those that come back to the same place throughout the day or evening to check-in or refill.
It’s also ideal for contractors that run relatively fixed routes or stay within a certain radius of their home office.
For contractors that need to refuel while en route, drivers can find propane autogas refueling stations in every state, with many more public refueling stations opening every day.
Additionally, Perkins notes that many propane-autogas-fueled trucks can be configured for long-range use.
“Contractors can get propane tanks that sit in the bed of a truck for more range, and there are public sites throughout US – more than 2,500 – so they can plan a refueling route for their needs.”
To locate public refueling stations in your area, visit www.autogasusa.org.
(Next week, Part 3: How Contractors Cut Emissions, Fuel Costs with Propane.)