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More cars to be propane-fueled?

This photo from autogasfleet.com, shows the interior propane tank in a modified hybrid gasoline/propane police cruiser.

This photo from autogasfleet.com, shows the interior propane tank in a modified hybrid gasoline/propane police cruiser.

ALBANY, Ga. — The fleets of several local governments could be operating on propane fuel in the coming years as attractive prices, tax incentives and lower maintenance costs entice operators to make the switch.

Speaking to the Dougherty Kiwanis Club Monday, Mark Holloway, president of Modern Gas, said that he’s either met with or is scheduled to have meetings with the Lee and Dougherty County Sheriff’s Offices, the Lee County School System and the Sumter County Commission about possibly converting a portion of their vast fleets of vehicles to propane.

Propane has long been a favorite for grillers and outdoor entertainers, but its history as an automotive fuel has been a bit of a rollercoaster.

photo

J.D. Sumner

Mark Holloway, the president of Modern Gas, talks to members of the Dougherty Kiwanis Club Monday.

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, limited and expensive gasoline forced some road-based companies to give propane a try in their company vehicles — including The Albany Herald, which, for a time, ran propane-fueled delivery vans.

But when the price of gasoline stabilized and the novelty of propane-fueled vehicles wore off, companies switched back to traditional fossil fuels.

“But I think things have changed again,” Holloway said. “There’s a strong push for green energy, and energy produced here in the U.S. or at least in North America, so I think interest will only grow.”

In his speech to Kiwanis, Holloway threw out some facts to the crowd about propane as a vehicle fuel.

Compared to gasoline, the price per gallon is significantly less, Holloway says. With tax credits which vary by state, the average price per gallon of propane right now is about $1.10 compared to the $3.24 gasoline around Albany.

In terms of miles-per-gallon, propane does fall behind gasoline, Holloway said, citing his propane truck which did got 15-16 miles-per-gallon using regular gasoline and gets about 13 mpg with propane.

Propane burns at a higher octane than gasoline and it burns cleaner with less carbon that traditional gasoline engines which means further miles between oil changes, Holloway says.

Holloway says that about 90 percent of the world’s propane is produced in North America, which could help cut the U.S. need for fuel controlled by nations that are less-than-friendly.

Holloway says that propane gas tank technology is about 20 times more puncture resistant that today’s gasoline tanks.

So what about the cons?

The initial startup cost to convert a gas-burning engine into a propane one — about $6,000 —is enough to make it impractical for most casual and short-commute drivers.

“If you drive between 150 to 200 miles every day, then it might make sense and you could start to see a return on your investment,” Holloway told the group. “But, for the most part, propane is geared more for fleet vehicles like police cars, lawn equipment or school buses.”

Part of the challenge is staying close to fueling stations, which Holloway said are much cheaper to install than compressed natural gas stations. That’s one reason why fleet vehicles, who often return to a central fueling location to gas up, tend to make the most sense for conversion.

Still, the startup costs aren’t deterring some Georgia governments from making the leap.

Muscogee County recently completed a 31-vehicle conversion of their sheriff’s office patrol vehicles, as did Carroll County. More conversions closer to home could be looming on the horizon.

“I really feel like Lee County will have a propane gas school bus on the road by 2014,” Holloway said.