Propane Fleet Delivers Green For Penny-Pinching City

We on the EarthTechling Renewable Energy/Transportation Desk consider Hank Hill to be a noble figure. It’s why we can often be found wearing a nifty WWHHD bracelet. Nevertheless, we don’t usually spend a lot of time writing about propane – for the simple reason that it’s not renewable energy. It will run out.

But the story of Sandy Springs, Ga., using propane to power its Ford Crown Victoria police cruisers jumped out at us. The company that implemented the program for the city said burning propane instead of gasoline in 25 police cars cut the force’s greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 10 tons in three months.

propane autogas

image via Alliance Autogas

It’s propane, not solar or wind, but any way you slice it, that’s green.

And Sandy Springs is about the last place you’d expect to see dabbling in green shenanigans.

Last year, the libertarians over at Reason.tv made a video celebrating the city for its fiscal responsibility – it has no long-term liabilities and has been making capital investments that weren’t happening before it adopted a radical system of outsourcing city services.

Which explains why Sandy Springs turned to propane: It saves money.

“Because of the rising cost of gasoline, our fleet fuel costs nearly doubled in six years. Now, we’re saving $1.70 per gallon or more filling up our patrol cars with autogas,” police Captain Bart Humble said in a statement.

In fact, Alliance Autogas, the company overseeing the conversions, said Sandy Springs saved $11,000 in fuel costs in the first three months using what is known as “propane autogas” (and more technically as “liquefied petroleum gas,” or LPG). That was based on the conversion of 25 cars, but the program will ultimately include 65 cars.

What really made this a good deal for Sandy Springs is that the U.S. Department of Energy, in a program funded by the 2009 Obama stimulus, is supporting the conversions. According to the government’s Recovery.gov database, an $8,605,100 award is funding the conversion of 1,189 fleet vehicles in nine southeastern states, plus the installation of 17 fueling stations. The Southeast Propane Autogas Development Program says a single conversion costs between $4,000 and $12,000.

Before you get too excited about propane, however, realize that while it’s a step in the right direction, it can hardly be called a clean fuel. The DOE says that using the life cycle model developed by Argonne National Laboratory shows vehicles running on propane put out 10 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than regular gasoline vehicles. Such vehicles do, however, also put out 20 percent less carbon monoxide and 40 percent less nitrogen oxides.

These benefits are comparable to what compressed natural gas (CNG) delivers, but in Sandy Springs, they say propane has advantages that make it a better choice.

“There’s no comparison between propane autogas and compressed natural gas,” Humble said. “We tested CNG vehicles when I was in another department, and the performance was not nearly like running on autogas. You had to refill every 100 miles, and the trunk space was nonexistent. With autogas vehicles, you have a very similar experience to driving traditional gasoline vehicles, and my officers can still carry around the equipment they need.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

2 Comments

  • Reply August 31, 2012

    alex sherry

    It’s true, I have a propane vehicle in Vancouver, BC, & it’s amazing…Propane has a higher octane than gasoline, and WAY less expensive…All the cab companies, plumbing companies, roofers, are all converting to propane…Go Propane or go home…hop on the bandwagon now…or be left behind… -Truth

    • Reply August 31, 2012

      Pete

      Alex, thanks for the comment. Are you limited in your where you can drive by the availability of fueling opportunities? By that I mean, can you just take off on a long trip and be confident you’ll find a place to refuel, or do you have to plan things out carefully?
      Thanks,
      Pete Danko

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