Fleet owners looking for an alternative to high diesel prices may have another option—propane. CleanFuel USA has released an EPA- and CARB-certified propane engine system that it calls an OEM replacement technology for both new and aftermarket gasoline-powered engines.

CleanFuel’s liquid propane fuel injection (LPI) system allows medium-duty fleets--such as buses and 4500-8500 series GM trucks that run on 8.1-liter gasoline engines--to operate on propane. CleanFuel said it hopes to have a 6-liter engine in the market by early 2009.

According to Curtis Donaldson, CleanFuel USA president & CEO, propane is a much more efficient system than it used to be, and the miles per gallon drop from gasoline is less than 5%.

For installation at the time of purchase, CleanFuel has a deal with General Motors to install the LPI system. “It’s like a delayed OEM action,” Donaldson told FleetOwner. “GM builds the truck, and then it goes from GM’s Flint factory to Monroe, who puts our system on, and then customers pick it up from the same GM truck center.”

The system can be retrofitted as well as dozens of CleanFuel truck centers are trained to install the system or are in the process of being trained. Aftermarket conversions should be available in the next 30 days, he added.

Donaldson said propane delivers on three ‘e’s’-- environment, energy security, and economics. “In our minds, propane is a very good fleet fuel,” he said. “We’re not the silver bullet, so we’re going to stay focused on the fleet market.”

The environmental benefit of propane, said Donaldson, is substantial. According to a third-party study done by Energetics Inc., propane releases the fewest greenhouse gases compared to gasoline and diesel. The study reports propane releases 52.8 kg CO / 2 million BTU, compared to 66.6 kg for E85, 70.5 kg for gasoline and 72.5 kg for diesel. “We stack up real well on greenhouse gas emissions,” Donaldson said. “We’re very low and always have been.”

Unlike oil, propane production is heavily concentrated in the U.S., Donaldson said, with about 80% of the global supply in the U.S. and another 10% in Canada, adding that supplies are plentiful, with 59 million barrel capacity in Texas alone. “We’re not going to be short of propane anytime soon,” he added.

While the initial price of an LPI system is high—about $11,000 to install, noted Donaldson—he said that depending on the number of miles driven, it can pay for itself pretty quickly, especially with a $.50 federal tax credit per gallon of propane for qualifying fleets.

CleanFuel is currently estimating propane prices between $2.39 and $2.59 per gallon, but they fluctuate heavily depending on location or company, Donaldson said, and estimates are compiled simply by talking to fleets and asking them what they are currently paying.

“Propane prices started going up recently. In the last two weeks it’s gone up a dime, but it’s nowhere near as volatile as gasoline,” he said. “We don’t really have an OPIS retail average. Our industry is very fragmented, and prices are all over the board. Because we’re such a free enterprise, you could call 17 companies in Los Angeles and bid it out.

”The average consumer uses 700 gallons of fuel a year, so it doesn’t make as much sense for them,” Donaldson added. “It’s not cost efficient, even if you’re saving $2 a gallon. But if a fleet uses 3000 to 4000 gallons per year, and you save $2 a gallon, you’re paying for it in two to three years.”

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