Fuel Smarts

Running an Alternative-fueled Fleet

Monroe County is committed to alternative fuels, and propane's a favorite

May 2013, TruckingInfo.com - Feature

by Tom Berg, Senior Contributing Editor - Also by this author

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Want to get a handle on alternative fuels? Talk with someone who uses them.

One person is Melvin Rose, fleet manager for Monroe County in western New York, which surrounds Rochester. The county has 700 vehicles, from compact cars to Class 8 trucks. All run on ethanol-gasoline blends, biodiesel, compressed natural gas or propane, and Rose loves to talk about them.

“We're the real deal,” he says of the county's alternative fuels program, which has won several “green fleet” awards from national organizations. “We're not just talking about it, we're really doing it. Our executive, Maggie Brooks, is all for alternative fuels, to get off foreign oil.”

There are also financial benefits. Most of the fuels cost less than straight petroleum products, and Monroe County has taken advantage of grant money, obtained through the CMAQ (congested mitigated air quality) division of the regional Clean Cities program, to pay for expensive fueling stations.

Rose is on the local Clean Cities board of directors.

“You have to be in touch with your Clean Cities organization,” he says. “Keep in touch with those people and they'll navigate you through your resources and how to upfit your vehicles.”

The fleet's work in alternative fuels goes back more than 25 years. In the 1980s, the county converted vehicles to burn methanol, a fuel that fell out of favor for environmental reasons. In the ‘90s it tried out compressed natural gas, a move that proved premature.

It also tried, and abandoned, electric-powered compact pickups.

But CNG is back, and since 2008 the county has also used biodiesel and gasoline-ethanol blends along with propane. None of the county's 700 vehicles, ranging from compact cars to Class 7 and 8 trucks, use straight gasoline or diesel anymore.

Monroe County operates a Green Fuel Station that it shares with the city of Rochester, where it stocks E20 and E85 ethanol-gasoline blends, plus B20 (a 20-80 mix of biofuel and diesel) for use in warmer weather to feed diesel engines, and B5 when temperatures turn cold. One challenge is to make sure that engine builders approve the higher biodiesel blend, Brooks says.

CNG is dispensed with a two-hose fast-fill pump, but Rose has mixed feelings about natural gas.

It's clean, plentiful and cheap, he says, but a CNG tank and dispenser are very expensive, and are doable only because grant money pays for most of their cost.

Those grant funds made it possible to buy another CNG installation, which is planned to be a second city-county fueling station.

However, in Brooks’ opinion, “liquid propane is the real ticket.”

“Know what makes it inexpensive? It's the infrastucture. A CNG fueling station costs more than $ 1 million. For pennies on those dollars you can get a complete propane fueling station. It's a simple steel tank with a little pump on it.”

Propane storage tanks and those on the trucks operate at less than 200 pounds per square inch, compared to 3,600 psi for a full CNG tank. Thus a propane tank, while still a pressure vessel, is far cheaper, he points out.

In mid-April, propane “autogas” in western New York was priced at about $ 1.20 per gasoline-gallon-equivalent, or GGE, minus a 50-cent federal tax credit. The county also pays 36 cents per GGE to Ferrillgas, which supplies and maintains a 1,000-gallon propane tank at the fueling station in Rochester. Bottom-line price, then, was $1.06 per GGE.

The tank serves several Ford trucks now running on propane — an E-350 van and three F-250 pickups — and the county is looking to upfit 16 more. Roush CleanTech, a propane specialist that's among suppliers approved by Ford Motor Co., converted the four trucks for about $11,000 each.

“It's hard to sell an upfit of $11,000 to the county board,” Rose says, but propane's very low cost and the inexpensive fueling facility made it entirely reasonable. “You get those F-250 trucks just driving around like they're running on gasoline, and you get your payback in two years.” Rose notes that this is no fair weather fleet, as it gets cold and very snowy in Monroe County, N.Y., and the trucks are subject to corrosion from road salts.

Yet propane and the other alternative fuels, and the systems on the trucks continue to work.

Scratch a frigid climate as an excuse not to try ‘em.


  1. 1. David Perkins [ May 21, 2013 @ 09:32AM ]

    Propane autogas is a great fuel alternative. Interest is growing as people learn the benefits.

  2. 2. GREG FOREMAN [ May 22, 2013 @ 03:55PM ]

    Propane is a far superior alternative fuel than natural gas. Propane's has a higher BTU rating than natural gas resulting in less costly conversion cost, allowing for a further range of operation resulting in more efficient cost effective rate of operation. “It is accurate to say that propane contains over twice the usable energy content per cubic foot (2.44 times more)” than natural gas. This fact translates into (a) smaller containerization for propane truck vs natural gas units, resulting in lower cost of conversion, (b) further operational range for trucks by a factor 1:2.44 more miles from a propane unit vs a natural gas unit. Furthermore, a nation wide distribution system already exist propane. Further expansion of this system could/would come at a fraction of the price required to create a distribution system for natural gas. It can be argued that propane's environmental signature is superior to natural gas. Why? Natural gas(methane) is classified as a GHG(green house gas) propane is not considered a GHG. The fact is natural gas is considered 25 times more detrimental to the environment than carbon dioxide (yeah, that stuff Al Goreen(sic) preaches against and wants to eliminate by reverting our society back to the stone age). “Natural gas, when discharged into the environment is a greenhouse gas whereas propane is not classified as such. Propane is not toxic or damaging and will not harm the environment if it is released into the atmosphere, which is why it is not labeled a greenhouse gas. Therefore, while propane will not contribute to pollution in its unused state if released, natural gas will. Propane is a green fuel before combustion and remains environmentally friendly even after it is used, as described below.” These factoids illustrate the fact that natural gas is NOT the illustrious alternative fuel portrayed by certain actors in the industry.

  3. 3. GREG FOREMAN [ May 22, 2013 @ 03:59PM ]

    (continued)Natural gas will be a “flash in the pan” costing the trucking industry and the country (less we forget the alternative fuel tax credits granted by the state and federal governments) billions of dollars in conversion cost, lost production time, lost revenue and, eventually, outdated, useless equipment. To many major participants in the industry have swallowed the “snake oil” proposals put forth by natural gas advocates such as T. Boone Pickens and major players from the energy industry. Natural gas conversion for the trucking industry can be best characterized as putting lipstick on a pig and calling it, the pig, a beauty queen.

  4. 4. Mike [ May 28, 2013 @ 06:20AM ]

    Greg Foreman is completely incorrect and misleading in his remarks about CNG. According to the U.S. Dept of Energy Clean City Alternative Fuel Price Report, April 2013, these are the Overall Average Fuel Prices on an Energy-Equivalent Basis:

    The first figure is the Nationwide Average Price in Gasoline Gallon Equivalents (GGE's) Nationwide. The second figure is Nationwide Average Price in Diesel Gallon Equivalents (DGE's).

    Gasoline $3.59 $4.01
    Diesel $3.58 $3.99
    Propane $3.77 $4.20
    CNG $2.10 $2.34

    CNG, while cleaner than both gasoline and diesel is also much less-expensive than both of these fuels AND propane when comparing it on an energy-equivalent apples to apples basis.

    Transitioning from gasoline or diesel fueled vehicles to CNG will reduce your price at the pump from $1.48 to $1.67 per gallon. CNG is a domestic fuel with a significant supply (estimates over 100 years worth).

    CNG is $1.67 to $1.87 less-expensive per gallon than Propane when compared at the same energy content. Greg is either flat out lying or just not very knowledgeable about these alternative fuels. By the way, propane is more dangerous than any of these fuels as it will pool when leaked and is highly flammable. This is why propane is not allowed on bridges or tunnels in New York City, among other places throughout the country. CNG is lighter than air and dissipates quickly.

    A copy of the report can be found here: http://www.afdc.energy.gov/uploads/publication/alternative_fuel_price_report_april_2013.pdf

  5. 5. GREG FOREMAN [ May 29, 2013 @ 08:21PM ]

    Mike, forgive me, but where in my comment did I reference or draw a comparisons between fuels on a per gallon bases? My comment was based in a systemic approach and comparisons between propane and natural gas. Viewed systemically, natural gas is a complete waste of valuable monies and resources when compared to propane. No where in the comment was a per gallon relationship/comparisons drawn between propane vs natural gas. For the record, you are correct. On a per gallon bases natural gas is less expensive than propane. However, there are multiple factors-the required infrastructure for distribution, the conversion cost required of the vehicles, the availability of the fuel, the mileage provided, the ultimate impact on the environment-that should be considered when proposing a transition to natural gas as an alternative fuel for the trucking industry. The emphasis on cost per gallon is a shortsighted, unrealistic approach the subject. With that stated, there are certain observations with respect to the DOE report cited that invite further exposure. First, the footnote on page 8 admits the per gallon equivalency price for propane was generated from a survey 334 suppliers consisting of “primary suppliers”(stations offering propane for vehicle and recreational usage) and “secondary suppliers”(stations offering propane for recreational usage only). The report did not “track” how many stations were primary vs secondary. This fact “skewers” the cost presentation in favor of CNG in that secondary(recreational) suppliers charge higher prices than primary(vehicle) suppliers for propane owing to smaller average purchases.

  6. 6. GREG FOREMAN [ May 29, 2013 @ 08:26PM ]

    Second, propane is a “refinery” product whereas natural gas is supplied directly from the ground via pipeline. The refinery process adds cost to propane that natural gas does not have to bear. Except for the installation of “driers”, natural gas is sold “directly”, as is, straight out of the ground.
    Third, the purchasers of natural gas are primarily governmental bodies(no recreational use here), buses, cars, trash truck and the like. Purchases are made directly from the pipeline company, at bulk rates based on long term, 5 years plus, contracts. There are no trucks, no public filling stations, translation, no “overhead” as compared with the propane distribution system in existence.
    And lastly, with respect to the comment concerning propane not being allowed on bridges or tunnels in New York City you failed to mention that ALL HAZARDOUS MATERIALS are prohibited from using certain bridges and tunnels not only in New York City but in many major cities. It boils down to an issue of public safety.

    I am willing to concede this particular subject is complicated and volatile and that I don't know everything about everything. However, I can assure you, I am not lying, my figures are based on research not anecdotal in nature. You obviously failed comprehending both the approach and the message conveyed.


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