5 Considerations for contractors pursuing propane autogas

Nov. 3, 2015
Five considerations for contractors are:  Finding the right vehicle option.  Calculating cost of fuel.  Account for other operating costs. Private vs. public infrastructure. Go green, save green.      
Refueling a Ford F-250 at a propane station.

For plumbing and HVAC contractors, finding ways to reduce vehicle operating costs without sacrificing performance or convenience is top of mind, especially in today’s economy. And with the frequent fluctuation in cost of conventional fuel, alternative fuels are gaining traction as a way to control and reduce fuel and maintenance costs.

As contractors and operation managers take a closer look at the vehicle options, infrastructure, emissions profile and total cost-of-ownership with alternative fuels, many find propane autogas provides the best value for their fleets.

1. Finding the right vehicle option: Selecting the right vehicle or fuel system to fit your unique business needs is an essential part of the alternative fuel procurement process. Fleets can find EPA- and CARB-certified propane autogas vehicle options with equivalent horsepower, torque and towing capacity as conventionally-fueled counterparts, and from growing selection of manufacturers.

Contractors have the choice of adopting either a dedicated propane autogas or bi-fuel vehicle. Dedicated propane-autogas-powered vehicles operate solely on propane autogas and provide the greatest cost savings and environmental benefits. Bi-fuel vehicles are converted to operate with propane autogas as the primary fuel and gasoline as a secondary fuel. Bi-fuel vehicles eliminate “range anxiety,” providing contractors with flexible options on remote jobsites where they can operate primarily on propane autogas but switch to gasoline if necessary.

Ford F-150 through F-650 trucks, modified by a variety of qualified vehicle manufacturers, and CleanFuel USA’s GM 4500 chassis give fleets a variety of dedicated OEM vehicle options suitable for any contractor’s needs. And, there’s an aftermarket solution for nearly any vehicle an HVAC or plumbing operation may require. A complete list of EPA- and CARB-certified dedicated and bi-fuel systems can be found at

2. Calculating cost of fuel: Because propane is primarily a byproduct of domestic natural gas processing, propane supplies are becoming increasingly abundant. In fact, nearly 95 percent of the propane used in the U.S. is domestically produced. With domestic natural gas production reaching record levels, propane autogas prices are predicted to remain low; giving fleets more stability in predicting fuel costs.

Beyond that, many propane providers offer contracts that allow customers to lock in a set price per gallon for propane autogas, ensuring they’ll pay a consistent price year-round.

3. Account for other operating costs: While it’s true that propane autogas costs less per gallon than gasoline and diesel, it’s equally important to calculate benefits “beyond the pump.” The cost of maintaining comparable diesel trucks can add up quickly with expensive maintenance, parts, and repairs.

Today’s diesel trucks require emission-reduction devices to meet EPA and CARB emission standards. These systems require additional fluids, pricey particulate filters, and proper preventative maintenance, costing contractors additional time and money.

Diesel engines are also designed for minimal idling. Excessive idling fouls injectors and increases downtime and maintenance. Because propane autogas is a clean fuel, it doesn’t require complicated after-treatment fluids and devices and is exempt from extended idling laws. Propane autogas offers a lower total cost-of-ownership of any fuel, from purchase to retirement of the asset.

4. Private vs. public infrastructure: Contractors will find that refueling with propane autogas is uncomplicated, and local propane providers can help determine the best refueling solution for their operation.

In many cases, public or private refueling networks are already readily available in the area. If an existing refueling option is not currently available, a local propane provider may create one for a fleet — or multiple fleets — so long as they can provide an adequate usage load. Public refueling networks work well for fleets with limited space or fleets needing more refueling locations along their routes.

Contractors may also opt to install private on-site propane autogas refueling stations. Private propane autogas refueling stations are the most affordable to install of any fuel, and provide convenience and reduced downtime. Some propane autogas providers will even install a refueling station in exchange for a fuel contract, meaning contractors avoid any upfront costs associated with infrastructure installation.

5. Go green, save green: By using propane autogas, an approved clean fuel under the 1990 Clean Air Act, construction professionals can reach their sustainability goals without burdening tight budgets.

Construction fleets using propane autogas can breathe easier knowing that propane autogas is a nontoxic, non-carcinogenic and non-corrosive fuel. Propane-autogas-powered vehicles emit fewer greenhouse gas emissions when compared with gasoline- and diesel-fueled vehicles, and adding other propane-powered equipment, like generators, and lighting and heating products, to your operations can provide a cleaner, greener jobsite for everyone.

Tucker Perkins is the chief business development officer for the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). Before joining PERC, Perkins was the president and chief operating officer of CleanFuel USA, a leading supplier of propane engine systems and infrastructure equipment.

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