As environmental regulations become stricter and companies look for alternatives to diesel and gasoline powertrains, a Michigan automotive engineering firm is pitching liquid propane technology as a solution.
Roush CleanTech displayed its propane technology mated to a Ford F-750 truck chassis at the 2016 Advanced Clean Transportation Expo in Long Beach Tuesday.
The Livonia, Mich., company installs propane autogas fuel systems for mid-sized Ford trucks, which are used primarily for delivery purposes, the type of truck you see parked on the street with logos like Pepsi, UPS and FedEx.
Interest in propane-fueled mid-sized trucks is surprisingly strong given how low gasoline and diesel prices are, said Joe Rudolph, director of business development for Roush.
Rudolph said a market for propane-fueled trucks is developing because the vehicles are quieter, cleaner and have less expensive maintenance costs compared to their gasoline and diesel counterparts. They also have an environmental benefit, providing a reduction in carbon monoxide emissions.
Those environmental benefits factored into the decision at Bimbo Bakeries USA, a division of a Mexican food giant, to use propane autogas vehicles to deliver baked goods in Chicago, Denver and Washington, D.C.
Each new propane autogas-fueled delivery truck will cut carbon dioxide emissions over its life of service by about 192,000 pounds compared to gasoline, said Gary Maresca, senior director of fleet services for the baked goods company.
While propane autogas trucks offer some pollution benefits, the gains over more traditional fossil fuels are not huge.
Compared to gasoline, propane reduces greenhouse gas emissions by around 16 percent, and beats diesel by around 10 percent, said Dave Cooke, analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“That’s not huge, but it’s not nothing,” Cooke said.
But that gap will dwindle as government regulations force all engines to be more fuel efficient, he said.
Still, increasingly strict environmental regulations and an effort by companies to demonstrate they are using less polluting forms of transport are fueling some sales, Rudolph said. But the biggest interest is companies looking for cost savings, he said.
Cooke said those fuel cost savings make propane appealing to fleets.
Propane autogas costs up to 40 percent less than gasoline and 50 percent less than diesel, according to Roush.
Roush scored big orders for its trucks in March from Bimbo and the water division of Nestle. They ordered a combined 238 propane-powered delivery trucks.
Bill Ardis, national fleet manager for Nestle Waters North America, said that emissions reductions and cost savings were key factors in the company’s purchase of the trucks. Propane autogas costs an average of $1 per gallon, about half the cost of diesel, Ardis said.
There are also tax incentives for fleets to use propane. Roush said that the current alternative fuel excise tax credits is 36 cents-per-gallon in 2016, down from 50 cents-per-gallon in 2015.
Roush isn’t limiting their technology to mid-sized trucks. It has also converted around 7,000 Blue Bird school buses to operate on propane.