Many of the barriers to the adoption of propane autogas are based on myths. Some propane marketers remember the inferior vehicle systems of the 1980s and are reluctant to enter the autogas market again. Many members of the public are not even aware that propane can fuel vehicles, so when they think of alternative fuels, they think electricity is the only solution.
Four autogas experts will address these and other myths during a seminar at the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) Expo in Atlanta. They will also present the facts about today’s autogas dispensing equipment, vehicles, and growth opportunities. The seminar is meant for propane marketers who are looking to learn more about the installation and maintenance of autogas stations; who are skeptics about the dependability of the vehicle systems and fueling infrastructure; and/or who want to sell gallons independently of the weather.
Among the myths these experts will address, and the facts they will present, are the following:
The myth: “It’s too difficult to install and maintain autogas refueling equipment.” There is a general misconception that propane stations require substantial time and money to install due to the complexity of the systems, says Jim Bunsey of Superior Energy Systems. In addition, it is sometimes assumed that autogas dispensers require time-consuming training, are difficult to work on and maintain, and require extensive calibration. “These misconceptions sometimes occur due to the fact that other alternative fuel infrastructure, such as CNG and electric, do require substantial financial outlay, site preparations, and equipment,” Bunsey explains.
The fact: Prepackaged and fully tested autogas skids with new technology make autogas dispensers easier to install, operate, and maintain. If station operators are performing routine maintenance, including lubricating dispenser nozzles and the propane pump, they should experience no downtime. If service technicians have been properly trained to handle propane autogas and have experience with gasoline and/or diesel refueling stations, they should have no trouble installing or servicing an autogas dispenser—the systems perform in very similar fashions. As director of operations at Superior Energy Systems, Bunsey has directed thousands of autogas and midstream installations. “At the panel,” he says, “marketers can come hear a step-by-step outline of how simple the installation process and maintenance requirements can be and why new technology is propelling autogas to the top of the alternative fuel ladder.”
The myth: “Public refueling of propane autogas will never happen.” This myth exists because many people have never actually refueled or experienced refueling a propane autogas vehicle, especially with a modern dispenser equipped with a quick-connect nozzle, says David Kennedy of Alliance AutoGas. “They can only relate to cylinder refueling, which does necessitate a propane professional to refuel,” he explains.
The fact: Advancements in autogas refueling have made it easy for end users to refuel a propane-powered vehicle. The industry’s self-regulation is limiting access to its fuel through its own outdated safety regulations. In addition to serving as director of autogas design at Alliance AutoGas, Kennedy is active in PERC’s Research and Technology Development advisory group and NPGA’s Technical Safety and Standards group, and has been an NFPA 58 AutoGas Subject Matter Expert. “During this panel I will point out the advancements in autogas refueling and point out the differences in refilling a propane cylinder compared to an autogas vehicle.”
The myth: “Autogas isn’t worth my time, money, or resources.” Some marketers’ only experience with autogas is with the systems that went away in the late ’80s, early ’90s due to technology challenges. “They haven’t given the new technology an honest chance,” says Mark Denton of Blossman Gas. In addition, many people believe that you can’t make money on autogas because it is all “cheap” bid fuel only.
The fact: The new technology is state of the art and cannot be compared with the carbureted systems of the ’80s. This technology is available for both original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and EPA- and CARB-certified aftermarket systems. Today’s systems are extremely dependable and are saving fleet customers significant money on fuel cost. Denton, who serves as vice president of business development at Blossman Gas, has been in the retail propane business since 1978 and has worked almost exclusively with autogas for the past 10 years. “I drive an F-150 using an EPA-certified bi-fuel system, which has close to 200,000 miles on it, and the only thing I have had done to the propane system is change some fuel filters.”
The myth: “No one outside of the propane industry cares about the adoption of autogas.” Propane-powered vehicles have not yet been marketed to the average consumer, so there is a general lack of knowledge about them, says John Barnett of U-Haul, the largest propane retailer in North America. Compare that to electric vehicles: “Electric vehicles made their way into the mainstream market and have been marketed to consumers in a consistent and effective manner.”
The fact: The autogas industry is growing quickly, but quietly. The public is seeking better transportation solutions and most people understand that there is a need for clean-burning fuel to address the issue of CO2 emissions. U-Haul has a vast infrastructure and is actively marketing autogas to the many fleets with which it does business. Barnett has been dispensing propane since 2006, pushed for propane-powered service vehicles in his fleet when he was U-Haul company president in California, and began upgrading U-Haul’s dispensers with new pumps to fill autogas tanks when he entered his current position: propane programs manager at U-Haul. “Caring about the adoption of anything stems from awareness, accessibility, and appealing to people on a personal level,” he says. “For some, that appeal may involve financial savings, environmental responsibility, making our busy lives a little easier…or all of the above.”
To get the most out of the seminar they will be presenting at the NPGA Expo, the speakers recommend that attendees read up on autogas at the PERC website (propane.com) and bring any questions they might have. They also recommend that attendees consider how far autogas technologies have come since the ’80s—just as phone technology has evolved from payphones to smartphones—and come to the event with an open mind regarding marketing propane autogas.
Bunsey concluded, “We hope to expel the common myths associated with autogas by bringing together all pieces of the autogas puzzle—the marketer, the station equipment provider, the fleet manager, and the autogas vehicle system manufacturer—to explain how autogas can be an excellent addition to a propane marketer’s offerings.”
Their seminar, “Autogas Dispensing Equipment—Myth vs. Fact,” is to be held Sunday, April 14, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the NPGA Southeastern Convention & International Propane Expo in Atlanta. To see the original article, click here.