6 considerations for construction fleet managers contemplating this fueling alternative

In today's economy, construction business owners are always looking for ways to reduce operating costs. And with the volatile cost of conventional fuel, alternative fuels are gaining traction as a low-cost alternative for pickups, work trucks and other equipment. As construction professionals take a closer look at the total cost of ownership of alternative fuels, some business owners will find that propane autogas proves to be a better value for their fleets.

While it is true that propane autogas is less volatile and costs less per gallon than gasoline and diesel, it is important to calculate the benefits beyond the pump. Evaluating fuel cost, vehicle options, infrastructure and the emissions profile can help construction owners choose the right fuel for their business. Consider the following to make the best fuel decision for your construction fleet.

1. Fuel cost

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 anticipating fuel costs. Many propane providers offer contracts that allow customers to lock in a set price per gallon for propane autogas, ensuring they will pay a consistent price year round to power their equipment.

2. Vehicle options

Finding a vehicle that fits your business needs is an essential part of the procurement process. Thankfully, a growing selection of manufacturers offer dedicated propane autogas and bi-fuel options that are Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)- and California Air Resources Board (CARB)-certified and offer equivalent horsepower, torque and towing capacity as conventional fueled counterparts. Dedicated propane-autogas-powered vehicles are designed to operate solely with propane autogas. 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 when necessary.

Dedicated OEM vehicles such as the Roush CleanTech Ford F-250 through the F-650, GM's 4500 chassis and Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp.'s S2G give fleets a range of light, medium and heavier-duty options suitable for any construction fleet's needs. There is an aftermarket solution for any vehicle a construction operation may require. A complete list of EPA- and CARB-certified dedicated and bi-fuel systems can be found at propane.com/on-road-fleets.

3. Total cost of ownership

The costs of maintaining Tier 4-compliant, diesel-fueled trucks can add up quickly with expensive fuel, additional fluids and pricey particulate filters. Without proper preventative maintenance, diesel fleets also spend extra time and money replacing injectors, exhaust gas recirculation valves and coolers, turbochargers, dirty aftercoolers and irregular closed crankcase filters.

Today's diesel engines are also designed for minimal idling, which should not exceed five minutes. Excessive idling fouls injectors and causes additional damages, which increases downtime and maintenance expenses. Because propane autogas does not require complicated aftertreatment fluids and devices, the alternative fuel offers the lowest total cost of ownership of any fuel, from the purchase to the retirement of the asset.

4. Safety

Continuously working to make safety a top priority should be at the forefront of every construction operation. Safety management is the best way to reduce the number of incidents and accidents on the jobsite, and work trucks are no exception to the rule.

Propane-autogas-powered trucks operate more quietly than diesel models, allowing drivers to better focus on their surroundings and the road. Standard safety features, such as automatic shut-off valves, provide added comfort for everyone involved in the project. In the event of an accident, an automatic shut-off valve prevents the flow of fuel to the engine, even if the ignition switch is still in the "on" position.

5. Infrastructure

Construction professionals will find that refueling with propane autogas is stress free, and a propane provider can easily help decide the best refueling solution for their operation. In many cases, public or private refueling networks are already available in the area. If an existing refueling option is not currently available, a local propane provider may create one for a fleet, so long as they can provide an adequate usage load.

Most business owners find that installing a private, on-site propane autogas refueling station is inexpensive and convenient. In fact, propane autogas refueling infrastructure is proven to be the most affordable to install of any fuel.

6. Emissions profile

By using propane autogas, an approved clean fuel under the 1990 Clean Air Act, construction professionals can reach their sustainability goals without additional emissions technology that might affect their bottom lines.

Additionally, construction fleets using propane autogas can breathe easier knowing that propane autogas is a nontoxic, non-carcinogenic and non-corrosive fuel. At the very least, propane-autogas-powered vehicles emit fewer greenhouse gas emissions when compared with gasoline-fueled vehicles.

Halco Energy Lowers Carbon Emissions on the Road

Halco Energy, a $25-million company in New York, specializes in home performance work and renewable energy. Working in the business of helping reduce energy costs and carbon footprints, it is fitting that Halco made an investment to upgrade its fleet with cleaner, more cost-effective vehicles powered by propane autogas. Adopting propane-autogas-powered vehicles allowed Halco to align its values with its business decisions. Halco's service fleet includes one-ton vans for the company's service technicians and pickup trucks used by the company's insulation and air-sealing crews to pull 20-foot trailers containing spray foam machines. Roush CleanTech converted 25 of the company's medium-duty Ford vehicles to run on propane autogas. Below are some of the facts surrounding Halco's upgrade.

  • Halco received a competitive grant through Genesee Region Clean Communities Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program that paid 75 percent of the conversion cost to switch to alternative fuels.
  • By working with a local propane retailer, Halco established a refueling network throughout its territory and installed a large 18,000-gallon tank fueling station at its headquarters. This allows the company to buy fuel by the truckload at more competitive prices.
  • Halco pays 50 percent less for propane autogas when compared with gasoline. Even with a slight decrease in miles per gallon, fuel savings with propane autogas more than offsets the efficiency difference.
  • The company also saw notable savings in maintenance costs. Propane autogas causes no buildup from particulate matter and the oil doesn't get as dirty, which has resulted in a reduced need for repairs.
  • In 2013, Halco qualified for a 50-cent-per-gallon federal tax credit for its use of propane autogas, allowing the company to pay less than a dollar per gallon. The company's propane provider offers administration for the fuel tax reporting, as well as a single invoice for all fuel purchased.