‘Pumped for Propane,’ City Boasts Largest Bi-Fuel Fleet in the State
By Chad Kimes, Tennessee Office of Sustainable Practices
A city established as a center of river commerce and transportation, Kingsport continues its legacy of transportation through innovative use of alternative fuels.
In pursuit of a way to make it more economical to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fuel costs, the City of Kingsport has trained its mechanics to convert their once gasoline-powered vehicles to use propane. The small city now boasts the largest bi-fuel propane powered fleet in Tennessee. Kingsport has propane autogas 55 vehicles, made up of on-road light and heavy duty vehicles, as well as off-road light and heavy duty equipment.
The conversion was fueled by the City of Kingsport’s “Green Fleet Initiative,” which seeks to utilize environmentally friendly solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fuel costs.
Virginia Clean Cities Support
The City of Kingsport began its fleet propane conversions in May 2011 with funds awarded through a Virginia Clean Cities grant. Initially, officials outsourced the conversion of these first 12 police cars before realizing how much they could save by doing it themselves.
Because outsourcing vehicle conversions cost approximately $6,700 per system, and because installation was lengthy and quality of the conversion was difficult to control, not everyone was onboard with the first phase of the conversions. In addition, Hightower recalls, “buy-in from leadership and operators was tough due to the uncertainty of the use of propane as a motor fuel as well as the potential hazards.”
Lighter Weight than CNG
Today, everyone understands the positive aspects of using the alternative fuel. Propane costs typically range from 5% to 30% less than those of gasoline. Propane tanks are smaller as opposed to compressed natural gas tanks, and these lighter weight loads translate directly into savings.
Completing propane conversions in house – Kingsport uses vapor-injection equipment from Prins – also saves $1,500 in labor costs per system installed. To make in-house conversions possible, each city mechanic now receives 26 hours of conversion training, 10 hours of maintenance training, and one hour of induction/injection training.
To understand how a city can achieve optimal savings when using a bi-fuel propane fleet vehicle, Steve Hightower, fleet manager for the City of Kingsport, explains, “It is imperative to have a policy regarding a fuel consumption percentage target. The City of Kingsport’s consumption target is set at 95% propane and 5% gasoline. Ultimately, this percentage fuel mix equates to saving $.05 per mile driven, after taking into consideration the initial conversion cost.”
Other advantages include that the start-up cost of a propane fleet can be offset by lower operating and maintenance costs over the lifetime of the vehicles. Typical costs after converting a fleet to propane range from 20% to 40% less than gasoline-operated fleets. It is the most economical alternative transportation fuel when capital costs, operation, and maintenance costs are all taken into consideration.
In addition to saving money, the city is reducing emissions. Tests conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency show that propane vehicles can produce 30% to 90% less carbon monoxide and about 50% fewer toxins and other smog-producing emissions than gasoline engines.
Propane use has nearly doubled over the last three years in Kingsport. In 2014, the city’s fleet vehicles used a total of 41,042 gallons of propane. With the increased propane use, the City of Kingsport has installed a second propane tank to better serve their needs, taking storage capacity from 1,000 gallons up to 3,000 gallons.
Hightower said the city will continue “to address issues to conserve fuel, eliminate waste, and save the taxpayers money while striving to better serve the community with fuel efficient vehicles and equipment.”
Kingsport’s propane autogas is supplied by Blossman Gas.
In addition to their bi-fuel propane fleet, the city has 33 hybrid and electric (plug-in and non-plug-in) vehicles in their fleet which traveled a total of 241,510 miles in 2014. The city is the first in the country to have an electric powered police car – a Nissan Leaf that is used by the code enforcement section. A portion of the city’s hybrid and electric fleet was purchased with money from the East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition and a Clean Tennessee Energy Grant administered by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
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Source: Tennessee Office of Sustainable Practices with Fleets & Fuels follow-up