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Don't Change the Vehicle, Change the Fuel

Author: Darren Engle
March, 2011 Issue

It might be surprising that a propane supply company is pushing for alternative vehicle fuel use, but that’s exactly what Blue Star Gas (BSG) of Santa Rosa is doing with propane Autogas. For most traditional automotive fuel users, Autogas is still a foreign concept, but it won’t be for long if Blue Star has its way. The term “Autogas” refers to propane when used as an alternative fuel. Around the world, more than 15 million vehicles run on Autogas.
 
As a small business handed down from generation to generation, BSG has always had its community’s needs in focus. A long history doesn’t mean it’s stuck in the old way of doing things, though. BSG joined the Alliance AutoGas team in 2009 as a fuel supplier, primarily for public and private fleets on the West Coast that have converted their vehicles to run on Autogas.
 
“European countries as well as other areas of the world have been using propane as a motor fuel for years,” explains Blue Star’s president/CEO, Jeff Stewart. “It has many advantages over traditional vehicle fuels, and we’re trying to get out the good news about Autogas’ benefits to both public and private fleets.”
 
Propane suppliers see Autogas as a mutually beneficial opportunity for their business and for companies that rely on fleets of vehicles. Fleets are a particularly good fit for Autogas because of their high mileage vehicles, meaning they can realize a faster ROI through fuel cost savings. Additionally, fleets’ use of Autogas signifies simultaneous growth in the number of environmentally friendly on-road vehicles and the expansion of Autogas fueling infrastructure. To encourage further use of the fuel, the government has recently renewed the $0.50 per gallon tax credit for alternative fuels, including Autogas. Additionally, a 30 percent alternative fuel infrastructure tax credit, up to a maximum $30,000, is available to new Autogas fueling facilities.
 
Even without federal incentive programs, Autogas pricing has been significantly less expensive than gasoline and diesel over the past several years. With its high octane rating, Autogas is a cleaner-burning fuel, meaning fewer oil and filter changes are required and long-term maintenance costs are decreased. Fleet managers frequently mention lower maintenance costs and reduced vehicle downtime as added benefits of switching to Autogas. Not only are Autogas users able to experience a significant decrease in total costs, but Alliance AutoGas is providing a turnkey solution to fleet managers’ biggest obstacles when considering alternative fuels.
 
The environmental benefits of Autogas are also noteworthy. Autogas produces much lower emissions of the most offending greenhouse gases (GHG). Studies show carbon dioxide is decreased by 16 percent, hydrocarbons by 36 percent and carbon monoxide by 28 percent when traditional gasoline is replaced by Autogas. Blue Star understands the impact clean energy has on the environment—something that’s also deeply important to North Bay residents. In addition, Autogas has a lower flammability range than conventional gasoline, decreasing the probability of accidental combustion. Also, Alliance Autogas tanks are 20 times more puncture resistant and can withstand four times the pressure when compared to conventional gasoline vehicle fuel tanks. Also, unlike gasoline, diesel, methanol and ethanol, Autogas is nontoxic, nonpoisonous and is insoluble in groundwater.
 
“Running vehicles on Autogas can help the environment without the high price tag of some other fuels, making it comparatively more practical,” Stewart says.
 
A key concern often cited by potential Autogas users is where to refuel their vehicles. Clean, inexpensive fuel like Autogas is a great alternative, but there has to be easy access for an alternative fuel to be viable. That’s where the Alliance AutoGas partnership comes into play.
 
Major players in the propane and after-market conversion industries came together just a few years ago to create a ‘turnkey solution that’s customizable to fit fleets’ specific needs. The Alliance model incorporates the initial conversion, building the necessary fueling infrastructure and continued access to Autogas and technical support.
 
The average vehicle costs $5,800 to convert through Alliance AutoGas, including equipment and labor, dependent upon the make and model of the vehicle. Alliance AutoGas’ network of certified conversion centers provides the aftermarket installation service, while partners like Blue Star provide the Autogas fuel. Blue Star Gas is increasing the number of conversion center partnerships by bringing more and more auto care centers on the West Coast into the Alliance family.
 
As an Alliance partner, Blue Star can provide fleets with their own onsite fueling base at no upfront cost to the customer. Additionally, the fleet’s technical team receives training and ongoing service support from the Alliance team. The Alliance AutoGas group was founded on the belief that switching to Autogas should be a painless procedure, a standard that Blue Star takes seriously.
 
Blue Star is proud of the public fueling stations it’s opened so far (in the North Bay, there’s one at 880 N. Wright Road in Santa Rosa) and has set its sights even higher for the future. “The North Bay is known for progressive thinking, as evidenced by San Francisco’s move to run more than half its taxis on alternative fuels. Our company wants to be a part of efforts like those to help expand the Autogas market and to benefit the communities we serve,” Stewart adds. “Our Santa Rosa and Medford, Oregon, public Autogas stations are evidence of our commitment to the area in this regard.”
 
BSG sees Autogas as an opportunity to do its part for the environment while increasing sales in an industry prone to a seasonal business cycle. Autogas is an excellent application of an abundant domestic resource for the environment, fleets and the propane industry.
 
 
Darren Engle is the director of marketing at Blue Star Gas, a full-service propane distribution company serving Oregon and California. With 73 years’ experience, Blue Star is proud to be family-owned and part of the Alliance AutoGas turnkey solution. For more information, visit www.bluestargas.com and www.allianceautogas.com.

 

 

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