Nonprofit Wraps Gas-To-Propane Conversion Project

Posted: October 29, 2013

Virginia Clean Cities Executive Director Alleyn Harned sits in a propane-converted car on the James Madison University campus Friday. (Photo by Nikki Fox)
HARRISONBURG — Local nonprofit Virginia Clean Cities recently completed a five-year, $29 million project to retrofit nearly 1,200 vehicles to run on propane autogas.
 
The project, called the Southeast Propane Autogas Development Program, will transfer to fuel savings and a smaller carbon footprint for the 36 participating vehicle fleets, which are spread across 12 states.
 
The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy helped Clean Cities oversee the project, which is the largest propane-deployment project involving a government partnership in the nation’s history.
 
Virginia Clean Cities, a nonprofit organization focusing on petroleum reduction and clean transportation, is staffed in partnership with James Madison University, where one of the group’s two offices is located.
 
At JMU, 12 vehicles were converted, including some for the JMU Police Department, facilities management  and the geology department.
 
“It’s a great opportunity to put less [chemicals] right where students and faculty are working,” said Alleyn Harned, executive director of Virginia Clean Cities.
 
The project was supported by funds from Clean Cities and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.
 
Approximately $9 million for the project is federal money, and participating fleets contributed about $10 million in matching donations. An additional $10 million was received in private support, Harned said. JMU provided the 12 vehicles for the project, which are worth about $200,000.
 
This year, the switchover is expected to save the university about $2,000, Harned said.
 
Savings fluctuate from fleet to fleet depending on the number and kind of vehicles converted and how much they are used by the fleet’s owner. A Spotsylvania fleet, for example, is expected to save $70,000 this year.
 
The propane fuel costs about $1.50 less per gallon than gasoline.
 
Propane autogas, also known as liquefied petroleum gas, is the most widely used alternative fuel across the globe, with 17 million autogas vehicles now on the road.
 
The converted vehicles will burn 60 percent less carbon monoxide than a gas-powered car and emit 10 percent less greenhouse gases, too. According to the program’s website, the overall goal is to displace nearly 16 million gallons of gasoline and eliminate 16,000 tons or more of airborne pollutants.
 
“Just like you want clean flame for your gas grill, propane is a clean flame for your engine,” Harned said.
 
Christie-Joy Hartman, executive director of the JMU office of environmental stewardship and sustainability, said converting vehicles was an important piece of campus greening efforts.
 
“Often when we talk about sustainability what comes to mind are green buildings and grounds accomplishments and composting and recycling. These are very important …  [but] there’s a lot more than the greening of operations that’s a part of sustainability,” Hartman said. “We have been emphasizing alternative fuels at the university for many years.”
 
Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or esharrer@dnronline.com


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