Surging domestic oil production hasn't resulted in appreciably lower gasoline prices, but alternatives are available, advocates said at Thursday's Clean Fleet Technologies Symposium.
The event at Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City featured experts in electric vehicles and those fueled by propane or compressed natural gas.
Alternative fuel vehicles cost more than their gasoline counterparts, but fuel savings and tax credits can help offset the added expense, the experts said. Fleets that switch from gasoline or diesel reduce harmful emissions as well.
Mike Merwarth, director of autogas sales for Texas-based CleanFUEL USA, said alternative fuels also reduce U.S. oil imports, which often come from unfriendly nations.
“Let's not send any more money to the Middle East,” he said. “Let's bring it home.”
Frozen food seller Schwan's has been using propone to fuel the bulk of its trucks since the 1970s, when founder Marvin Schwan wanted a cheaper alternative as oil supplies dried up.
The company now uses about 15 million gallons of propane each year, executive John Roberts said.
“It's not much of an alternative fuel anymore,” Roberts said. “It's just how we run our business.”
Roberts is managing director of Bi-Phase Technologies Inc., a propane technology company Schwan's purchased about a decade ago. It now makes that technology available to other fleets.
He said fleet managers should consider what alternative fuel best fits their operations.
“I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all, something that works for everybody,” Roberts said.
Craiton Cooper, an instructor at Tulsa Community College, said electric vehicles are growing in popularity in major urban areas because of their lower fuel costs and lack of tailpipe emissions.
Fleet availability grows
Full electric models or hybrids are increasingly available from a number of automakers.
The city of Oklahoma City has used grant money to add a couple of all-electric Nissan Leafs to its fleet, while Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. is looking to add as many as a dozen more Chevrolet Volt hybrids.
Randy Lewis, the utility company's manager of community affairs, said the Volt is a good extended-range vehicle. Its electric charge is enough to drive up to about 45 miles, while its gasoline tank gives it a range of about 300 miles.
He said he has driven about 19,000 miles in the hybrid since OG&E bought it in late 2011. It has been fueled about evenly by electricity and gasoline, but electricity is much cheaper.
Lewis said the Volt has logged about 9,000 miles on $260 worth of electricity, while it burned almost $1,000 worth of gasoline to travel another 9,900 miles.
Chesapeake Energy Corp., the nation's second largest natural gas producer, is an active advocate for the use of compressed natural gas as a transportation fuel. It is converting its vehicle fleet to run on CNG.
Scott Minton, a natural gas vehicle market development specialist at Chesapeake, said it will remain a cheaper alternative to gasoline or diesel.
“The price of natural gas is not going to change much over the next few decades,” he said.
Minton said Chesapeake also supports other alternatives.
He noted natural gas is responsible for about half of Oklahoma's electric generation, while Chesapeake is also a large producer of propane.