Propane Makes Cleaner Air An Easy Sell p.20

By: Jim Rosenberg From now on, some papers have to begin buying clean-fuel vehicles

Early ADOPTERS HAVE good news for newspapers that, beginning this year, may have to buy cleaner-running vehicles.
Clean Air Act amendments of 1990 required that, from model year 1998 on in certain locations, less-polluting models be purchased for fleets of 10 or more vehicles that are or are capable of being centrally refueled. Recognizing that until now there has been inadequate availability of suitable light-duty clean-fuel vehicles, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently extended implementation of this provision for another year ? to the 1999 model year (which it dates from Sept. 1, 1998).
Of new purchases of cars, vans and/or light-duty trucks (under 6,000 lbs. gross vehicle weight) by covered fleet operators, clean-fuel vehicles are to constitute 30% in model year 1999, 50% in 2000 and 70% in 2001 and later years. Furthermore, these vehicles must be operated on a "clean alternative fuel" that allows a clean-fuel vehicle to meet EPA standards.
Half of covered purchases of heavier vehicles (up to 26,000 lbs., or above, at a state's discretion) must meet clean-fuel emission standards beginning in model year 1999 and remaining at that level thereafter.
To achieve the specified percentages, the regulation rounds up to the next whole number. So two of five vans purchased in the next model year may have to burn clean fuel, according to Dallas-based EPA regional environmental engineer Paul Scoggins. In the case of a single new-vehicle purchase during the first model year, he said, the percentage does not come into play. Furthermore, covered fleet operators may combine purchases of clean-fuel vehicles and mobile-emission credits to reach the specified percentages. Similarly, those who surpass the required percentages may sell their credits.
Areas covered by the EPA's Clean Fuel Fleet Program are those with 1980 populations exceeding 250,000 that are classified as serious or worse for ozone or that meet a threshold value for carbon monoxide. A CFFP is a mandated revision to "state implementation programs" for controlling polluting emissions. CFFPs do not apply to those areas described above if those areas are in states that have substituted acceptable control programs in place of the federal clean-fleet program. But newspapers in areas not covered by the federal CFFP may face similar requirements arising from state-originated programs.
EPA environmental specialist Peter Lidiak said states' opt-out programs must aim for long-range emissions equal to federal program targets and must use measures "that are not required by the Clean Air Act" ? in other words, a state cannot include already-mandatory measures in its own program.
"Nonattainment" areas that remain covered by the federal program are Denver-Boulder (for carbon monoxide), Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Chicago-Gary-Lake Counties, Milwaukee-Racine and, probably soon to be dropped from the list, Baton Rouge (all for ozone).
Some fleet and distribution managers contacted by E&P were unaware of the regulation (including one mid-size daily's manager who "hadn't heard anything about it" but expected to buy more than one truck or van this year). Others had no plans to buy clean-fuel vehicles. Neither Denver's two dailies nor a large metro-area group (with a different sort of distribution headache) responded to inquiries.
With combined daily circulations of about 445,000 and over 700,000 on Sundays, Atlanta's Journal and Constitution have the fleet to match. "We just recently purchased some new trucks and will be purchasing some more," said bulk distribution manager Charles Thomas.
"We're OK there," Thomas said about regulatory compliance, pointing to the work of engineers in the company's risk-management department. Hal Brown, director of energy conservation management for parent company Cox Newspapers, could not be reached by deadline for comment on what actions will be taken in Atlanta.
For now, however, the papers' vehicles all run on either gasoline or diesel fuel, according to Gerald Foster in vehicle maintenance. Foster, who is retiring at year end, remembered that the Journal and Constitution tried propane some years ago "and it didn't work out." He said he thought the company has since talked to local utilities about alternative fuels and will be trying two battery-powered vehicles this year.
Unaffected by CFFP requirements in the Atlanta area, the Marietta Daily Journal (circulation 21,000-plus) uses fewer than 10 vehicles, according to vice president and operations director Harris S. Keetles.
But at 26,309 daily circulation (28,687 Sunday), the Kenosha News operates a fleet of about 20 one-ton GM vans and is budgeted to buy three this year ? to add to or replace existing vans, as product needs dictate, according to circulation director Jimmy Jones.
"We've been looking into alternative methods" for fueling, said Jones, noting that a natural gas supply station may be in the works for Kenosha, which, at the Milwaukee-Racine nonattainment area's southern end, is contiguous with the Chicago area.
"We were actually thinking that we might just go to leasing," said Jones. But while natural gas-powered vans can be leased, he later remarked, "If vehicles had [natural gas] as a feature, we would most likely buy" rather than lease. He said other local firms run vehicles on natural gas, and that the paper has been offered natural gas conversion kits for its existing vans.
Like some other large dailies, the Chicago Tribune and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel lease their fleets (both from Ryder Transportation Services). For Milwaukee, it amounts to 30 diesel-powered straight trucks with 21' boxes, about another 30 one-ton vans (also diesel) and approximately 80 cars for news photographers and suburban and state-area district managers.
Journal Sentinel transportation manager Matt Quinn said that as the trucks' and cars' owner, Ryder is responsible for compliance and "would have to provide us with the vehicles that meet those newer specifications."
"We're just going to rely on Ford standards," said John Guion, referring to the auto maker's latest low-emission models. Ryder's customer-service manager at the newspaper's garage, Guion said the gasoline-powered cars will meet government clean-fuel requirements.
Guion said the fleet will continue relying on efficient diesel in its trucks. "They don't give off carbon monoxide, period," he said, maintaining that the black-smoke sometimes seen in diesel exhaust ? attributed to a sooty mixture of carbon and unspent fuel ? "is still cleaner than the invisible gas . . . coming out of cars."
When it took over the paper's fleet operations four years ago, said Guion, Ryder also took possession of two trucks able to switch between unleaded gasoline and natural gas. Guion's never seen them run on natural gas. Deemed not cost-efficient to run, he said, they're being sold at month's end.

"Any vehicle, even if it's fueled on conventional gasoline ? if it can meet the emissions requirements ? can be considered a clean-fuel vehicle," said the EPA's Lidiak, adding that it is more difficult for gasoline than for most alternative fuels to meet those requirements.
The EPA notes that it expects the numerous models certified to California low-emission-vehicle standards when fueled by California reformulated gasoline could be certified as federal clean-fuel vehicles. But because those vehicles must run on clean alternative fuels,they may have to be run on California reformulated gasoline, "which is generally not available outside California." The EPA could not yet say if federal reformulated and/or conventional gasoline "qualify as clean alternative fuels for CFVs certified to LEV standards on California reformulated gasoline . . . ." The EPA further said it expects that auto makers could certify their California-certified LEVs as federal CFVs on federal fuels.
That would allow CFFP-compliant purchases of gasoline-powered small sedans and station wagons from at least four manufacturers and mid-size vans from GM.
Of the available alternatives to gasoline ? alcohol is usually mixed with gasoline in various ratios, propane, natural gas and electricity ? propane is most popular. Papers that have used it for years agree it is cleaner, cheaper and less troublesome than gasoline.
After 23 years, the Los Angeles Times switched in 1994 from more than 300 propane-powered bobtail trucks serving its numerous dealers to about 80 diesel-powered tractor trailers delivering to a few distribution centers. By then, however, almost 400,000 vehicles in the U.S. were burning propane.
Citing the new distribution system, Clete Page remarked, "We had no choice but to go to diesels, even though our experience with propane was excellent." The Times administrative services manager said the changeover reduced annual fleet mileage from 9-10 million miles to 3 million. (The paper still uses about 20 smaller vans, some solely for local deliveries.)
Efficiency can often lead to economic and environmental congruity, according to EPA engineer Scoggins. He said it is entirely possible that running fewer, larger diesel trucks over fewer and shorter routes could produce a smaller total volume of noxious emissions than a much larger fleet of smaller propane-burning vehicles traveling millions more miles.
Three years ago the Asbury Park Press became New Jersey's first paper to begin converting to propane. Satisfied with its new fuel, the paper now uses it in walk-in step vans and in a couple of cargo vans.
"Our intention is to take all our step vans into propane as we replace them," said transportation manager Ron West. That amounts to some 40 vans over the next three years, according to West.
Toledo Blade distribution manager Stan Secord said his head mechanic is happy with the prolonged engine life in the paper's fleet of 55 12' and 14' step vans. The mostly dual-wheel, 10,000-GVW vans have less oil contamination and cleaner spark plugs (meaning fewer changes of each) and less engine wear.
"You couldn't get a better fuel," said Times garage manager John Thomas, who ticked off the following advantages: 200,000 miles between overhauls, 100,000 miles between valve jobs and easy starts every morning.
That last benefit, however, diminishes with temperature. In Toledo, delivery trucks "actually run better on the propane," said Secord, "as long as it's above freezing." He added that although propane-powered trucks still generally perform well at lower temperatures, they have more, mostly start-up, problems in the cold.
The Blade, however, has a dual-fuel fleet capable of burning either gasoline or propane. Secord remembered a couple of very cold winters when "we just switched over to gas." To switch, a driver merely pulls a lever and throws a switch.
Secord also pointed out that the dual-fuel system helps insure against empty tanks. Should a driver forget to gas up, there is usually enough fuel in one tank ? or between the two ? to keep from running dry on the road.
The vans switch to gasoline periodically to insure that they run properly on it and that tanks are full, said Secord. In earlier models from the days of leaded gas, the paper reported that gas was used once every week to keep the engines running well.
Prices for gasoline, alcohol, natural gas and propane vary by region and quantity. Though Thomas found that mileage on propane wasn't that good in Los Angeles, at 66? per gallon the cost of using it couldn't be beat. The Times supplied its trucks with propane from pairs of 30,000-gallon tanks at each of its three production plants.
West agreed that "You do lose miles per gallon when you run propane," estimating the loss at roughly 25%. But volume also is Asbury Park's advantage (in a state where gasoline is already cheap). Its Neptune facility's co-generation system is fueled by natural gas ? with a 30,000-gallon propane back-up. "Because we have such a large storage tank," said West, "we can buy . . . propane in the range of 50? a gallon. A quote we had yesterday was even a little lower than that."
On average, propane has cost less than gasoline for two of the last three years and has been within tenths of a cent per gallon in some other years in Toledo, according to Secord. He said prices now sit at about $1 for propane and up to $1.09 for gas.
In 1991, the Blade reported average weekly savings of $2,250 by relying on propane. In line with others' experience, Secord said average mileage falls from 7 or 8 miles per gallon of gasoline to about 6 miles on propane.
Today, just past the halfway point in a multiyear conversion from dropping bundles at carriers' houses to delivering to distribution centers, the Blade, said Secord, is seeing significant further savings on fuel costs.

For driving at local-road speeds, propane offers approximately 85% of the energy available from the same volume of gasoline, according to John Bradley, a research associate in charge of the Alternative Fuels Information and Training Center in the Future Transportation Technologies section of the Center for Urban Transportation Research in Tampa.
Deriving much of his information from fleet managers in Florida industry and government, Bradley (whose center is part of the University of South Florida's College of Engineering) said energy available from compressed natural gas comes in very near propane, while that from liquified natural gas is about 90% gasoline's.
The state has almost no experience with methanol (from wood, coal or natural gas) and ethanol (usually from corn), said Bradley. He noted that the alcohols' reported results range from well below to well above propane and natural gas, depending on the mixture ratios used.
Though electricity cannot be compared on a volume basis, it offers by far the shortest distances between refuel/recharge stops: under 100 miles for readily available lead-acid batteries. (E-cars parked outside Bradley's office plug into the carport's photovoltaic charger ? supplying unlimited, almost-free power from the sun.)
Batteries also differ in their pollution potential. Whereas fuel combustion pumps carbon and nitrogen compounds into the atmosphere surrounding a vehicle, conventional batteries' lead and sulphuric acid must be dealt with at the manufacturing and disposal/recycling sites.
Efficiency improvements and government standards pushed the cost of converting vehicles to natural gas in the past five years from $2,000 to $5,000, equalling or exceeding the extra cost of a vehicle originally designed for the fuel. The extra cost of those designed for propane may be less ? a lot less with some incentives, said Bradley.
Seven years ago Toledo Blade mechanics finished converting their fleet to run on propane and gasoline at a per-truck cost of $1,200 in materials (up to about $1,500 by 1995), mostly for carburetor set-up and an onboard propane tank. At the time, it was estimated that outside labor would have added $400 per truck.
Secord, who after 19 years at the Blade was named truck foreman in 1989 and fleet superintendent two years later, remembered the move to propane began after the gas shortages and price shocks of the 1970s. As important, he added, was the fact that the paper's owners, the Block family, "felt very good about it from an environmental standpoint."
For flexible-fuel vehicles that mix alcohol and gasoline, said Bradley, "there's basically no difference in cost" from a gasoline-powered model. The most dramatic price changes are for electric vehicles. Conversions are very rare, but the $100,000 price of the first battery-powered production models has dropped to about twice the sticker price for a conventional gas-burning pick-up truck, according to Bradley.

In the least urbanized nonattainment area covered by the CFFP, Baton Rouge Advocate circulation manager James Prince said he thinks his paper will need to buy some new delivery vehicles but was unsure what they will be.
Now, he doesn't have to worry. The government won't tell him what he must purchase.
"We will not be doing a Clean Fuel Fleet Program in Baton Rouge," Teri Lanoue said late last month. The program manager for mobile sources in the Air Quality Division of Louisiana's Department of Environmental Quality said the EPA will recognize "emission-reduction credits that we can substitute" for clean-fuel fleets. That alternative plan, said Lanoue, will show reductions through 2007 "at least equivalent to what we would have achieved" through the CFFP.
The state is a leading chemical processor and producer of natural gas, petroleum and sulphur, and Baton Rouge ranks high in concentration of such industries, with the country's second largest oil refinery. Though the city alone falls short of the CFFP's population threshold, the nonattainment area comprises five parishes. For its size, the area probably has fewer vehicles and more chemical plants than the five other covered metro areas.
Of ozone-generating and otherwise noxious emissions, Lanoue said "our inventory is primarily a stationary source." Compared with other metro areas, she added, "we don't have the same large vehicle population." In other words, fixing fleets would do very little to fix the pollution problem. Because reductions from mobile sources would have contributed so little to leaner air, said Lanoue, "the Clean Fuel Fleet Program was not worth incorporating into our plans."
Lidiak noted that although the original opportunity to opt out of the federal program ran through 1992, the EPA remains amenable to adequate substitute programs ? for example, if a significant source of emissions is not from motor vehicles. In the case of Baton Rouge, said Lanoue, the credits being substituted are stationary-source emissions credits resulting from measures over and above those mandated by federal regulations.
It's no surprise that the Advocate chose a local natural resource when it converted its fleet to natural gas in the early 1970s. It was, however, a relatively short-lived experiment.
After running on natural gas for about four years, the "mechanic that worked on [those] vehicles . . . moved on and we couldn't find anybody to work on them," said Prince. Though it had purchased a compressor station and other equipment, he added, "We ended up converting back to gasoline."
In terms of technology, price, mileage and availability, natural gas appears to come closest to competing with propane. But for some, it's just not close enough.
When Asbury Park began looking at alternative fuels, said West, it considered compressed natural gas but had concerns that "you had to have a lot of big tanks in the truck to get any range on it." Those concerns, he added, included safety, owing to the tanks' very high pressure ? from 3,000 to 4,800 psi.
Furthermore, pressure must be maintained during refueling ? assuming a refueling station can be found. They are scarce, said West, because they are "extremely expensive." He estimated installing a CNG fuel station would cost about $100,000; other estimates run twice as high.
In Los Angeles, Thomas said the Times tested CNG in a truck for about two years in partnership with a couple of vendors; the Times supplying the truck and its partners supplying the engine and expertise. That truck is now being reconverted to hold and burn diesel fuel.
"It was good development," said Thomas, "but I think it needs another two years in somebody else's truck."
He said problems included a very short range and the high compression and speed demanded of the engine to achieve sufficient horsepower.
"It generates a tremendous amount of heat," said Thomas, who noted that the engine had to be torn apart two or three times to get at damaged piston rings.
Thomas said he thinks liquified natural gas "may be a little better." He said LNG burns better because it's not as explosive as the pressurized gas. The liquid is more easily refilled than CNG, though its very low temperature must be maintained.
To the north, in the middle of an ozone nonattainment area stretching from San Francisco Bay to the Nevada desert, the Sacramento Bee is a little more optimistic about natural gas.
"Holding up well" since 1994 but offering very limited range, the Bee's one-ton, CNG-powered Chrysler van was "primarily purchased . . . to see how well it worked," said post-press manager Scott Nielsen. The paper also has used two one-ton propane-powered vans since 1990.
Nielsen said the Bee is waiting to see what regulations will demand or allow before any decision is made on alternative fuels. "It's a huge expense to convert a fleet the size of ours to alternative fuel," said Nielsen. The paper runs about 110 trucks and 60 cars.
The cost of a fueling facility alone, he said, would be "enormous." For now, the paper already has propane on site for its fork lifts and goes off site to refuel its CNG-powered van.
Nielsen said the Bee would more likely convert to natural gas than propane, and would want both CNG and LNG (not for the same vehicle). He also noted that LNG (which offers greater range) can be converted on site to CNG when needed, and that CNG storage cylinders in the future may support higher pressures that can hold enough gas to achieve satisfactory range.
So far, LNG is primarily used by heavy-duty trucks and locomotives, according to Bradley at Tampa's Center for Urban Transportation Research.
For the bigger trucks, diesel doesn't have to mean dirty. Alternatives are under development for the kinds of engines used in the tractor trailers run by the Times and other large papers. Rigs don't even have to run on petroleum-based diesel fuel. In addition to its conventional diesel products, Cummins Engine Co. is seeing increasing sales of heavy-duty propane and natural gas engines.
Several other companies are working on technologies that enable diesel engines to burn both diesel oil and propane or natural gas. "I think that's a better way to go," said the Times' Thomas.
In contrast to the spark ignition required for propane or natural gas-only engines, said Joseph Wagner, senior project manager for the New York State Energy Research Development Authority, such a conversion "maintains the diesel engine's thermal efficiency."
These are not the conversion kits with fairly simple controls of a few years ago, said Wagner, noting that the latest diesel engines rely on electronic fuel controls. Because such engines use the pressure-ignition of diesel to in turn ignite the propane, a certain minimal diesel flow and burn is required to serve as the propane's "pilot light." The problem has been that the pilot flow is sufficient to support idling and near-idle operation. So, even though at high speeds less than 15% of the fuel consumed may be diesel, a bus barely moving through city traffic can run on the diesel pilot flow alone, subverting the purpose of a two-fuel design in a locale where its benefits are most needed.
"These seem to be credible claims," Wagner said of the new, more-sophisticated two-fuel designs for conversion or incorporation in manufacturing. He said that instead of a spark, conversions are able to use a tiny amount of diesel at a higher injection pressure, along with other technical advances, to maintain propane combustion.
Meanwhile, an entirely different approach is being taken in Florida ? one that Bradley said is not recognized as a clean alternative by the EPA and doesn't exactly thrill the Department of Energy.
Known as bio-diesel, it is a fuel derived from cooking grease recovered primarily from fast-food restaurants. Bradley said bio-diesel can be mixed with or substituted entirely for petroleum-based diesel fuel.

?(PhotoS by Tim Tracy, courtesy of thE Sacramento bee) [Caption]
?(Compressed natural gas tanks are designed to fit availble spaces under trucks.)[Photo & Caption]
?(CFFP Nonattainment areas represent home markets of more than 40 daily newspapers) [Photo & Caption]
?(Mike Tibuto refuels with propane at the Freehold plant of the Asubry Park Press) [Photo & Caption]
?(In Toledo, Blade delivery vans can quickly switch between gasoline and propane)[Photo & Caption]
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher June 20, 1998) [Caption]


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