UPS orders 1,000 propane-powered trucks, 50 fuel stations

UPS orders 1,000 propane-powered trucks, 50 fuel stations

Powertrain Integration gets its largest-ever alternative fuel system order

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Indianapolis, Ind. – UPS plans to dramatically increase its fleet of alternative fuel delivery vehicles by spending $70 million to purchase 1,000 propane-powered trucks and build 50 fueling stations at its delivery depots.

“The UPS alternative fuel strategy is to invest in the most environmentally friendly and economical energy sources,” says David Abney, UPS chief operating officer. “Propane meets those criteria as a clean-burning fuel that lowers operating costs and is readily accessible, especially on rural routes in the United States. States that attract this type of investment with tax incentives and grants will factor into the UPS deployment strategy.”

Powertrain Integration, an upfitter that adds unique powertrains to commercial trucks, will perform the upgrades to UPS’ Freightliner chassis. The company plans to use a converted 8L General Motors gasoline engine, company president Robert Pachla says.

“This is going to revolutionize alternative-fuel vehicles,” Pachla says in an interview at the NTEA’s Work Truck Show 2014. “Everyone watches UPS. They do their homework, and they don’t order 1,000 of anything if it’s not going to give them a return on investment.”

Much of the attention at the show has gone to compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles because of the abundance of natural gas nationwide stemming from shale gas drilling. But Pachla and others said propane has several advantages over natural gas.

  • Stores at a liquid. Propane is liquid at easily achievable temperatures while natural gas must be supercooled to reach that level.
  • Easy infrastructure. California and other states forbid underground storage of natural gas, making it difficult to stock at depots. Propane has no such restrictions.
  • No need for compression. Natural gas must be compressed into high-tech, carbon-fiber-wrapped aluminum tanks to be used as fuel. Propane stores easily in cheap steel tanks.

On the down side, propane costs more than natural gas. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that propane costs $2.96 for the equivalent of one gallon of gasoline while CNG costs $2.09.

Pachla said he believes the cost advantages of propane depot fueling and its relative mechanical simplicity will give his converted trucks a cost advantage over time.

Tucker Perkins, business development director for the Propane Education and Research Council, says he doesn’t see an either-or competition between propane and CNG. CNG is better suited to heavier applications that need more range, such as garbage trucks, he says. Propane, on the other hand, is suited to lower-mileage applications such as city delivery services and school buses.

The UPS trucks will have 200-mile ranges, significantly lower than UPS trucks that run on diesel.

Source: UPS, Powertrain Integration, PERC