November 4, 2011 By Sarah Rich
Propane and propane accessories were the go-to product for TV character Hank Hill in the animated comedy series King of the Hill. In Alaska, though, propane is no laughing matter: It may actually become the new fuel source for National Park maintenance vehicles there.
The Denali National Park and Preserve, a 10,000 mile expanse located within Alaska’s interior, was one of multiple locations in the state where park maintenance staff tested an autogas vehicle — running on propane instead of diesel or conventional automobile gasoline.
Alaska is known for oil drilling, officials there are looking at non-oil fueling options to fuel government-owned vehicles.
“One of the reasons we’ve looked at moving toward propane autogas has been to lower the amount of conventional liquid fuels that move across our state and spill onto rural roads and inside national parks,” said John Quinley, assistant regional director for the National Park Services in Alaska, in a statement.
Tim Taylor, the east district road manager for the park, said he tested a propane-powered Ford F-250 around the park between mid-September and October because of an interest to test alternative fuel.
“The Park Service wanted to try this technology,” Taylor said. “The park is considering alternative fuels in not only our normal fleet up here but [also for] our bus transportation system that we have here.”
During the two months of use, Taylor drove the vehicle nearly 800 miles as part of his duties as a road maintenance supervisor. Taylor said driving the truck doesn’t seem different than driving a gas-powered vehicle. During cold weather, the propane-powered vehicle produced the same amount of heat as a gas-powered vehicle, he said.
When the vehicle needed more fuel, propane company AmeriGas drove a truck to the propane vehicle’s location and filled it with fuel. Because AmeriGas was involved with the testing, the park received the propane fuel at no cost.
According to Roush CleanTech, the vendor that supplied the vehicle, within the Denali Park’s test period the autogas truck saved about $1.86 per gallon by using propane instead of diesel fuel.
But alternatively fueled vehicle isn’t without issues. Propane fuel can be difficult to acquire without proper fueling stations. Taylor said while propane-powered vehicles create fewer emissions than other gasoline-powered vehicles, propane isn’t easily accessible near Denali Park.
“One of the challenges of where we are in Alaska is if we didn’t have an AmeriGas truck following us around, there’s no place to fill up here with propane,” Taylor said.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, only eight cities in Alaska offer propane fueling stations, including Anchorage, Juneau and Craig. Each of the eight cities only lists one fueling station per city.
Taylor said if officials decide to purchase and use propane-powered vehicles on a permanent basis in Denali Park, a propane fueling station would need to be built near the park.
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