As Appalachian coal production continues its drastic decline, West Virginia’s coal-producing counties are not only losing people as lifelong residents are forced to flee their homes in order to find work, but in many cases, they’re also relinquishing millions of dollars from their budgets.
A West Virginia company is at the forefront of the future of alternative fueled vehicles.
And the future looks a lot closer than ever before.
Bret Chandler, directing manager of Triana Energy-owned Propane Fuel Technologies, has partnered with a German company — CHM-TruckTec, the top developer in liquid propane blend technology.
The technology displaces as much as one-third of diesel fuel consumption with propane. An evaporator converts the propane to a gas, which is injected into the truck's intake system and burned concurrently with diesel, according to CHM-TruckTec.
"Propane Fuel Technologies is going to continue to look for the best technologies that are out there," Chandler said. "Our partners in Germany are committed to continue to develop the best engine technology in the world.
"We have an exclusive distribution agreement for all of North America (secured in February 2013). It's the best in the world. It's the only one that has zero emissions and it's the only one that has been in a lab in this country that meets EPA emissions standards."
Fuel savings is an attractive feature of the technology. The savings are substantial, with minimal sacrifice in performance.
"It's a little less efficient fuel, so you get a little less miles per gallon, about 3 to 7 percent less," Chandler said. "It's not enough to even notice. But you'll save anywhere between $1.15 and $1.75 per gallon on every gallon you use.
"Accounting for the efficiency, the gas prices and all of that, that's the (savings) range."
While most light and medium passenger vehicles could run on straight liquid propane as effectively as gasoline or diesel, a blend is needed primarily for large truck use.
"The bigger the engine, the more diesel you displace (with liquid propane)," Chandler explained. "If you have 10 or 12 trucks, you need the savings today. The fleets are where the big savings are at currently.
"There's no substitute for the torque of a diesel engine. So this system works to give you savings when you need it, and it gives you power when you need it."
Realizing potential in WV
With gas being increasingly harvested in West Virginia, it only makes sense that liquid propane could become a more readily available fuel for companies and individuals locally.
Propane fueling stations are in place, with more coming soon.
"What we're trying to do in West Virginia, we've already done in large metropolitan areas," Chandler said. "We also want to bring it here in the state and focus more on the eastern part of the United States.
"There is an abundance of propane that is being generated now because of the amount of wet gas," he added. "The supply of propane is increasing at an incredibly rapid rate. We already had an abundant supply. Now we're adding to it. One study shows that in the eastern United States that there is 165,000 barrels per day that they can't predict a use for. The price is historically stable, and that only lends to the stability of the price."
A liquid propane station already is operating in Charleston, at the Exxon One Stop on Kanawha Boulevard at Florida Street.
"West Virginia's population is spread out," Chandler explained. "We are placing stations along the corridors. Now, we have an operating system in Charleston. We have one opening soon in Beckley. And we'll have one in Huntington, Bridgeport/Clarksburg and in Martinsburg.
"We'll have a network in the next six months. We'd like to see the places that sell liquid propane now, that are not selling it for auto use, will start selling it at a price for auto gas. When that happens, the availability will be really plentiful, because almost every town has a place that sells propane."
Not so new elsewhere
The use of liquid propane as fuel actually goes back several decades.
"People have been using liquid propane for years," Chandler said. "In Portland (Ore.), they've been running school buses and city buses (on liquid propane) since the 1970s. There are places you could go now where it is very widely used and accepted."
He said the fact that the largest school systems in the country are using liquid propane to fuel their school buses speaks volumes.
"It's by far the most used alternative fuel in school buses," Chandler said. "It's because it's safe. Los Angeles, Dallas, San Antonio … they're picking propane. If you look at the chemical makeup of propane, it's one of the safest fuels.
"All fuels, intrinsically, have some danger. But liquid propane is the safest.
"The temperature is twice as high as gasoline. The tanks are 20 times stronger than a standard gasoline tank would be in a collision. When a liquid propane tank is installed right, it actually improves the structural integrity of the vehicle."
One of the other top features of liquid propane is the cleanliness of the technology, an increasingly important topic when it comes to energy use.
"It's a green fuel," Chandler said. "When we have focused on alternative fuels in this country, the minute the price of gasoline dropped, supply came back and we went away from (alternative fuels). As a matter of fact, we spent a couple of decades building bigger, more gas-guzzling vehicles.
"Now, it's not only about the price savings, it's the green aspect," he added. "Green is never going to go away. Being green and wanting to be cleaner will become more important."
Other countries, continents even, are on board.
"Look at some of the other countries and how they've diversified their fuel use," Chandler said. "Australia, for example, has about 23 percent of its fuel use in vehicles is liquid propane.
"If you pull into a fueling station there, you'll see natural gas, liquid propane and you'll have diesel and gasoline."