If a marriage of propane and diesel fuel proves as effective as a partnership between a car salesman and a french fry millionaire, Fulton County could be on the cutting edge of providing fuel economy for the trucking industry in the Northeast.
Brian Hanaburgh, who made his fortune owning McDonald’s franchises, and George Kline, owner of Johnstown Dodge, have formed a new company called B & G Fuel Systems. The two men said they have a contract to be the exclusive dealer for the Northeastern states of the U.S. for a propane injection system manufactured by Collective Knowledge LLC, based in Plymouth, Wis.
Hanaburgh said he met Jerry Price, the developer of the fuel injection system, in California in 2007 during a preparation meeting for the re-enactment of the 1908 New York-to-Paris race around the world. The race was ultimately set back because of political issues in China, but Hanaburgh was intrigued by Price, who had planned to drive the race in a Corvette rigged to operate using six different fuels: propane, butane, gasoline, methane, ethanol and alcohol.
After meeting several times, Hanaburgh said Price told him about his company, which focuses on complete conversions of engines and companies to propane and natural gas energy systems because they are cleaner for the environment.
Kline said that when his friend Hanaburgh first approached him with the idea he was leery of getting into an alternative energy business. He said he’s never been a particularly “green” guy.
“My natural inclination is to burn fossil fuels and burn rubber more than anything else,” he said.
During a trip to visit colleges in Vermont with his daughter, Kline said he remembers seeing propane and natural gas prototype cars on display. He said their engines were “finicky” and low on “driveability.”
“Brian kept coming back to me with this idea of getting into the propane conversion business. He asked me what I thought of it and I said it was awful, five days of intense labor, finicky engines, problems starting,” Kline said. “But he kept coming back with more ideas and he had this idea of having a system that injects the propane into the diesel engine when it is really working, so when the engine is going up a hill or creating boost in the turbo charger this system has a microprocessor that starts injecting propane vapor along with the air into the diesel engine.”
The idea of a hybrid model without the drawbacks of propane alone — low gas mileage and unreliability — interested Kline.
“We drove out to Wisconsin and saw Jerry and his operation and saw how the propane injection system worked and we actually installed it on my pickup truck,” Hanaburgh said. “We were quite pleased with the results that we found and we decided we’d like to try additional engines with it.”
Kline said diesel engines normally only burn about 75 percent of the fuel they use, but when propane is added it burns itself plus 80 percent of the unused diesel fuel, creating a more efficient and more powerful engine.
“Where it is added as a fuel additive, when it’s metered into a turbo-charged diesel engine, it’s akin to sticking the opium syringe in a drug addict’s arm. That engine loves it, it just craves it,” he said.
The idea of using propane to augment diesel engines is nothing new, Kline said.
“You see this all the time at tractor pulls and stuff like that. This is a little different because our mission wasn’t to increase performance or power, our mission was to decrease fuel costs and add in alternatives,” he said. “We weren’t doing this to be green. We have to think of the consumer who lives with this fuel cost every day. It’s got to give him real world improvements and it must maintain its driveability. You’ve got to be able to start the vehicle when it’s zero degrees out.”
The two veteran businessmen said they saw the potential for marketing a hybrid system as a means of better fuel economy to trucking fleets that spend millions of dollars annually on fuel.
Kline said Price’s model of focusing on complete conversions to propane engines was too cutting edge for a profitable business right now. He said he and Hanaburgh have worked with him to show him the business potential of the hybrid propane/diesel engine.
“This isn’t for the average guy. This is for the fleet owner. It takes way too long for the average guy driving 20,000 miles a year to recoup the cost of the system,” he said. “Those big diesel trucks normally get five miles to the gallon. If you had a fleet of 40 trucks and you were driving them 150,000 miles a year, your fuel bill could be $1 million.”
Two months ago, B & G Fuel Systems began installing a limited number of the propane injection systems into two fleets of trucks based in Fulton County. So far they say they’ve installed about six of them.
Kline said the systems have New York Department of Transportation approved propane tanks and connectors and stainless steel hoses, which make the product safe for the consumer. He said B & G is focusing on durability tests, determining how long it takes to install the systems and what the mechanics of maintaining them will be.
Hanaburgh said B & G is mostly using auto technicians from Johnstown Dodge to do installations, often on-site at the customer’s facility. He said the company is in the process of training one new technician.
Kline said the business will need to progress slowly before a ramp-up in production will be possible.
“Right now everyone has a great interest in this but the problem is getting a supply of the parts. It’s basically at the prototype phase and they’re churning these out at a very slow rate because they’re made individually for each style of diesel engine,” he said.
B & G is waiting for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tests of the emissions from the hybrid engines before they can make a claim they are cleaner for the environment.
Hanaburgh said they suspect the propane helps the engines burn with less pollutants, but even if they don’t, he said by increasing fuel economy they should enable less diesel to be burned, which will lower emissions. Kline said they expect to hear back from the EPA by the end of the year, and if the news is positive, Collective Knowledge may be able to ramp up production of the systems.
“We can’t advertise the low emissions without the EPA testing results. We can talk about the increased horsepower, the increased torque and we can talk about the reduced cost of fuel to the fleet owner but we can’t talk about … exhaust particulates that come out of the diesel truck. [The EPA] will give us quantifiable data,” he said.
Hanaburgh said he foresees great potential for the hybrid system because it could reduce dependence on foreign oil and take advantage of U.S. reserves of propane.
“I wouldn’t be as seriously involved in it if I didn’t think it had potential. We’re very hopeful it had the potential to be good for the economy and the environment and hopefully we can prove that out over the next several months,” he said.
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