Photo of several propane vans parked outside a fenced prison facility.

With a Clean Cities ally and the right resources, the Alabama prison system proposed propane for its fleet and ended with success.

The route to alternative-fuel success for the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), a multi-facility group that has realized significant fuel cost savings from switching to propane, starts with the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition (ACFC).

In 2012, several ADOC officials attended the coalition’s Annual Propane Road Show and were inspired by what they saw and heard. Fortified with resources from the ACFC, the corrections officials felt confident enough to propose converting ADOC’s fleet of mid-sized vans to propane. The idea caught on immediately, and ADOC teamed with ACFC to plan a two-year pilot project to convert 10 of their 80 gasoline vans to propane.

Four years later, the resulting savings in fuel costs exceeds $6,600 per year per converted van. Since 2014, the vans have driven more than 1.4 million miles on propane with no equipment problems, and the two years’ worth of performance data collected has provided valuable data to ADOC beyond cost savings. Topping it off, corrections officials said using the propane vans helped them avert nearly 130 tons of greenhouse gas emissions during the two-year trial.xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017)

The road taken by ADOC and partner ACFC to initiate conversion to propane includes the following steps:

  • Prepare with reliable resources and up-to-date information.
    • Thanks to the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition, ADOC officials said they had the resources necessary—such as industry contacts, educational information, and bi-fuel conversion kit recommendations—to confidently propose switching their fleet to propane.
  • Partner with someone knowledgeable, like a local Clean Cities coalition and their member partners, who can provide technical guidance and expertise.
    • ADOC teamed with ACFC early to plan the two-year pilot project at the Loxley Work Release Center. Later in the project, the coalition helped to develop specifications for bi-fuel propane conversion kits.
  • Assess the costs and benefits.
    • ACFC first conducted an assessment of the miles traveled annually by each van to get to and from work release facilities. With those data, the coalition was able to project that a switch to propane could bring significant savings, based on the cost of each vehicle conversion and the estimated miles per gallon for both gasoline and propane vans.
  • Obtain funding.
  • Take steps to ensure a positive first experience.
    • The first 10 Ford F-350 vans were equipped with bi-fuel liquid propane conversion kits secured through a bid solicitation process with the state’s Department of Finance Purchasing Division. When a local auto dealership in Montgomery won the bid, it selected an ACFC member to install the conversion kits on each van. ADOC also received information on fueling station specifications from the Propane Education and Research Council, as well as recommendations on infrastructure contractors from ACFC.

With 55 propane vans recently added to the fleet, propane fueling stations installed at ADOC facilities statewide, and contracts in place with propane marketers to serve the ADOC fleet—with all initial infrastructure costs accounted for—the ADOC is confident it will see continued cost benefits for years to come.

Read the full case study on the Alternative Fuels Data Center.