Pushing Propane’s Plusses

February 1, 2003 By    

Propane’s prominence as a motor vehicle fuel appears ready to shift into overdrive with construction of the nation’s first alternative fuels Regional Transportation Center in San Diego.

The $17.9 million, 86,000-square-foot facility will display and service a full array of propane’s finest vehicle offerings while educating the public about the benefits of running with alternative fuels.

The project hopefully will lay to rest the propane industry’s perpetual chicken-or-egg debate of whether propane-powered vehicles are slow to sell because the public simply won’t accept them – or that people pass on propane only because there aren’t enough practical models available from original equipment manufacturers.

Construction workers in San Diego pour concrete for the $17.9 million, 60,000-square-foot Regional Transportation Center that will display and service a full array of propane's finest vehicle offerings and educate the public about the benefits of running on alternative fuels.
Construction workers in San Diego pour concrete for the $17.9 million, 60,000-square-foot Regional Transportation Center that will display and service a full array of propane’s finest vehicle offerings and educate the public about the benefits of running on alternative fuels.

“There has been a lack of marketing effort from our industry over the years, and we’re working to correct that,” says Steven Moore, executive vice president of Mutual Propane, a Gardena, Calif.-based marketer that is participating in the RTC project.

“This is an example of more things to come in the alternative fuels area,” Moore points out, referring to an overall acceleration of interest in pursuing propane’s role as a practical and cost-efficient alternative vehicle technology. “We’re trying to work with the OEMs and promote what they’re marketing, and we hope to bring more propane vehicles to the marketplace within the next year or so.”

Scheduled to partially open in May with a grand opening extravaganza set for August, the Regional Transportation Center will house an alternative fuel vehicle showroom, an AFV rental and demonstration enterprise, an AFV servicing center, an AFV fueling station and a special Alternative Fuels Education Center. It is the only facility of its type in the world.

Operated by the San Diego Environmental Foundation, the facility is being built with a $1.4 million donation from the Ford Motor Co. as well as grants provided by a host of local, state and federal governmental air pollution control agencies and industry organizations.

The RTC Education Center is designed to educate middle and high school students about innovative motor vehicle fuel technologies that work toward improving the environment.

“The education center is going to have all the latest interactive teaching tools,” according to Kim Merrill, an RTC spokesman. Students will be wowed by an animated presentation projected in a multimedia style theater and guided through the center via digital visual tour devices. Plus the young scholars will have fun with interactive computer kiosk demonstrations. It is expected that each year some 20,000 students from throughout the San Diego region will visit the center.

“We’re educating the future generations,” says Merrill.

Six to nine varieties of alternative fuels, including propane, natural gas, ethanol and biodiesel will be dispensed onsite. An electrical charging station also will be included.

“The facility that we’re building is largely fuel-neutral because we want to be the leader in all these fuels,” reports Mike Lewis, the RTC’s general operations manager who also works with Pearson Ford, an area car dealer that boasts of the nation’s largest selection of alternative fueled vehicles.

Retro-like pumps towering eight feet into the air will grace the RTC’s filling station section in keeping with the building’s unique design characteristics.

“It’s a golden-age-of-motoring architectural style,” notes Merrill.

CleanFuel USA, a propane fueling network with a goal of making propane convenient for motorists nationwide, is participating in the endeavor. Mutual is supplying the propane, which will be dispensed from a Trinity 6,565-gallon underground tank. Gilbarco and Corken are providing other aspects of the state-of-the-art fueling technology.

“It has all the alternative fuels available under one roof and just getting all these fuels together was not easy,” says Moore, noting that numerous safety and regulatory issues had to be addressed before the pumps could go in.

The facility’s signature structure will be its AFV showroom. Its floor will showcase Ford’s complete line of AFVs, alongside conventionally powered vehicles. Pearson Ford will manage the showroom operation, which is to include the F-150 bi-fuel propane pickup and the propane-powered Crown Victoria along with the E-350 conversion vehicle and other California-certified propane conversion models.

It is anticipated that California’s regulatory climate will remain favorable toward alternative fuels, as the last election saw numerous gains by Democrats at the state level, says Merrill. They now dominate both the state Senate and Assembly.

The RTC can be contacted on the Internet at www.rtc4afv.com.

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