Schagrin Gas in Middletown held the ribbon-cutting ceremony today for the first fueling station in New Castle County for propane-powered vehicles. State officials applauded the station and propane-powered vehicles which have the potential to save fuel costs and reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil, while being more environmentally-friendly than gasoline-burning vehicles.

Schagrin Gas in Middletown held the ribbon-cutting ceremony today for the first propane fueling station in New Castle County, but using propane-powered vehicles is nothing new to the Schagrin family.

"We have basically something old and something new here," said Rick Levinson, chief executive officer of Schagrin Gas. "Propane has been around as a fuel for more than 100 years. We've used it in our vehicles since 1946. It started being used in vehicles during World War II after it was used in forklifts."

Because workers in factories and warehouses during World War II were being overcome by fumes from gasoline-powered forklifts, the switch was made to cleaner-burning propane, Levinson said.

He also remembers the gasoline shortages in the 1970s and how Schagrin was able to continue with business as usual because they had propane-powered vehicles.

A propane-powered vehicle gets almost the same fuel mileage as a gasoline-powered vehicle; however, the price per gallon of propane is much less, he said.

The price for propane at the new fueling station at 1000 N. Broad St. on Tuesday was $2.19 per gallon.

"The infrastructure cost to build propane fueling stations is also much less than building natural gas fueling stations," Levinson said.

Morgan Ellis, Delaware Clean Cities Coordinator with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said the propane station in Middletown is the third in Delaware, but the first in New Castle County.

"This is a huge step and a big piece of the puzzle for Delaware. We're hoping for many more across the state," she said.

Propane vehicles produce much less carbon dioxide than gasoline vehicles, she said.

Legislators see win-win situation

Sen. Bethany Hall-Long (D-10th District) and State Rep. Quinn Johnson (D-8th District) attended Tuesday's ribbon cutting and congratulated Schagrin for serving as a pioneer with this technology.

"Anytime we can improve productivity and reduce our carbon footprint, that's a win-win situation," said Hall-Long. "We're really thankful to the businesses like yours who are doing this. Our offices stand ready to support you."

Johnson said, "It's exciting to have this fueling station in our home district – the first one in New Castle County – and I applaud you for taking this important step."

Chris Remmel from the Mid Atlantic Propane Gas Association told the legislators that the association is hoping for state and local government incentives to go along with the 50-cent-per-gallon federal tax credit to encourage citizens and companies to consider using propane vehicles.

"What will move the market is government incentives," said Remmel. "We see advances [with propane] in states like California because they have blackouts due to air quality issues when they restrict the use of gasoline-burning engines. One example is lawn maintenance crews at universities can still work with propane-powered equipment when there's a restriction on the use gasoline-powered engines. By using propane, they don't lose time, and they can get the job done instead of waiting."

What about the safety of propane vehicles?

Remmel said the MAPGA is also working to inform people "to overcome the mystery or fear about how propane vehicles work."

Levinson said the propane tanks are made out of heavy steel and are actually bullet-proof.

"There are police cars that use propane in some places, and they've shown photos of those cars after they've been in a collision, and the only thing that escaped unscathed is the propane tank," Levinson said.

He said Schagrin's decades of experience using propane-powered vehicles has shown several advantages over gas or diesel vehicles.

"The cost of fuel is lower. It increases the life of the engines. You basically double the duration of oil changes – you don't have to change the oil as often, and the tanks are safe," he said.

Famous NASCAR owner has started propane company

After Tuesday's ribbon-cutting ceremony, guests got to listen to a presentation about propane vehicles by Derek Whaley, northeast region business development manager for Roush CleanTech, one of the companies owned by well-known NASCAR car owner and engine builder Jack Roush.

"It's really all about the money," Whaley said. "If it wasn't economically sustainable, it wouldn't fly."

Whaley said propane-powered vehicles have lower fuel costs, lower service and maintenance costs, and nearly the same miles per gallon as gasoline or diesel vehicles.

The most common usage now is in company trucks and vans, city buses, and school buses.

His company currently produces the propane-power system for several Ford truck models, vans, and two bus models.

"It makes sense for fleets that use lots of liquid propane," Whaley said, giving examples of savings on a large scale and a small scale.

The Thysson Krupp elevator company in Texas saved $224,208 in fuel costs in its first year switching to propane trucks. The Mesa, Arizona public school system saved $5,667 in fuel costs the first year it added some propane buses to its fleet.

Whaley also said propane vehicles will reduce our country's dependence on foreign oil.

There are only about 200,000 propane vehicles in the United States, but there are 17 million worldwide, he said.

"The United States is now an exporter of propane autogas," said Whaley. "So right now we're exporting clean propane and importing dirty oil from countries that don't like us."

Propane is also more environmentally-friendly than gasoline. It's much cleaner burning, and it doesn't contaminate the water or soil, so it can be safely stored underground, he said.