Biltmore Estate’s shuttle buses go green with propane fuel
ASHEVILLE — The Biltmore Estate is smelling fresher, and it’s not just the tulips and roses.
In partnership with Alliance AutoGas, the state’s largest tourist attraction recently converted two of the 15 shuttle buses in its fleet to autogas and installed a fueling station on the Biltmore grounds to provide a year-round supply.
The move enabled the estate to displace more than 900 gallons of gasoline for the cleaner burning propane during the month of June, Rick Conard, Biltmore’s vice president of guest operations, said.
“The main reason we did this is the environment. We’ve been trying to take care of the environment for many years, and it’s one of our legacies,” Conard said.
“Propane is very clean, it’s very good for the environment, it’s cheaper than gasoline and our guests are really appreciative of our environmental sustainability efforts.”
The switch to propane autogas in the two shuttle buses, which transport visitors from parking lots and the inn to attractions around the estate, has also been good for the bottom line, Conard said. There are plans to switch the entire fleet of shuttle buses to propane in the next couple of years.
He said propane, which burns 30 percent cleaner than gasoline, lowers fuel costs about $1.25-$1.30 per gallon.
Autogas is the most widely used alternative fuel in the world, powering 18 million vehicles, said Steve Whaley, who works in research and development for Blossman Propane in Asheville, a founding partner of Alliance Autogas.
“It’s a great fuel. It’s very clean. We’re reducing a tremendous amount of emissions — 25 percent off the top over gasoline,” Whaley said. “And it’s all domestic — 98 percent of the U.S. supply is made in America. Last year, the U.S. sent 5 billion gallons of propane overseas and brought in billions of gallons of very dirty, very expensive gasoline.”
He said propane — called autogas when used in internal combustion engines — is much more popular in Europe, Africa and Asia but has been slow to catch on in American passenger vehicles.
“We’re way behind,” he said. “But we’re changing now. In North Carolina, we are displacing hundreds of thousands of gallons of gasoline.”
In Western North Carolina, Mountain Mobility replaced 10 of its vans with propane about three years ago, displacing about 3,600 gallons a month of gasoline, Whaley said. The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office began a propane pilot program earlier this year, converting 10 of its Crown Victoria patrol cars.
Some 25 other law enforcement agencies across the state, including the Raleigh Police Department, have also switched to autogas, Whaley said.
One of the only drawbacks to propane is it has about 90 percent of the energy content that gasoline has, Whaley said.
“Pure gas has 114,000 Btu of energy. Propane has 92,000 Btu. A car that normally gets about 10 mpg, would get about 9 mph with propane.”
Vehicles, such as the Biltmore shuttle buses, can be converted or “upfitted,” Whaley said. The cost ranges from $5,800 to $6,200, depending on the vehicle’s size. GM and Ford are making cars with propane systems. He said there are about 220,000 on U.S. roads now.
In addition to Biltmore Estate, there are now three autogas fuel stations in Asheville: at Mountain Mobility, the Sheriff’s Office transfer station and a public site at German Motor Werks on Sweeten Creek Road.
Conard said the estate has been studying its other gasoline-guzzling vehicles, including lawn mowers, to see if they can be converted to propane.
It is all part of the continuing legacy of environmental stewardship, he said.
Earlier this year, Biltmore Estate installed a 5,000-panel solar system that supplies 15 percent of power to Antler Hill Village and the winery, Conard said. The estate also employs sustainable practices from its forestry and farming, to recycling and waste stream reduction.
Source: Asheville Citizen Times