Trucking fuel expert reviews menu of alternatives

April 6, 2009
Fleet Owner recently spoke with CleanFuel USA founder Curtis Donaldson about the future of alternative fuels

In 1993, long before green was the preferred color for any industry, CleanFuel USA started providing environmentally friendly solutions, which today include E85, E10 and liquid propane (LPG) fuel-related products as well as offering an EPA- and CARB-certified liquid propane gas (LPG) engine, which the company retrofits to create a fully integrated system.

Fleet Owner recently spoke with company founder Curtis Donaldson about the future of alternative fuels:

FO: What was the impetus to create CleanFuel USA back in 1993?

Donaldson: I left ConocoPhillips, where I focused on alternative fuels, in 1992 to start this business. I wanted to make it easier for fleets to use alternative fuels, to make it more seamless. We began by making fuel dispensers for alternative fuels work more like conventional fuel dispensers. Today, we offer dispensers, a variety of alternative fuels, an LPG engine from Italy and an integration package for those engines.

FO: What makes you such a fan of propane?

Donaldson: Propane is actually the third most popular fuel after diesel and gasoline. It is also cheaper to purchase than either gasoline or diesel and users get a federal rebate at the pump of fifty cents per gallon. There is a propane surplus now, too; about 60%t of propane comes from natural gas and about 40% is a byproduct of the petroleum refining process.

Although it is not quite as efficient as diesel, we believe that it is a great medium-duty truck fuel and very good for flex-fuel vehicles, too. Fleets, such as metro fleets, that can fuel centrally are the real sweet spot when it comes to users.

FO: Do you see propane as the solution for the future, then?

Donaldson: There really is no silver bullet when it comes to alternative fuels, at least not yet. We are betting on diversity here at CleanFuel. We believe it is going to take a menu of fuels to bridge us to the future, and no one really knows how long that bridge will be.

We have to start somewhere in offsetting the use of imported fossil fuels, and we have to start now. We can’t keep waiting for hydrogen and we can’t keep hopping from one panacea du jour to another. This time we have to do it, even if fuel prices stay low; they can’t stay low forever. If we could just replace 20% of our fossil fuel use that would be huge.

I’ve seen government try to force various fuels on us---CNG, LNG, E-85. We favor a more common-sense approach with realistic goals. We would like to see financial incentives to encourage fleets to use the alternative fuel [or non-fuel power source] that is the best for their own operations.

FO: do you believe hybrids and alternative fuels will converge at some point?

Donaldson: I do. In fact, it is happening already. We took a Saturn hybrid with a propane engine to a tradeshow recently, for instance, just to show people it can be done now.

About the Author

Wendy Leavitt

Wendy Leavitt joined Fleet Owner in 1998 after serving as editor-in-chief of Trucking Technology magazine for four years.

She began her career in the trucking industry at Kenworth Truck Company in Kirkland, WA where she spent 16 years—the first five years as safety and compliance manager in the engineering department and more than a decade as the company’s manager of advertising and public relations. She has also worked as a book editor, guided authors through the self-publishing process and operated her own marketing and public relations business.

Wendy has a Masters Degree in English and Art History from Western Washington University, where, as a graduate student, she also taught writing.  

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