LIVONIA — Roush CleanTech, the clean energy business unit of Roush Enterprises, says it’s expecting huge growth this year in its propane autogas-powered truck and bus business.

Propane, which is found in natural formations with natural gas and oil, is a far cleaner-burning fuel than either gasoline or diesel fuel, Roush CleanTech president Joe Thompson said in an interview Tuesday.

“From a CO standpoint it’s 60 percent cleaner, from a NOx standpoint, which most people talk about, it ‘s 20 percent cleaner, and from a greenhouse gas standpoint it’s 24 percent cleaner than gasoline,” Thompson said.

That’s all well and good, but Thompson said the real reason for the adoption is that running a vehicle on propane is also far cheaper than gasoline or diesel.

“Customers are also saving in the neighborhood of $2 a gallon over gasoline or diesel,” he said. “Many of our customers will consume 4,000 to 5,000 gallons of fuel per vehicle per year, so they’re getting $10,000 annual savings per vehicle, which gives them a return on investment within 12 months.

“The environmental piece is great and we’re proud of that, but the big adoption is not going to happen until the financial equation makes sense.”

From the time Roush CleanTech was founded in 2010 until the end of 2013, the company put 2,000 propane autogas vehicles on the road — mostly light-duty trucks.

But now, it’s getting into medium-duty trucks — UPS delivery trucks, utility bucket trucks, full-size school buses. And this year alone, it plans to put another 5,000 vehicles on the road.

“What is driving this growth for us it that more and more fleets are getting comfortable with the technology we developed three years ago, so we have a network effect that’s building market acceptance for us,” Thompson said. “These fleet managers move in a small circle.”

Thompson said Roush also plans to develop a compressed natural gas-powered vehicle eventually, “but we’re not there yet … the hardware that goes into a vehicle for propane is a lot less expensive than natural gas.” Propane also has higher energy density than natural gas, and storage and dispensing systems are also cheaper for propane.

Thompson said propane will remain plentiful and cheap for the foreseeable future thanks to many propane shale gas fields being developed.

“It’s cleaner, it’s American, it’s a lot less expensive,” Thompson said.

Also looking ahead, Joe Thompson said 2014 will bring Roush a launch of a propane autogas-powered Ford Transit van. The Transit is replacing the longtime Ford E-series vans.

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