Clean, Green, and Cost Efficient

Reprinted, with permission, from Precision Magazine, Journal of the Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association

“Clean, Green, and Cost Efficient”

During the 1970s oil embargo, Marvin Schwan (founder and owner of The Schwan Food Company), wanted to find a reliable, more cost effective method for fueling his large fleet of home delivery route trucks.  Frustrated with seeing his trucks waiting in line for fuel at crowded gas stations instead of selling their great food, Marvin Schwan looked for an option. Propane became an obvious choice to the more popular gas or diesel option. It was a fuel that was readily available in bulk everywhere in the country as a home heating fuel.  What Marvin’s company began in 1970 is even more valuable, more timely, than it was back then!

Bi-Phase Technology, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Schwan Food Company, designs and manufactures liquid propane electronic fuel injection systems that allow fleets to convert their vehicles from gasoline to propane, reducing cost and environmental impact.  Their system, called LPEFI®, is unique in that it burns liquid propane in the engine while in the liquid state – not in the gaseous state.  Conversion of liquid propane, from a liquid to a gas, never occurs making the entire system much more stable (less susceptible to an accidental ignition or an accident).  Cold starting is also improved with this system, as well as reducing the problems with engine backfires.  (Bi-Phase holds patents for every part of their system, totaling over 100 individual patent claims.)

The Schwan’s Food “depot system” is very conducive to utilizing an onsite fueling station for their delivery trucks, so getting the bulk fuel at the depot was relatively easy. Converting the trucks was somewhat more challenging, but the technology to retrofit a gas engine to propane was much easier in the older carbureted engines. Bi-Phase came into existence with the advent of fuel injection. When truck manufacturers made a change to fuel injection in their medium duty trucks, Schwans in turn needed a propane fuel system option. Schwans purchased Bi-Phase from a private entrepreneur and has utilized it almost exclusively for their own use, up until now.

Propane changes from its liquid state over to a gas state at a very low temperature. It is the patented system that Bi-Phase Technologies has developed that is unique to other types of propane conversion systems.  The LPEFI® is a dedicated multi-port fuel injection system for modern engines.  It uses specifically engineered tanks equipped with a Liquid Propane Delivery Module (LPDM) designed for easy installation on many different models of trucks (i.e. Chevrolet, Ford, Isuzu,).  Many of the major truck manufacturers advertise that their engines are compatible with liquid propane fuel.

Some key points regarding this system:

—Vehicle operators do not notice a difference in power as compared to a gasoline or diesel engine.

—Liquid Propane fuel is substantially lower in cost than gasoline or diesel fuel (especially at times such as we recently went through in 2008 where the price of gasoline and diesel fuel reached an all-time high.  Even at today’s prices, the cost of LP gas is still very attractive as compared to gasoline and diesel)

—There are also federal and local tax incentives available to offset both the conversion cost for a vehicle, as well as to the fuel costs.  With smaller fleets of vehicles, up to 80% of the conversion cost qualifies as a tax credit.

—Schwan’s Home Service, Inc. fleet estimated fuel savings are over $30 million annually.

Bi-Phase Technologies’ plans are to take their product to the truck aftermarket. They are currently actively looking for distributor partnerships that will provide sales and marketing support for their product. They will continue to provide all manufacturing of this liquid propane electronic fuel injection system and they will continue with their R&D efforts. Their target customers are fleets with metrics similar to Schwans in that they are medium duty vehicles that conduct business from a central depot/warehouse and come back each night.  

The Schwan’s fleet of home delivery trucks is one of the cleanest medium duty truck fleets in the USA for its size, and the first to be certified as an “Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle” by the EPA in 2004.

Bill Remes, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, AmeriStar Manufacturing (www.ameristarmfg.com)

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