CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Around here, most people stare blankly when Bret Chandler starts talking about using propane as an alternate vehicle fuel.
But most people haven't spent the past three years of their lives working with companies that convert cars and trucks to run on propane and setting up networks of filling stations all over California, Texas and Colorado.
"Liquid propane is the third most-used auto fuel in the world," said Chandler, 51, a Charleston-based entrepreneur and investor who wants to bring liquid propane technology to West Virginia.
"Ten years ago, there were 700 liquid propane fueling stations in Germany," said Chandler, who has been to Germany personally to see it. "Now there are 5,000."
Chandler is managing director of Propane Fuel Technologies LLC, a Charleston-based investment group working to promote a German engine kit that injects propane into diesel engines to lower fuel consumption. But for the past three years, he has been working closely with CleanFUEL USA, a company in Texas that converts cars and trucks to run on propane and sets up propane filling stations.
Chandler said CleanFUEL has converted hundreds of vehicles to run on propane, including entire fleets of school buses and other vehicles. The company has also set up a system of propane filling stations out west.
While traveling between West Virginia and Texas to work on the CleanFUEL projects, Chandler decided there was nothing to keep him from bringing propane technology to West Virginia except for infrastructure.
Propane-powered vehicles need somewhere to fill up with propane, and in West Virginia there are few places.
Chandler hopes to change that. He said CleanFUEL was able to get a $12 million federal Department of Energy grant to build 168 propane-fueling stations in 16 cities around the country, including Charleston. Chandler has gotten state approval to build a station at the One Stop at the corner of Florida Street and Kanawha Boulevard West.
"We had hoped it would already be operating," said Chandler, who thinks the station will be up and running by the end of February.
He said the DOE grant also includes $500,000 to convert cars and trucks to run on propane, or enough to convert about 50 vehicles. The cost of conversion has been one of the stumbling blocks for governments and businesses to switch to alternate-fuel vehicles.