WASHINGTON – A new program to build propane refueling stations and convert 1,200 vehicles to propane kicked off with a recent meeting at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va.

With $8.6 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Southeast Propane Autogas Development Program is coordinated by Alliance AutoGas and supported by the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC).

According to organizers, the program will enhance energy security, promote a domestic alternative fuel, and create a cleaner environment by converting gasoline-powered vehicles to run on propane and by installing at least 17 propane refueling stations across nine southeast states. Propane, when used to fuel on-road vehicles, is known worldwide as autogas.

Virginia Clean Cities, part of the nationwide network of Clean Cities Coalitions working to reduce petroleum consumption, and James Madison University will serve as project managers. Alliance AutoGas’ founding partners, Blossman Gas and American Alternative Fuel, and certified conversion partners, will perform the vehicle conversions and provide both public and private fueling infrastructure. Vehicles in public and private fleets, including taxis, limousines, and vans, will be converted to run on propane.

"We are encouraged that this grant provides an opportunity to showcase the viability of autogas and its benefits," said Stuart Weidie, president of Alliance AutoGas. "Autogas is recognized as the number one alternative fuel worldwide. It's almost entirely domestically produced and is available right here, right now."

The vehicles converted under the program are projected to displace more than 15 million gallons of gasoline over four years. Since propane vehicles experience significantly lower emissions than gasoline and diesel vehicles, the project will reduce harmful emissions. Nearly 90 percent of propane supplies are produced in the United States, and 7 percent come from Canada.

The Southeast Propane Autogas Development Program will track the results of the conversions, including the number of gasoline gallons displaced and greenhouse gas emissions avoided. A comprehensive public Web site will be launched later in 2010 to display the details of the project.

Future road shows funded by PERC will offer state fleet and transportation managers test-driving opportunities of several new propane-fueled vehicles.