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TESS VIGELAND: Oil dropped below $88 a barrel today despite an announcement by OPEC that it will hold the line on production. Not much consolation if you’re headed to the pump and staring at prices well over 3 bucks a gallon. Well, in Australia they have the option of filling up at half the price with LPG, liquid propane gas. Stuart Cohen reports from Sydney.
STUART COHEN: Lys Karagun drives one of the more than half-million cars in Australia that run on liquid propane — also called autogas. For her and her husband, Ohan, spending the money to convert the car from petrol to autogas was a no-brainer.
Lys Karagun: Big, big savings. We used to fill up, it was about $90 a week for a 75-liter tank. Now it costs us $35 for about 2 weeks on the gas. Going from $90 to $35, there’s just no questions asked.
Karagun says the savings have taken the cost of filling up out of the family’s weekly budget equation.
Karagun: Twenty dollars versus $45, it’s a day trip. It’s really affordable for a family. So it’s nice. You drive to the beach, drive to the mountains, drive to the country and we don’t really stress about it anymore. Whereas before, we really had to consider our budget: “Oh, we can afford this much per week.”
Australia has managed to do what the U.S. hasn’t — successfully deliver, everywhere in the country, a cleaner burning alternative fuel. And, for roughly $2 a gallon versus $5 for gasoline, at a huge savings. That’s something that’ll have to happen in the States if there’s any hope of having ethanol or hydrogen overtake gasoline as the fuel of choice among consumers.
Phil Westlake: Now, over and above that, the federal government recently offered an incentive. They make available $2,000 for people that want to convert their existing vehicle over to LPG. Or, if they’re purchasing a factory LPG vehicle, there’s a $1,000 grant available.
Phil Westlake is with LPG Australia, the industry’s trade association. He says while American drivers might worry about things like, say, accidentally blowing themselves up while working with high-pressure, liquified gases, that fear is unfounded.
Westlake: The only difference is that you’ve got a screw-on connection, so it’s a matter of just pushing the nozzle against the connection, screwing that on, and then when you release the nozzle you’ll hear a small discharge of gas. And that’s just releasing the gas between the connection — the nozzle and the connection.
And that’s just fine with car owner Lys Karagun.
Karagun: My 9-yea- old could do it if he was allowed. He’s just not allowed. Legally he can’t.
Industry insiders say the recent concern about global warming has helped accelerate the popularity of autogas.
Roger Promnitz: Tailpipe emissions typically for autogas, they can be up to 80 percent less than petrol.
Roger Promnitz runs VitalGas, one of Australia’s major wholesalers of LPG. He says instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, the industry got a jump-start by piggybacking on the existing network of petrol stations around the country.
PROMNITZ: People are familiar with obviously pulling onto service stations to get fuel. This is a different type of fuel on the same site. The fact that LPG trucks are already out around delivering to the traditional segment — …you know, home heating — meant that it was not a difficult step to them having also delivered to service stations.
Car owner Lys Karagun says between the government rebate and her savings at the pump, she expects to recoup the $4,000-cost of her conversion in less than a year. And she gets a warm, fuzzy feeling doing something good for the environment, too.
In Sydney, I’m Stuart Cohen for Marketplace.
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