Also known as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) or autogas, propane is a clean-burning, high-energy alternative fuel that’s been used for decades to power light-, medium- and heavy-duty propane vehicles. It accounts for about 2% of the energy used in the United States. Of that, less than 2% is used for transportation fuel. Its main uses include home and water heating, cooking and refrigerating food, clothes drying, powering farm and industrial equipment.
WHAT IS PROPANE? Interest in propane as an alternative transportation fuel stems mainly from its domestic availability, high-energy density, clean-burning qualities, and it’s relatively low cost. It is the world’s third most common engine fuel and is a domestically produced, well-established, clean-burning fuel. Typically, propane costs less than gasoline and offers a comparable driving range to conventional fuel and a lower fuel economy.
WHY WOULD A FLEET WANT TO USE BI-FUEL PROPANE VEHICLES? Bi-fuel vehicles offer the benefit of allowing the driver/vehicles to venture anywhere, anytime. Since the vehicle can operate on gasoline while away from its home operating area, the vehicle isn’t restricted to only being able to refuel at home or where they can find propane on the road.
Low maintenance costs are another reason behind propane’s popularity for high-mileage vehicles. Propane’s high octane and low-carbon and oil-contamination characteristics have resulted in greater engine life than conventional gasoline engines. Because the fuel’s mixture of propane and air is completely gaseous, cold start problems associated with liquid fuel are reduced.
HOW IS IT PRODUCED? Propane is produced from liquid components recovered during natural gas processing. These components include ethane, methane, propane, and butane, as well as heavier hydrocarbons. Propane and butane, along with other gases, are also produced during crude oil refining. Approximately 85% of the propane used in the U.S. is produced in the U.S.
Propane can be dispensed alongside gasoline, diesel, or other alternative fuels. It is brought to the site via a transport truck and put into onsite storage, traditionally above ground. The fueling dispenser is similar to a gasoline dispenser. The main difference is that propane is delivered to the vehicle under pressure so it remains a liquid. When the vehicle tank is full, the dispenser stops automatically, just like gasoline dispensers.
HOW IS IT USED? There are light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles that can be powered by propane. Most propane vehicles used in the U.S. today are either bi-fuel or dedicated propane, and most are converted to bi-fuel propane using conversion kits like those that ICOM North America and Alliance Autogas offer. Applications include a wide variety of vehicles like cars, pickup trucks, forklifts, transit and school buses, delivery trucks, trolleys and delivery or passenger vans. Propane is also frequently used to replace gasoline in smaller applications, such as commercial lawn equipment like zero-turn and walk-behind landscaping mowers, and is growing in use as a golf/turf applications like for mowing golf courses (these are reel-type mowers).
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS? The Propane Green Autogas Solutions Act (“Propane GAS Act”) of 2011 offers significant economic growth, environmental and energy security benefits to the American economy, according to a study by the National Propane Gas Association. The study projects that the Propane Gas Act’s impact on jobs and the economy will be significant. The growth in propane vehicle sales and use created by the tax credits will generate an increase in economic activity that peaks at between $4 billion and $5.7 billion per year in 2016. That translates to between 30,000 and 42,000 new jobs created by 2016. Propane is an inherently clean-burning fuel due to its lower carbon content. When used as a vehicle fuel, propane can offer life cycle greenhouse (GHG) emissions benefits over conventional fuels, depending on vehicle type, and drive cycle. In addition, using propane in place of petroleum-based fuels may reduce some tailpipe emissions.
Because propane is a low-carbon fuel, a switch to propane in these applications can result in substantial reductions of hydrocarbon, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, and greenhouse gas emissions.
EMISSION REDUCTIONS GAINED FROM PROPANE Propane is non-toxic and presents no threat to soil, surface water, or groundwater. Propane has several benefits over gasoline including:
Over the fuel’s life-cycle, propane shows greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions of 10%, and when derived as a by-product of natural gas production (as it is over 90% of the time), propane reduced petroleum use by 98% to 99%
IN GWRCCC School administrators from Fairfax County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Frederick County, Alexandria City, Arlington County, Howard County, Baltimore County, Washington County, Carroll County, Calvert County, Charles County and St. Mary’s County attended two propane and biodiesel school bus workshops in Fairfax County VA and Prince George’s County Maryland on May 23 and May 25 respectively. The events were a collaborative effort of the Greater Washington Region Clean Cities Coalition, the Maryland Energy Administration/Maryland Clean Cities and Virginia Clean Cities, along with the propane and biodiesel industries and school bus manufacturers.
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