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Propane: A New Alternative Fuel for Vehicles?


When you hear about alternative fuels for gasoline, what comes to mind?  Most likely, you’re thinking about liquefied natural gas.  While that is the most popular substitute, it is not the only one breaking ground.  This may come as a surprise, but propane could be the next big fuel for vehicles.

Technically, using propane as fuel is not exactly new.  Managing Director of Propane Fuel Technologies Bret Chandler claims that “liquid propane is the third most-used auto fuel in the world.”  He states, “Ten years ago, there were 700 liquid propane fueling stations in Germany, now there are 5,000.”  Even though Europe has had a slight head start, the United States is following closely behind.

Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) has already been introduced in certain areas, such as warehouses, construction sites, and farms.  Additionally, the Propane Education and Research Council claims there are over 270,000 on-road propane vehicles already in the United States.  These vehicles are mostly used as police cars, shuttles, and school buses.

California residents are among the first citizens to have access to this new source of fuel.  As stated on the California Energy Commission website-

Approximately 1,200 facilities in California dispense propane.  Nearly all of these facilities are used primarily to fuel residential and commercial applications such as heaters, recreational vehicles and barbecues.  About half of all these facilities are capable of providing propane as a motor fuel, though only about 3 percent of all the fuel dispensed is used for transportation applications.

Chandler, who has also been working with CleanFUEL, has the goal of bringing this propane technology to his home state of West Virginia.  His biggest hurdle: infrastructure.  Unfortunately, there are only a small number of fueling stations in the area.

To aid the process, CleanFUEL has recently been given a $12 million federal grant from the Department of Energy, which they plan to use for building 168 propane-fueling stations in 16 cities across the country.

Commonly referred to as “autogas” outside the United States, liquid propane may not be as efficient as gasoline (about 7 to 10 percent less efficient), but the low cost will certainly make up for that.  In Dallas, TX, where propane is rather common, customers are paying around $1.50 per gallon.

The cost to build the necessary infrastructure is rather inexpensive as well.  A natural gas fueling station could cost up to $1.5 million to build, but for a propane station, that tab will drop to less than $100,000.  As an added benefit, propane fueling stations require less expensive equipment and only occupy one tenth of the space required by natural gas stations.

So, should you expect to see herds of propane vehicles on the road and dozens of fueling stations popping up around town this year?  Probably not.  With a price tag of $10,000, converting your car to run on propane may not be the best decision.  Yet.

Sarah Battaglia
Energy Curtailment Specialists, Inc.

Image: Propane Cylinders via Shutterstock

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