Cruising The Country in a Propane F150 – Part 1

[social_buttons]A few weeks ago I met Todd Mouw with Roush Manufacturing (many of you may know the company from its work in motorsports) who was displaying a Ford F250 converted to run on propane. I talked him into letting me take it for a spin through Ft. Worth, Texas.

From there, I convinced him to let me take a liquid propane injection (LPJ) F150, model year 2007, across the country (I’m technically on vacation). I know that propane is not a new technology -it’s been used as a fuel since the 1930s- but in America, it is rarely used in vehicles outside of fleets, but is gaining momentum and can now be used in applications such as lawn mowers.

Now here are the selling points from companies such as Roush that are producing LPJ vehicles:

  • 97 percent of propane is produced in North America
  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 18 percent
  • No loss of horsepower, torque or towing capacity
  • Up to $5,000 federal tax credit available
  • Tax credit of 50 cents per gallon (not always passed to the consumer)
  • Significantly reduces operating costs

Now, here is what I noticed. It’s fast. There is no drag when you step on the gas pedal as was the case in propane fueled trucks several years ago. It gets competitive fuel mileage as compared to gasoline. The average of highway and in town driving for a 2007 F150 is 14 mpg, and in my trip I achieved an average of 14 mpg. It’s quiet – especially compared to a diesel engine. There are basically no differences to driving a propane truck with the exception of one thing: there is a delay of about 15 seconds when you turn the ignition before the truck starts (similar to diesel).

The other major differences of this truck lie in the tank and filling the tank up. The version I’m driving has the extended fuel version (40 gallons) so the tank sits in the bed of the truck. You can get smaller tanks that are positioned underneath the truck where the spare tire is traditionally placed.

When you’re ready to fill up, you can’t do it yourself. You need an attendant to fill the tank for you. Propane is not found in your traditional gas pump. It is off to the side of the station and is contained in a locked area, and also uses different equipment and nozzles to pump the propane. I learned this when I stopped at our first fueling location in the Quad Cities, where Shane with Ferrellgas filled up his first consumer propane vehicle.

And not surprisingly, the truck draws crowds and questions. And the person filling up the tank was excited to see a consumer propane truck and many asked about the conversion as did Troy at the Flying J Travel Centers in Effingham, IL.

Now although the driving experience was nice, there are some cons: finding propane and the cost. One of the advantages touted of propane is that is less expensive, but I found that the further south I went, the more expensive the propane became and I never found a station filling propane at a cost less than unleaded gasoline. I wanted to dig into the cost discrepancy so I spoke with Tony Dale, National Director of Engine Fuels for Ferrellgas, to learn more about the viability of consumer cars fueled by propane and the economy of doing so. You’ll be able to read about my interview with Tony in Part 2 of this 3 part series. In the meantime, here is a sneak peak of my fuel economics.

Cost to Drive 25 Miles: $4.98

Fuel to Drive 25 Miles: 1.78 gallons

Cost of a fill-up: $112 / $2.80 per gallon ave.

Miles on a Tank: 480-520

Tank Size: 40 gallons

Annual Fuel Cost: $3,000

Until tomorow when I deep dive in the economics and role of propane as a transportation fuel, you can see the photos from my trip so far in my Flickr photo album, Road Trip: Propane F150.

 

Joanna Schroeder

Joanna is a writer and consultant specializing in renewable energy and sustainable agriculture issues.