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.





About the Author

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

  • In Australia many people drive propane powered cars.

  • In Australia many people drive propane powered cars.

  • In Australia many people drive propane powered cars.

  • In Australia many people drive propane powered cars.

  • Mark Cowestian

    When my wife and I lived in Texas we considered converting our 68 Slant 6 Valiant to use propane. We decided against it because of the volume it would occupy in the trunk.

    However, I learned some things about this fuel that you failed to mention as a positive in your article, except perhaps indirectly. Propane burns without leaving any residue in the combustion chamber, and doesn’t dilute or contaminate the engine oil. Therefore the engine will last easily over 300,000 miles with little or no wear.

  • Mark Cowestian

    When my wife and I lived in Texas we considered converting our 68 Slant 6 Valiant to use propane. We decided against it because of the volume it would occupy in the trunk.

    However, I learned some things about this fuel that you failed to mention as a positive in your article, except perhaps indirectly. Propane burns without leaving any residue in the combustion chamber, and doesn’t dilute or contaminate the engine oil. Therefore the engine will last easily over 300,000 miles with little or no wear.

  • Jay Tee

    Propane, unlike natural gas, is so controlled and restricted by its suppliers that its basically a criminal racket. This is not true of natural gas, however.

    ’97 % of propane is made in north america’ – but made from what? Foreign oil? It must be separated from oil.

  • Jay Tee

    Propane, unlike natural gas, is so controlled and restricted by its suppliers that its basically a criminal racket. This is not true of natural gas, however.

    ’97 % of propane is made in north america’ – but made from what? Foreign oil? It must be separated from oil.

  • Chris DeMorro

    Joanna, I am very, very jealous. I have been following Roush and their propane vehicles for awhile. I think its great that a company known for making fast Mustangs has a genuine interest in sustainable fuels.

    Plus, I love trucks! My dad has an ’04 F-150, and before that an ’88. Damn things are indestructible.

  • Chris DeMorro

    Joanna, I am very, very jealous. I have been following Roush and their propane vehicles for awhile. I think its great that a company known for making fast Mustangs has a genuine interest in sustainable fuels.

    Plus, I love trucks! My dad has an ’04 F-150, and before that an ’88. Damn things are indestructible.

  • you missed one item, you can’t get them in CA.

    The 7th largest economy in the “World”

    I only want 30 for starters, so you see we have been

    promised these vehicles for over 2 years, and still

    no approval for CARB.

  • you missed one item, you can’t get them in CA.

    The 7th largest economy in the “World”

    I only want 30 for starters, so you see we have been

    promised these vehicles for over 2 years, and still

    no approval for CARB.

  • MD

    Child of the 80’s here… I remember when a liter of propane for automobiles was $0.16 Canadian..

    People complained that propane powered vehicles lacked power, the solution is simple, bump up the compression ration by machining the cylinder heads etcetera

    Friends of ours still runs an 8L (over bored 460) F350 on propane, they pull an Airstream trailer with it, they always get questions when the travel across the Northern most States when visiting the USA.

    People have been drag racing with propane powered cars since the 70’s IIRC.

    Too bad the fuel is not more mainstream here in the USA.

  • MD

    Child of the 80’s here… I remember when a liter of propane for automobiles was $0.16 Canadian..

    People complained that propane powered vehicles lacked power, the solution is simple, bump up the compression ration by machining the cylinder heads etcetera

    Friends of ours still runs an 8L (over bored 460) F350 on propane, they pull an Airstream trailer with it, they always get questions when the travel across the Northern most States when visiting the USA.

    People have been drag racing with propane powered cars since the 70’s IIRC.

    Too bad the fuel is not more mainstream here in the USA.

  • MD

    Child of the 80’s here… I remember when a liter of propane for automobiles was $0.16 Canadian..

    People complained that propane powered vehicles lacked power, the solution is simple, bump up the compression ration by machining the cylinder heads etcetera

    Friends of ours still runs an 8L (over bored 460) F350 on propane, they pull an Airstream trailer with it, they always get questions when the travel across the Northern most States when visiting the USA.

    People have been drag racing with propane powered cars since the 70’s IIRC.

    Too bad the fuel is not more mainstream here in the USA.

  • MD

    Child of the 80’s here… I remember when a liter of propane for automobiles was $0.16 Canadian..

    People complained that propane powered vehicles lacked power, the solution is simple, bump up the compression ration by machining the cylinder heads etcetera

    Friends of ours still runs an 8L (over bored 460) F350 on propane, they pull an Airstream trailer with it, they always get questions when the travel across the Northern most States when visiting the USA.

    People have been drag racing with propane powered cars since the 70’s IIRC.

    Too bad the fuel is not more mainstream here in the USA.

  • Captain Morgan

    @ Jay Tee,

    Of course it’s controlled by it’s suppliers. Just as natural gas is controlled … just as gasoline and diesel fuel are controlled. If you believe that the retail prices for any liquid fuels are set by the free market, you’re fooling yourself. Ever notice how the price of gasoline changes to the same value at the same time at every station in the area? With a captive market, there’s no reason for competing suppliers to engage in costly price wars to drive each other out of business.

  • Captain Morgan

    @ Jay Tee,

    Of course it’s controlled by it’s suppliers. Just as natural gas is controlled … just as gasoline and diesel fuel are controlled. If you believe that the retail prices for any liquid fuels are set by the free market, you’re fooling yourself. Ever notice how the price of gasoline changes to the same value at the same time at every station in the area? With a captive market, there’s no reason for competing suppliers to engage in costly price wars to drive each other out of business.

  • Captain Morgan

    @ Jay Tee,

    Of course it’s controlled by it’s suppliers. Just as natural gas is controlled … just as gasoline and diesel fuel are controlled. If you believe that the retail prices for any liquid fuels are set by the free market, you’re fooling yourself. Ever notice how the price of gasoline changes to the same value at the same time at every station in the area? With a captive market, there’s no reason for competing suppliers to engage in costly price wars to drive each other out of business.

  • Captain Morgan

    @ Jay Tee,

    Of course it’s controlled by it’s suppliers. Just as natural gas is controlled … just as gasoline and diesel fuel are controlled. If you believe that the retail prices for any liquid fuels are set by the free market, you’re fooling yourself. Ever notice how the price of gasoline changes to the same value at the same time at every station in the area? With a captive market, there’s no reason for competing suppliers to engage in costly price wars to drive each other out of business.

  • Mr. Sinister

    As you pointed out, one of the greatest problems with propane as a transportation fuel (as is the case with anything that seeks to compete with gasoline/diesel) is infrastructure. Propane, of course, is available almost anywhere in the country … but not where your Average Joe could easily pull up to top off their tank. Here in the frozen north, propane is widely used for heating in rural areas where natural gas distribution does not reach. Perhaps that speaks to the higher costs that you saw as you travelled further south … here, in the off-peak season, propane can currently be had for about $1.30 per gallon.

    While I would certainly love to be able to fill up my vehicle from the propane tank sitting behind the garage, I think there would have to be considerable work done in the way of safety before propane could be widely used in transportation. Gasoline and diesel fuel are relatively stable at nominal temperatures, but propane has a nasty habit of exploding when not handled properly. Hence, it requires licensed persons and specialized equipment to store and distribute. Consider also that propane only remains a liquid when kept under pressure. A small leak in the distribution system and you have a very dangerous situation.

  • Mr. Sinister

    As you pointed out, one of the greatest problems with propane as a transportation fuel (as is the case with anything that seeks to compete with gasoline/diesel) is infrastructure. Propane, of course, is available almost anywhere in the country … but not where your Average Joe could easily pull up to top off their tank. Here in the frozen north, propane is widely used for heating in rural areas where natural gas distribution does not reach. Perhaps that speaks to the higher costs that you saw as you travelled further south … here, in the off-peak season, propane can currently be had for about $1.30 per gallon.

    While I would certainly love to be able to fill up my vehicle from the propane tank sitting behind the garage, I think there would have to be considerable work done in the way of safety before propane could be widely used in transportation. Gasoline and diesel fuel are relatively stable at nominal temperatures, but propane has a nasty habit of exploding when not handled properly. Hence, it requires licensed persons and specialized equipment to store and distribute. Consider also that propane only remains a liquid when kept under pressure. A small leak in the distribution system and you have a very dangerous situation.

  • Todd

    We are targeting fleets with propane to start when they return to a central location on a routine basis. Fleets that install their own fueling infrastructure qualify for a $.50 per gallon tax credit for every gallon dispensed and in this scenario the net cost per gallon is $1 per gallon or less.

    ROUSH does have CARB approval on their F-150 and will have CARB approval on the F-250/350 in October 2009 and February 2010 on the E-150/250/350 passenger and cargo vans.

    60% of propane comes from the natural gas refining process and 40% from the oil refining process so it is a very domestic fuel. Converting vehicles to propane is much less expensive than CNG and fuel infrastructure is a fraction of the cost of CNG fueling infrastructure. There is a reason propane is the 3rd most common engine fuel in the world behind gas and diesel.

  • Todd

    We are targeting fleets with propane to start when they return to a central location on a routine basis. Fleets that install their own fueling infrastructure qualify for a $.50 per gallon tax credit for every gallon dispensed and in this scenario the net cost per gallon is $1 per gallon or less.

    ROUSH does have CARB approval on their F-150 and will have CARB approval on the F-250/350 in October 2009 and February 2010 on the E-150/250/350 passenger and cargo vans.

    60% of propane comes from the natural gas refining process and 40% from the oil refining process so it is a very domestic fuel. Converting vehicles to propane is much less expensive than CNG and fuel infrastructure is a fraction of the cost of CNG fueling infrastructure. There is a reason propane is the 3rd most common engine fuel in the world behind gas and diesel.

  • Propane is a domestically produced fuel- 60% comes from the natural gas refining process and 40% from oil refining process.

    ROUSH does have CARB on the F-150 and will have CARB on the F-250/350 in October 2009 and on the E-150/250/350 by February 2010.

    We are targeting fleets to start our roll-out as they have the ability to install propane fuel infrastructure at their place of business and in this scenario their net propane price with the federal $.50/gallon tax credit is usually $1 per gallon or less.

    It is less expensive to convert vehicles than CNG, range is greater, operates under much lower pressures and propane fueling infrastructure is a fraction of the cost of CNG

  • Propane is a domestically produced fuel- 60% comes from the natural gas refining process and 40% from oil refining process.

    ROUSH does have CARB on the F-150 and will have CARB on the F-250/350 in October 2009 and on the E-150/250/350 by February 2010.

    We are targeting fleets to start our roll-out as they have the ability to install propane fuel infrastructure at their place of business and in this scenario their net propane price with the federal $.50/gallon tax credit is usually $1 per gallon or less.

    It is less expensive to convert vehicles than CNG, range is greater, operates under much lower pressures and propane fueling infrastructure is a fraction of the cost of CNG

  • Richard Young

    I have been reading a lot about ROUSH and their future vision for commercial vehicle energy. I agree with another comment that it’s refreshing to see someone from the top not only discuss alternative fuels, but take an aggressive and forward-thinking approach to solving this issue.

    I’ve found a couple of resources for more information and wanted to share it with the folks that are interested:

    http://www.roushperformance.com/propane.shtml

    http://www.youtube.com/ferrellgas1

    http://www.propanecouncil.org/

    I wasn’t able to find a really solid resource that had a bunch of links, not even on wikipedia (hint hint to the writers!)

  • Richard Young

    I have been reading a lot about ROUSH and their future vision for commercial vehicle energy. I agree with another comment that it’s refreshing to see someone from the top not only discuss alternative fuels, but take an aggressive and forward-thinking approach to solving this issue.

    I’ve found a couple of resources for more information and wanted to share it with the folks that are interested:

    http://www.roushperformance.com/propane.shtml

    http://www.youtube.com/ferrellgas1

    http://www.propanecouncil.org/

    I wasn’t able to find a really solid resource that had a bunch of links, not even on wikipedia (hint hint to the writers!)

  • All the comments on this site are accurate. C3H8 is the best motor fuel ever created. Unfortunately, it will never fly in the USA thanks to politicians, lobiest, & big oil monopolies. Even if people in this country were given free cars, they would still not go the LP route. Why ? Because they are not going to drive five miles or more to get fuel & wait for someone else to fill up their tank. The infrastructure is not here & never will be. I built & raced a propane powered drag race hydroplane for (7) years & set world speed & ET records and never was able to get a single sponsor. Forget it, even T. Boone Pickens can’t get anyone’s attention with all the money he has spent. Anyone out there need any propane carburetors?

    • jojo

      nap

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