With reports coming out that gas prices could hit $5.00 a gallon soon, the magnifying glass has been put on alternative fuels like never before. One low profile alternative fuel being considered is propane autogas.
Everyone knows about natural gas as an alternative fuel and the controversy that surround it. However, most in America have not heard of propane auto gas. Propane is a byproduct of natural gas and petroleum, occurring naturally during domestic oil refining and natural gas processing. It is 270 times more compact as a liquid than as a gas, making propane highly economical to store and transport. Propane is also known as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG or LP gas) and when propane used as an on-road engine fuel, it is called propane autogas.
Worldwide there are more than 15 million vehicles in using propane autogas making it the third most common engine fuel behind gasoline and diesel fuel. In the U.S. propane autogas fuels about 270,000 vehicles with 2,500 autogas fueling stations found across the United States.
Propane autogas is domestically produced, has historically cost 30 – 40 percent less than gasoline per gallon, and does not rob a car of its performance like other alternative fuels. With an octane level of 105, autogas will not take the power out of your alternative fueled vehicle. Additionally, autogas burns cleaner than gasoline which means less maintenance and less maintenance cost for your vehicle – plus propane autogas weighs approximately 1.86 pounds less per gallon than gasoline.
Why have we in America not heard of this before? Well, for one thing the American propane industry has been in decline for some time now. Also, there is no one central big American propane company. The American propane industry is comprised of many small companies spread out across the U.S. This means that the American propane industry does not have much lobbying power on Capitol Hill and no big named spokes person, like T. Boone Pickens does for natural gas.
Tucker Perkins, chief operating officer and president of the trade group CleanFUEL USA, understands the problem but points out that things are getting better for autogas saying,
“It used to be that almost no one we would talk to had any knowledge about autogas, even though here we are as the number 3 fuel in the world. I would definitely say its better, but by no means have we reached the point where we can say the job is done. We’re not even close to that.”
Stuart Weidie is the leader of the industry group Autogas for America and it is because of Weidie and the efforts of Autogas for America that autogas is gaining some attention in America. Weidie and his group introduced the “Propane Green Autogas Solutions (GAS) Act” to Capitol Hill in 2011. The Propane GAS Act has since been introduced in both the House of Representatives and Senate and currently is pending in the Ways and Means and Finance committees — A.K.A. where issues go to die.
Overall, the current state of autogas support in America is not that strong. However, as more American’s head back to work, tensions continue to rise in the Middle East, and gas prices creeping up varied types of alternative fueled vehicles are stepping into the limelight. In fact, Pittsburgh’s Yellow Cab recently announced their plan to convert 75 of their fleet vehicles to run on autogas. There is interest in alternative fuels and America should not count the propane industry and autogas out just yet.
Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. Being an Eagle Scout, Andrew has a passion for all things environmental. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMeggison