Propane Benefits and Considerations
Also known as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), propane is a domestically produced, well-established, clean-burning fuel. Using propane as a vehicle fuel increases energy security, provides convenience and performance benefits, and improves public health and the environment.
In 2010, the United States imported about 49% of the petroleum it consumed, two thirds of which was used to fuel vehicles in the form of gasoline and diesel. With much of the worldwide petroleum reserves located in politically volatile countries, the United States is vulnerable to supply disruptions.
Fueling vehicles with propane is one way to diversify U.S. transportation fuels. The vast majority of propane consumed in the United States is produced there and distributed via an established infrastructure. Using propane vehicles instead of conventional vehicles reduces U.S. dependence on foreign oil and increases energy security.
Vehicle and Infrastructure Availability
A variety of light-, medium-, and heavy-duty propane vehicle models are available through original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and select dealerships. For options, see the Heavy-Duty Vehicle and Engine Search, the Light-Duty Vehicle Search, and the Clean Cities 2012 Vehicle Buyer's Guide.
OEM-delivered, light-duty propane vehicles can cost several thousand dollars more than comparable gasoline vehicles. Fleets and consumers also have the option of economically, safely, and reliably converting existing light-, medium-, and heavy-duty gasoline or diesel vehicles for propane operation using qualified system retrofitters. It's critical that all vehicle and engine conversions meet the emissions and safety regulations and standards instituted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and state agencies like the California Air Resources Board. Learn about propane vehicle conversions.
Although propane is widely available in the United States, vehicle fueling infrastructure is limited. Therefore, fleets may need to install their own propane stations. Fleets can also work with local propane marketers to establish the fueling infrastructure. Costs will depend on the fuel contract and the complexity of the equipment being installed.
Fuel Economy and Performance
Typically in fleet applications, propane costs less than gasoline and offers a comparable driving range to conventional fuel. Although it has a higher octane rating than gasoline rating (104 to 112 compared with 87 to 92 for gasoline), and potentially more horsepower, it has a lower Btu rating than gasoline, which results in lower fuel economy.
Lower maintenance costs are a prime 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.
Public Health and Environment
Propane is nontoxic, nonpoisonous, and insoluble in water. Compared with vehicles fueled by conventional diesel and gasoline, propane vehicles can produce lower amounts of some harmful air pollutants and greenhouse gases, depending on vehicle type, drive cycle, and engine calibration. Learn more about propane emissions.