Posting in Design
What makes propane an attractive alternate fuel source? SmartPlanet spoke with Stuart Weidie, president of Alliance AutoGas, to find out more about propane fuel, known as autogas.
As the auto industry searches for alternate fuels to reduce carbon emissions as well as our dependence on foreign oil, a number of solutions have emerged, to varying degrees of success. Electric power allows cars to run emissions-free, but as most of our electricity comes from coal, charging an electric vehicle is not as environmentally friendly as it would seem. Solar power, while arguably the cleanest form of energy, could also be used to generate clean electricity, but it is currently unavailable in sufficient quantities to make a significant impact on the market.
Yet another option is propane fuel, also known as autogas. The natural gas derivative can be produced domestically, burns cleaner than gasoline, and on average costs $1.35 less per gallon at the pump.
Curious about autogas and its expansion as a fuel option, SmartPlanet spoke with Stuart Weidie, President and CEO of Blossman Gas and president of Alliance AutoGas, a company that focuses on the development of autogas - the propane that goes into vehicles.
SP: Let's start with the basics. What, exactly, is propane?
SW: Propane is derived from natural gas, which is plentiful in the U.S. thanks to sources such as natural gas shale. Sixty to seventy percent of the propane we use comes from natural gas. Another 35 to 40 percent comes as a by-product of the oil refining process. More than 90 percent of the propane that is consumed in this country is domestically produced. We are sitting on 200 years of domestic consumption of natural gas.
Propane is stored in its liquid state in sealed containers and sent through more than 70,000 miles of propane pipelines around the country. Once it reaches a designated storage facility, liquid propane is dispensed to a vehicle. It is never released into the atmosphere, and it is contained using a pressurized system.
SP: Is the U.S. the first country to use autogas as a fuel option?
SW: No - relative to other places in the world, we have been slow to adopt autogas. In some countries, like South Korea, Turkey, India, and Poland, more than 50 percent of vehicles run on autogas. This is because from the mid-1980s through 2005, we had very low gasoline and diesel costs relative to other parts of the world.
SP: Why is autogas a good alternative to gasoline?
SW: Tailpipe emissions from an autogas vehicle release 12-18 percent less CO2 than those of a gasoline-powered vehicle, and represent a 20% overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Also, autogas costs an average of $1.35 less per gallon than gasoline, a figure which includes a 50-cent-per-gallon tax credit.
SP: Propane is often associated with explosions. Should drivers be nervous about using autogas in their cars because of safety concerns?
SW: No. While that perception does exist, autogas has a better safety record than gasoline in accidents, as recorded in Europe and Asia (markets where autogas has been used for a longer period of time). The autogas is also stored in a puncture-resistant tank, and other safety systems are in place to ensure that no gas escapes. If there is no gas, there will be no explosion.
(Watch the video below to see a demonstration at a police station in Georgia where officers unsuccessfully tried to puncture a steel propane tank using a variety of handguns. A high-power weapon finally did the trick, but even then the tank did not explode, the gas just dissipated and had to be ignited with an additional shot.)
SP: Can ordinary cars run on autogas?
SW: Yes. A standard conversion to enable a car to run on autogas costs $5,000. If the vehicle logs 25,000 miles or more per year, the investment is recouped within 12 to 14 months (based on savings at the pump).
SP: How is Alliance AutoGas working to increase the use of autogas-powered cars?
SW: For now, Alliance AutoGas is focusing on light medium-duty fleets, such as taxis, state troopers, and emergency services. Vehicles are fitted with a bi-fuel system which allows them to start up on gasoline and switch to autogas. Cars can refuel at the fueling station installed at the fleet's site, but should they find themselves out of autogas, drivers can fill up on gasoline as well.
SP: Where do you hope to see the market for autogas over the next few years?
SW: We're focusing on fleets right now. If we penetrate the market over the next three to five years, there will be a general acceptance of autogas in the U.S., and in five to ten years, you'll see the construction of public refueling stations around the country (much as you see in Europe). This has been the model for other countries that have successfully deployed autogas.
Photos: Alliance AutoGas
Oct 16, 2011
I was raised on a ranch in west Texas, in 60s, we ran everything on propane. The tractor, the pickup,the Buick, and heating and cooking in the house. We stopped using it when the government stepped in and told us that we had to start keeping books on how much propane we used. My grandfather said no and we stopped using propane except in the house and the tractor.
fuel is a headache I have always been fighting the fuel crises from the very beginning since I have had a car http://www.national.co.uk/branch-200-Hassocks.aspx
EVs are still much cleaner than internal combustion driven cars even if the electricity is produced with dirty fuel. This is because electric motors are around 90% efficient vs about 30% efficiency for ICE driven cars. So you burn less dirty fuel than if it were burned in the car. Of course if we transition more aggressively to wind, solar and microhydro it gets even better. Some EV manufacturers are selling solar car port/charging stations with their vehicles. Short-term, until we can recharge batteries in 10 minutes or so, a propane/electric hydrid could be a good solution.
However..with propane the mileage will not be equivalent - the energy density per liter of liquid propane is approximately 27% less than the average regular gasoline (even the current junk "reformulated" gasoline).
Joe Mason says: I am not an expert on all this but it seems to me that the way Natural Gas is produced is pretty darned harmful to our environment. You are right. You are clearly not an expert. The Gasland documentary is pure propaganda from irresponsible greenies who see a real problem coming up (for them), namely the end of their fraudulent energy alarmism. Anybody who doubts this should read Matt Ridley's two latest articles: http://www.thegwpf.org/uk-news/4102-matt-ridley-making-wind-farms-obsolete.html and http://www.thegwpf.org/images/stories/gwpf-reports/Shale-Gas_4_May_11.pdf Happy reading.
Channtal, You say: Electric power allows cars to run emissions-free, but as most of our electricity comes from coal, charging an electric vehicle is not as environmentally friendly as it would seem. Please replace that classic Smart Planet grudging comment with the truth: Electric power allows cars to run emissions-free, but as 90% of our electricity comes from CO2-generating power stations (coal, oil, gas), charging an electric vehicle is not at all environmentally friendly, despite all the hype from governments and manufacturers to the contrary.
I am not an expert on all this but it seems to me that the way Natural Gas is produced is pretty darned harmful to our environment. It's a process called fracking. To learn more about fracking see the documentary called "GasLand". According to the documentary fracking is very harmful to our ground water and it seems that little is being done to stop it. So, I think while there are some benefits to propane, it's downside is very harmful and the overall cost is very high - something that we must not allow. - Joe
In 2007 I drove a propane powered 1/2 ton GMC van/motor home conversion from Vancouver B.C. to Firebaugh, CA and was able to find fuel all along the way.
Way back in 1981, in Italy, I purchased a 1967 MBZ 250SL that had been converted to run on Autogas. Technology back then wasn't all that great of course, and you had to start your car using regular gasoline, and then reach down and flip a switch to feed the car propane instead of gasoline. Ran like a champ and I saved a ton of money the 7 years I spent in Italy (back then European prices for gasoline were huge because of highway taxes, but both diesel and propane were sold back then nearly tax free in most countries for various reasons.) Now--?? I saved on both the basic price of propane vs gasoline and in taxes. Lot of flexibility as I traveled since my regular gas tank was not removed and could seek out the best deal. But when the USAF sent me back to the US in 1988, I had the tank and propane fuel lines removed -- because I knew that I'd never find a propane distributor in the US that would fill up my car sinc it wasn't a back yard barbeque tank. Chuck
This summer I visited Poland and saw first hand in the countryside funky old cars that ran on either propane or gasoline. The cars had been converted by local mechanics and I can assure you the conversions did not cost $5000.
Yes, cars will run on propane as well as bio fuels, "normal gas", electric, hydrogen and more... I think the future won't be an either or situation it will be AND...
30 yrs ago in Italy bought 1967MBZ SL which was converted to AutoGas. Still had regular gas tank. Great flexibility. With both tanks, I could go anywhere in any country. In all of Italy I could fill up with AutoGas but in Greece and Turkey, only gasoline was available. Car ran really, really clean and all sorts of combustion residue in engine was cleaned away by the AutoGas use. Chuck
I really don't think that electric cars are going to be anything other than a commuter vehicle, or less. People in the U.S. will never subject themselves to a car that can't drive 300 miles without stopping, and can be "refueled" in a few minutes. Today's EVs are doomed to be the second car someone owns because you'd still need that 300+ mile per fill-up vehicle.
back in the 79's my boss converted tour busses and vans to use both propane and gas because propane was easier to obtain in Mexico and Central America. The propane does not let you 'jump out of the gait,, but the engines were clean, no bad emissions, and much cheaper than gas. he did not spend a fortune on the conversion either.