The forgotten transportation fuel: Why some believe propane deserves a second look

Strolling the floor at the National Truck Equipment Association’s Work Truck Show in Indianapolis last week, one booth had a large baby blue box van in it. Among the rest of the displays in the booth, this truck, built on the Ford (NYSE: F) F-750 truck platform, was powered by propane (sometimes called autogas) in a system developed by Roush CleanTech. The truck generated a broader question – “Why don’t more fleets use propane as a transportation fuel?”

Mike Taylor, director of autogas business development for the Propane Education & Resource Council (PERC), answered, “That is a really good question.” He told FreightWaves, “I wish I had a good answer.”

Propane is a byproduct of natural gas processing and petroleum refining and it is estimated that the U.S. has a 200-year supply of the fuel source. While it doesn’t pack quite the punch that diesel fuel does, it does produce enough power to handle many of the tasks diesel engines are asked to accomplish at a fraction of the overall cost, Taylor said.

Some fleets have embraced propane as a transportation fuel, while others stick with diesel or even gasoline if they operate medium-duty trucks. A primary reason is energy density. Based on a gallon of gasoline basis, diesel fuel provides 113 percent of the energy density, while propane provides just 73 percent, which is a significant drop-off.