Enhancing Fleet Performance with Propane as an Alternative Fuel

Amidst a landscape driven by societal expectations, government regulations, and financial considerations, fleets nationwide are increasingly exploring alternative fuel options. While electric vehicles (EVs) are currently in the limelight, their suitability for all freight-hauling scenarios remains questionable. Some fleets are embracing alternative fuels such as propane to mitigate emissions without the complexities associated with EV adoption.

For instance, electric passenger vehicles can lose up to 20% of their range in cold weather. When loaded with cargo, electric vans and pickups suffer even greater losses. Randall Jubb, President of Jubb’s Bus Service in Maryland, noted that electric vehicle ranges can plummet due to heating in winter and air conditioning in summer. However, propane buses offer consistent performance regardless of weather conditions.

However, weather isn’t the sole factor influencing the shift away from electric. Application plays a vital role too. A recent AAA study highlighted that the Ford F-150 Lightning’s range dropped by 24.5% when hauling slightly less than its maximum capacity. Additionally, charging infrastructure hurdles deter many from electric adoption. Jubb cited a case of a county attempting to transition to an electric fleet but facing implementation challenges.

Steve Whaley, Director of Autogas Business Development at the Propane Education and Research Council (PERC), acknowledged the relevance of electric vehicles but proposed a blended fleet approach. Fleets could leverage the benefits of propane autogas, a near-zero emission solution. Propane autogas, also known as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), is clean-burning and domestically produced. PERC data indicated that propane autogas generates 43% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than grid-generated electricity. A study from West Virginia University revealed significantly lower emissions from propane autogas compared to diesel, with a 95% reduction in NOx emissions for propane-fueled buses.

According to the 2023 State of Sustainable Fleets Market Brief by Gladstein, Neandross & Associates, propane engines already meet EPA’s Clean Trucks Plan and California’s Low NOx Omnibus emissions standards. This compliance aligns with the stricter regulations faced by fleet owners. Propane’s competitive pricing also stands out, with the national average cost per gallon consistently around $1.50 compared to diesel at $4.24.

Beyond emissions benefits, fleets discover maintenance advantages with propane. Clean-burning propane doesn’t require complex exhaust treatments like diesel. Maintenance managers appreciate the simplicity. Elisa McAbee, owner of McAbee Trucking, highlighted the significant cost reduction in maintenance compared to diesel. Tippecanoe School Corp. reported routine maintenance for their propane autogas vehicles to be smoother compared to diesel counterparts, thanks to the absence of stringent emission controls.

Propane’s infrastructure is another compelling aspect. Setting up on-site refueling stations is cost-effective, making it an attractive proposition for fleets. The simplicity of installation and availability of providers contribute to its feasibility. Fleet owners can secure fuel contracts with ease due to the inexpensive infrastructure.

The road to emission reduction involves a diversified fleet approach. While electric vehicles are useful, the adoption of alternative fuels like propane autogas can play a crucial role in achieving efficiency, emission reduction, and cost savings across fleets.

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