Propane Makes Its Way to a Jobsite Near You
On the vast majority of construction sites, diesel continues to be the predominant source of power for vehicles and equipment. But there are alternatives creeping into the mix. One that shows significant potential for continued growth is propane.
At first glance, the prospect of widespread use of propane on your projects may seem farfetched. Yet, propane has been in use for decades in a range of applications and industries. Its reliability as a small engine fuel source has led to a growing number of construction applications being powered by the fuel. And its emissions profile allows it to be used both indoors and out.
Propane is a gas normally compressed and stored as a liquid. It is sometimes known as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG or LP gas). When compared to gasoline, it emits 17% fewer greenhouse gases and 50% less carbon monoxide. Propane equipment also emits 19% less nitrogen oxide (NOx) than equipment fueled by gasoline.
Propane’s portability, low emissions and ease of refueling make it an effective choice for construction jobsites. On sites that aren’t yet connected to utilities or are located beyond the electrical grid, it enables work to be completed without the need to bring in an alternative power source for electric equipment.
According to PERC, propane engines are capable of providing the same attributes as diesel but in an easier to use form.
Image Source: Propane Education & Research Council
Following are some examples of how propane is currently in use:
Growth Potential in Heavy Equipment
Propane has achieved a solid foothold in small engine-powered machines, but has yet to gain a substantial grip on the larger off-road segment. As technology progresses, its potential as an alternative to diesel in heavier duty, high-horsepower applications is likely to evolve. The key motivator has been, and will continue to be, the added complexity, cost, and owning and operating expense that came as a result of Tier 4 Final emissions regulations.
According to the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), propane engines are capable of providing the same attributes as diesel engines but in an easier to use form. Unlike diesel, propane engines do not require complex emissions systems with additional fluids or filters to meet Tier 4 Final. The same emissions standards are achieved with a simple three-way catalyst, and simple controls. The total cost of ownership (initial purchase price, fuel costs, maintenance, and transport and storage of fuel) is also cost competitive, particularly given the propensity for price fluctuations in gasoline and diesel fuel.
One of the challenges in moving into higher horsepower applications is ensuring propane-powered products provide durability and maintenance benefits that are equal to, if not better, than diesel or gasoline engines. The other challenge is getting the industry comfortable with an alternative fuel source. Organizations such as PERC aim to overcome this through education, training and experience in bringing propane to other markets.
As part of its efforts to expand market adoption of propane engine technology, PERC has been working with industry partners to identify additional opportunities for propane engines in mobile off-highway applications. Knowledge gained from the vehicle industry’s use of on-road dual-fuel engines - which are subject to stricter emissions, reliability and durability requirements - is also being applied in the development of off-road models.
PERC has launched an online map to showcase the growing number of fleets that use propane autogas to fuel their trucks, vans, buses and sedans. This interactive resource charts fleets nationwide that are succeeding with propane autogas vehicles.
Put Your Fleet ON THE MAP
Safe management and handling is critical with any fuel, and propane is no exception. PERC offers a variety of information and resources to help you maximize safety in your home, your business or your jobsites.
Basics About Propane
Propane is a gas normally compressed and stored as a liquid. It is nontoxic, colorless and virtually odorless. It offers the same performance characteristics as natural gas.
Propane has been used as a transportation fuel since the 1940s and is capable of powering light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles equipped for its use. When used as vehicle fuel, it is known as propane autogas.
Interest in propane as an alternative fuel stems from its domestic availability, high energy density, clean-burning qualities and relatively low cost. It also presents no threat to soil, surface water or ground water.
It is the world's third most common transportation fuel, behind gasoline and diesel.
Its high octane rating makes propane an excellent choice for spark-ignited internal combustion engines. However, it has a lower British thermal unit (BTU) rating than gasoline, so it does take more fuel by volume to drive the same distance.
Because of its higher octane rating compared to gasoline, it can be used with higher engine compression ratios and prevents engine knocking.
Propane is stored onboard a vehicle in a tank pressurized to about 150 psi — about twice the pressure of an inflated truck tire. Under this pressure, propane becomes a liquid with an energy density 270 times greater than its gaseous form.
If there is a leak, propane will dissipate into the air. Because it is heavier than air, it will linger in low spots, while compressed natural gas (CNG) is lighter than air and rises.