Around the nation, fleets are facing more scrutiny than ever before to reduce emissions. Headlines in recent months shout that it’s ‘now or never’ if we want any chance at slowing climate change. If we really want to make a difference on the environment, solutions need to be implemented immediately to start replacing dirty diesel and gasoline vehicles from the road as quickly as possible.
While fleet owners I talk to understand the significance of operating a clean fleet, I also continue to hear the same line, “I can’t be environmentally sustainable if I’m not financially sustainable.” Mistakenly, many fleet owners think that going green has to be an expensive endeavor. While that is true of some alternative fuel options, it’s not the reality for every energy source. Propane autogas is an affordable, clean, and available fuel that’s used by thousands of fleets around the country every day.
As we think about the larger decarbonization effort, it will take a diverse mix of clean energy sources to achieve this goal. Propane autogas’ role in the movement is to ensure energy equity by offering a low-carbon solution to medium-duty (class 3-7) fleet owners without cost-prohibitive barriers. When you factor in the cost of a new vehicle and the costs for fuel, fluids, maintenance, and repairs, propane autogas provides the lowest costs for the lifetime of the vehicle, providing a short return on investment.
Let’s consider just the cost of the fuel itself. As oil prices fluctuate, propane autogas can beat diesel on price per gallon by as much as 50 percent. In most cases, propane autogas suppliers will work with fleet owners to create a mutually beneficial fuel contract that allows fleets to lock in a set price per gallon for a period of time. This is another layer of protection against fluctuating fuel prices and is especially helpful during times of high gasoline or diesel prices like much of the country has experienced in recent weeks.
Propane's Favorable Cost
Plus, propane autogas infrastructure is also affordable. In most cases, propane suppliers will provide the infrastructure equipment to a fleet at no cost in exchange for a mutually beneficial fuel contract. The refueling infrastructure is also designed to scale and can easily adapt to the varying needs of any size fleet.
So, how clean is propane autogas? Today’s engines are 90 percent cleaner than mandated EPA standards, with effectively zero particulate matter emissions and 96 percent fewer NOx emissions than clean diesel engines. The latest propane autogas engine technology is classified as near-zero and has moved the fuel even closer to achieving zero emissions levels.
Low Carbon Footprint
Not to mention, a recent study by the Propane Education & Research Council found propane-powered medium-duty vehicles provide a lower lifetime carbon footprint in the majority of U.S. states when compared to medium-duty EVs that are charged using those states’ electric grid. This is due to the amount of carbon that is produced from each state’s unique energy mix for electricity generation using coal, petroleum, or other primary sources.
While EVs may have zero tailpipe emissions, emissions are generated prior to the wheels turning on the road through the electric grid and the powertrain (chiefly battery manufacturing) production. When comparing the difference in lifecycle equivalent carbon dioxide (CO2eq) emissions of a single medium-duty vehicle, propane autogas on a national average emits 125 tons of CO2eq less than an electric medium-duty vehicle.
The study also reviewed the lifetime carbon emissions of a medium-duty vehicle operating on renewable propane – an energy source made from a mix of waste residues and sustainably sourced materials, including agricultural waste products, cooking oil, and meat fats. It has the same chemical structure and physical properties as conventional propane, but because it’s produced from renewable, raw materials, it has an even lower carbon intensity. As the study found, renewable propane medium-duty vehicles currently provide a lower carbon footprint solution than comparable EVs in every U.S. state except Vermont.
As we think about both the immediate need to start reducing emissions today and the long-term goal of providing a better environment for the next generation, propane autogas is a critical energy source that will help to move the needle in both situations. Decarbonization will not be solved overnight. But propane’s role as a clean energy source that can help fleets conquer their financial sustainability will set us on the path to one day reach better environmental sustainability.
Steve Whaley is the director of autogas business development for the Propane Education & Research Council, Propane.com/Fleet-Vehicles