Engine Technology Forum highlights use of propane in decarbonization

Updated May 6, 2024
Propane tank truck

Propane is a viable step on the zero emissions ladder, the Engine Technology Forum, Propane Education and Research Council, Katech Engineering and Stanadyne said in a webinar Wednesday. 

"Meeting the climate challenge requires many solutions," says Allen Schaeffer, host of the webinar and executive director of the Engine Technology Forum. "These new innovations in direct injection technology for propane engines, and the use of renewable propane, have the potential to be a game changer for expanding the use of propane technology to more applications." 

The webinar highlighted the use of direct injection strategies, which the panel said could even beat the efficiency of the diesel engine in certain applications. 

Gav Hale, from the Propane Education and Research Council, says viable alternative fuels must have reliability, even in adverse conditions; a reduction in emissions; affordability; performance equal to or better than the original fuel; and uncompromised performance and efficiency. 

"Propane can enable all of this," he says. "Not everything, everywhere, all at once. It's a journey." 

Propane is 100% made in the United States, Hale says, and is already used to power households, farms, forklifts, school buses and generators. It works with existing systems in many instances, including in the garage bay, and there's a distribution system already in place. Plus, some users can even see a cost savings over diesel. 

It can also serve as a stepping stone to electric vehicles, running charging stations and supporting companies during the transition to battery electric trucks. 

"How on earth does America think it's going to provide this energy," Hale asked. "We just can't do it." 

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Propane comes from the waste stock made from the commercial production of oil and gas, Hale says, but it can also come in renewable forms from plants such as the camelina, a feedstock plant that grows well in the U.S. Molecularly, the renewable propane is the exact same as the petroleum-derived propane. 

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Renewable propane can help companies navigate the challenges of future emissions regulations, Hale says, which can make diesel "a very, very difficult fuel, close to nonviable." 

Propane with a compression ignition system and a turbocharger or supercharge is a game changer, Hale says. 

"This isn't science fiction," he says. "This is the economic delivery of science fact." 

Gunturu, from Stanadyne, and Suits, from Katech, discussed developing a direct injection propane test engine. Propane direct injection matched or exceeded power and torque from a baseline gas engine, they say, and passed a 250-hour durability test. Emissions showed promising results when compared to both gas and diesel, and the companies were able to come up with a system to inhibit vapor lock in the propane-powered engine. 

"Diesel is the current benchmark for thermal efficiency, and that's what we're aiming for with propane," Suits says.

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The following survey was sent as a link in an email cover message in February 2023 to the newsletter lists for Overdrive and CCJ. After approximately two weeks, a total of 176 owner-operators under their own authority, 113 owner-operators leased or assigned to a carrier and 82 fleet executives and 36 fleet employees from fleets with 10 or more power units had completed and submitted the questionnaire for a total of 407 qualified responses. Cross-tabulations based on respondent type are provided for each question when applicable.
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