Environmental Pros of Propane Vehicles

  • Evan Endres with the environmental group PennFuture says propane is much cleaner out of the tailpipes of vehicles than diesel fuel. Photo: Washington State Department of Transportation

July 6, 2013

Evan Endres, Energy Center Project Coordinator with the environmental group PennFuture, says using propane as a fuel for vehicles doesn’t score an “A+” for environmental friendliness, but it has a lot of benefits.  One of the pros is cleaner air, which has been a problem in Pennsylvania for some time. 

“Propane, like natural gas when it’s burned as a transportation fuel, is much cleaner out of the tailpipe of the vehicles, so displacing diesel fuel and gasoline is certainly a benefit to the air quality of the region,” Endres says.

He says when you apply the technology to school buses, where kids are constantly exposed to exhaust, there’s an acceleration of the value of transitioning from gas to propane.

Endres says electric cars are a great opportunity for for smaller vehicles, like the ones in cab companies, to get even greener.  But there are logistical issues.

“For instance, it[a taxi cab] doesn’t necessarily have set routes, and needs to be out there driving, then they’d be  a few steps away from being able to replace something like a regular gas cab with a Nissan Leaf,” Endres says.

So a cleaner-burning option in the interim gives cab companies an opportunity to make some headway with emissions--until battery-operated technology can go for an extended range.  He’s aware of school bus companies which are looking at plans to transition with propane.  It has the energy density to allow them to continue to operate their businesses, transporting kids, but with a cleaner fuel. 

Propane can be sourced from natural gas fracking, an industry which PennFuture has taken a stand against in the past.  But Endres points out that propane was once produced from the distillation of oil in the refining process. 

He says, “Propane is being produced in a different manner and one has to really take a look at the way propane was derived from oil and compare that with the way propane may be derived today from natural gas and really say, what is the potential net benefit there?”

Other environmental groups in the region, including Pittsburgh Region Green Cities, are also touting the use of propane as a cleaner fuel choice.