Natural Gas Edging Out Propane in US

Propane autogas is cleaner-burning and much cheaper than regular vehicle fuels. But despite its many benefits, it's losing ground to natural gas in terms of US market share in the alternative transportation fuel market. (image: lpghomeheat.co.uk)

Propane autogas may be the world’s third most popular alternative vehicle fuel, but here in the US it’s losing ground to natural gas.

The US Energy Information Administration released figures this week on domestic consumption of alternative vehicle fuels. The figures show that consumption held steady in 2009 with a total of 431,107 thousand gasoline-equivalent gallons, compared to 430,329 thousand gasoline-equivalent gallons in 2008.

Natural gas accounted for more than half (52 percent) of all alternative fuels consumed by alternative transportation fuel vehicles (AFVs). Propane accounted for 30 percent and ethanol accounted for 16 percent. The remaining 2 percent was electricity, hydrogen, and other fuels.

“While the consumption of natural gas over the past five years in AFVs has increased due to its predominant use in the transit bus industry, consumption of propane has decreased from 45 percent of the overall alternative fuel consumption in 2008 to 30 percent in 2009,” the EIA said.

“The consumption of propane in heavy duty vehicles has remained relatively constant over the past five years; however, consumption of propane in light duty and medium duty vehicles has dropped significantly due to fleet retirements in these categories. Many fleets have replaced their light duty vehicles with flexible fueled and gasoline hybrid vehicles.”

Propane is much cheaper than traditional vehicle fuels such as gasoline and diesel. It is also much cleaner burning with significantly less greenhouse gas and carbon emissions. Another advantage is the gas is being produced in abundance here in the US, making us more self-sufficient and reducing our reliance on foreign oil imports.

Autogas for America are campaigning for greater recognition of the benefits of propane here in the US, driving infrastructure expansion and favorable legislation to support propane with federal subsidies.

There are currently 15 million propane-powered vehicles worldwide. However, propane’s popularity elsewhere, autogas suffers from low visibility here in the states.

The Propane Green Autogas Solutions Act is currently before Congress. It would extend tax credits for propane autogas, propane-fueled vehicles and propane infrastructure. The propane industry hopes the legislation will find support on Capitol Hill and give autogas a much needed boost in profile here in the US.