Global Propane: Welcome to the Self-Proclaimed Autogas Capital of the World

Twilight over Guangzhou, China, known as "The Flower City" and "Five Goats City." (image: ohmytrip via flickr.com)

The streets of Guangzhou, a massive trading port in the south of China, bustle with propane-powered traffic. According to estimates, there are 24,000 transit vehicles that run on autogas* in the city — or about 95-percent of the public transportation fleet. And with 40 new propane fueling stations to strengthen the city’s LPG infrastructure, Guangzhou has become the self-proclaimed autogas capital of the world, according to this recent report from the Chinese automotive news site, Gasgoo.com.

By comparison, there are about 270,000 on-road propane vehicles in the United States, the Department of Energy says.

In promoting propane, Guangzhou city leaders touted the usual advantages: lower toxic emissions and propane prices well below gasoline prices. Propane for the city’s taxis and buses costs about 60-percent of the price of gas. And for a typical propane cab, that translates to savings of $15.21 in a single day of fare-cruising.

China began promoting autogas in 2001, when the fuel was introduced to nine major cities, including Beijing and Shanghai. Consumption has doubled between 2004 and 2009, according to the World LP Gas Association. Though residential and industrial demands make up the largest two pieces of the Chinese propane pie (close to 90-percent all together).

But the autogas sector is poised to continue growing. Guangzhou, China’s third largest city, has put its public transportation on propane, and now put in the investment to make it viable. (Sidenote: 40 LPG stations are more than the entire state of Kansas, which is home to the United States’ second largest propane hub). The commitment is there, but will the trend catch on with the larger car-buying public? That could have an impact on the global export market; at the moment, the country can only produce a quarter of the autogas it consumes.

*Reminder: Autogas is propane that goes in a car’s gas tank, and the preferred word in the industry.

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