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Propane-Fueled Vehicle Basics

August 20, 2013 - 9:16am

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There are more than 270,000 on-road propane vehicles in the United States and more than 10 million worldwide. Many are used in fleets, including light- and heavy-duty trucks, buses, taxicabs, police cars, and rental and delivery vehicles. Compared with vehicles fueled with conventional diesel and gasoline, propane vehicles can produce significantly fewer harmful emissions.

The availability of new light-duty original equipment manufacturer propane vehicles has declined in recent years. However, certified installers can economically and reliably retrofit many light-duty vehicles for propane operation. Propane engines and fueling systems are also available for heavy-duty vehicles such as school buses and street sweepers.

Propane, also known as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), has been used in vehicles since the 1920s. Today, most propane vehicles are conversions from gasoline vehicles. Dedicated propane vehicles are designed to run only on propane; bi-fuel propane vehicles have two separate fueling systems that enable the vehicle to use either propane or gasoline.

Propane vehicle power, acceleration, and cruising speed are similar to those of gasoline-powered vehicles. The driving range for bi-fuel vehicles is comparable to that of gasoline vehicles. The range of dedicated gas-injection propane vehicles is generally less than gasoline vehicles because of the 25% lower energy content of propane and lower efficiency of gas-injection propane fuel systems. Extra storage tanks can increase range, but the additional weight displaces payload capacity. Liquid Propane Injection engines, introduced in 2006, promise to deliver fuel economy more comparable to gasoline systems.

Lower maintenance costs are a prime reason behind propane's popularity for use in delivery trucks, taxis, and buses. Propane's high octane rating (104 to 112 compared with 87 to 92 for gasoline) and low carbon and oil contamination characteristics have resulted in documented engine life of up to two times that of gasoline engines. Because the fuel mixture (propane and air) is completely gaseous, cold start problems associated with liquid fuel are eliminated.

Visit the Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center to learn more about propane vehicles.

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