The Resiliency of Propane
When asking members in the propane industry how they’re faring during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, “the first thing they’ll tell you is they’re more busy now than they ever have been,” according to Jeremy Wishart, director of technical communications for the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC).
That’s because from its economical and energy efficient features to its ability to be readily available across several markets, propane has become the go-to fuel source amid a crisis like COVID-19.
For starters, propane reduces a company’s dependence on the electrical grid. This way, employees can still practice social distancing, yet work with a fuel source that’s reliable, economical and resilient.
“Resiliency of propane is kind of our big push,” says Wishart. “As we’ve seen in California, when brownouts and blackouts happen, they’re a big issue to a warehouse and to a port where they may be operating 24/7. They need power. And, running out of power means no work gets done. No money gets made. And, things get backed up. But, if the power’s out, you’re still going to be rolling with propane. The refueling stations, whether it’s on-site refueling or cylinder exchange, operate for the most part on their own and can be standalone whether they need electricity or not.”
“Ports operating propane-powered equipment are able to reduce emissions, …whether it be a forklift, a medium-duty vehicle or even a small ocean liner moving materials throughout a port.”
– Jeremy Wishart, director of technical communications for the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC)
Why ports pick propane
Propane has been a reliable, trusted engine fuel used in the transportation sector for both on- and off-road vehicles for several decades. Today, it’s used in a wide variety of port applications, including forklifts, port and terminal tractors, light- and medium-duty vehicles, shuttles and small marine vessels. That’s why a growing number of ports are looking to propane to meet their environmental and energy solution needs.
“Ports operating propane-powered equipment are able to reduce emissions, improve air quality, decrease the negative environmental impacts surrounding facilities and help people living and working near ports across the country breathe cleaner air,” says Wishart. “This holds true whether it be a forklift, a medium-duty vehicle or even a small ocean liner moving materials throughout a port.”
Propane technology provides port operations with a number of key advantages, including increased energy efficiency, energy security and resiliency, as well as portability and safety. Plus, propane provides the versatility to tackle a wide variety of applications for telehandlers, empty container handlers, reach stackers, port trucks and more.
“From an economic and environmental standpoint, I’m fairly certain in saying that propane is kind of unmatched by its competitors right now,” adds Wishart.
That’s because the technology hasn’t come far enough in terms of battery electric, or even running enough electric to the port or to a site. And, while natural gas could be an answer, it also comes with huge costs.
“Whether it’s compressed natural gas or liquefied natural gas systems, it is expensive all around. The infrastructure for it is
massive in terms of its footprint,” says Wishart. “Propane doesn’t add to your cost of ownership and cost of operations, which is kind of that perfect balance that ports are looking for right now.”
Propane is also non-toxic, so it does not contaminate air, land or water resources like gasoline and diesel can. And, according to the EPA, switching to a cleaner fuel is one of the most effective strategies for emissions reduction.
“Crews don’t want to be bothered with multiple fuel types and energy sources to complete different types of jobs. Fortunately, propane provides the versatility to handle various load sizes, operate indoors or outside and even operate on- or off-road and land- or seaside,” says Wishart.
Schwan has approximately 3,000 propane vehicles out of a 4,200-vehicle fleet. The company has propane fueling stations at the majority of its depots.
Delivery trucks drive on propane
At the end of the day, every company, pandemic or not, looks to improve their bottom line. And, for fleet and transportation providers, fuel is one of those line items that constantly requires attention.
For instance, data from the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) says the average trucking cost per mile in the United States is $1.82. This means, if one truck drove 100,000 miles last year, the company spent $182,000 to keep that single truck on the road.
“First and foremost, companies want to protect their bottom line economically to benefit their company. They also want to do what’s right based on how people are operating in the world today and what their expectations are of their providers and who they’re buying from,” says Wishart.
That’s why propane autogas delivery trucks continue to gain popularity in the food and beverage industry. Companies protect their bottom line by lowering total cost of ownership, purchase cost, emissions and carbon footprint, all while doing the right thing environmentally.
For example, PERC works with bread, package and bottled water delivery companies who turn to propane as not just an alternative, but as a preferred fuel source.
PERC partnered with Roush CleanTech to deliver medium-duty propane Autogas vehicles for product deliveries for Nestlé Waters and Schwan’s Home Service.
“Fueling beverage delivery trucks with propane autogas offers the best total cost of ownership, without compromising standard delivery procedures,” says Todd Mouw, vice president of sales and marketing for ROUSH CleanTech. “By choosing this safe, abundant and American-made fuel, fleets around the nation are reducing their operating costs and lowering their carbon footprint.”
Plus, businesses moving goods with propane autogas vehicles can achieve a cleaner, low-emissions operation. Propane autogas vehicles reduce NOx emissions by up to 36% compared to diesel vehicles, greenhouse gas emissions by up to 22% compared to gasoline vehicles and up to 45% less particulate matter than electric vehicles throughout the full fuel cycle.
How forklifts fuel up
Many of today’s material handling markets are going back to their tried-and-true fuel sources, which results in an uptick of propane adoption in forklifts.
“These companies have potentially gone off and experienced other fuel sources, other energy sources and other alternatives, and now they’re coming back to what they’ve known has worked and what they can rely on going forward to meet emissions goals, and that’s propane,” says Wishart.
Whether the company is situated in an emissions-sensitive area like California, or needs to better budget for fuel, propane prevents users from waiting for demand charges for electricity.
“When it comes down to it, it’s going back to the technology they know has been reliable for them. This technology has been there for decades. The fuel has been there for decades. It’s a known entity, they feel safe around it, they know they’re going to be able to get a full 8-hour shift out of it, swap a cylinder out on the forklift and go another 8-hour shift if they have to. Operators can continue to practice their social distancing needs and not have to huddle around a recharging station or a battery changeout station. They don’t have to manage multiple handoffs of the lift truck. Propane allows one truck to do a whole lot of work,” Wishart says.
A study conducted with the Gas Technology Institute (GTI) revealed propane-powered forklifts can lower emissions, resulting in 16% less greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline forklifts and 11% less than natural gas; 17% less NOx than gasoline forklifts and 76% less SOx than electric forklifts and 15% less than gasoline forklifts.
“Propane and electric forklifts dominate the light-duty market, while diesel forklifts tend to dominate the heavy-duty market,” says Patricia Rowley, R&D manager for GTI. “Propane forklifts are cost effective, easily maintained and quicker to refuel than electric options since they do not require charging time. Propane forklifts are suitable for both indoor and outdoor use and have consistent performance across a wide range of terrains, load sizes and operating speeds.”
Switching to propane doesn’t have to be an intimidating experience. Companies interested in learning more should reach out to a local propane retailer and discuss opportunities for their sites.
“At the end of the day, propane is not all that different than pumping gasoline or diesel into your vehicle,” says Wishart. “If you can pump gasoline, you can refill propane into a larger cylinder that’s either on board or potentially on a cylinder refueling station on-site.”
One would almost argue that it’s easier than filling a car with gasoline, according to Matt McDonald, director of off-road business development for PERC.
If you can pump gasoline, you can refill propane into a larger cylinder that’s either on board or potentially on a cylinder refueling station on-site.
“There’s only one right way to implement propane into your facility. There’s a pin that aligns through the cylinder that doesn’t allow you to put it on any different way. So, there’s a lot of safety measures and steps that go into it. Your propane retailer will tell you the safe place to store the cage, where to put the cage, how many feet away from an entry and how many feet away from a source of ignition,” he adds. “Your propane retailer is really the person that’s going to not do anything unsafe and not allow you to do anything unsafe.”
Operating with propane comes with energy resiliency and peace of mind. It’s a sustainable source of fuel in a time when demand has skyrocketed and supply chains need relief. It’s efficient, economical and safe, and is considered to be the next-generation integration of propane engines.
“Companies want to do things that bring emissions level down to zero and still maintain cost effectiveness, initial purchase price and fuel price,” says Wishart. “These are going to be wins across the material handling and ports markets in general for propane.”
Operating with propane comes with energy resiliency and peace of mind.
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iStock / Getty Images Plus: AvigatorPhotographer, Nikilay Gluhov, vladwel, St_Aurora72, tarras79, Warut1, engabito, Macrovector, MuchMania, stickytoffeepudding, ONYXprj, ikryannikovgmailcom | DigitalVision Vectors: Dimitris66, appleuzr | E+: kali9