With gasoline prices predicted to rise as much as 25 cents a gallon following a drone attack on two Saudi oil facilities that temporarily disrupted world oil supplies, propane gas is gaining new attention as a more stable fuel alternative for vehicles.
"Fluctuating gasoline and diesel prices should motivate consumers, specifically commercial fleet operators, to consider running propane fueled vehicles," Brian Richesson, editor-in-chief of LP Gas Magazine, which covers the propane industry, told Newsmax.
"These fleet operators will benefit from low fuel costs when they lock in prices with their local propane providers and they'll benefit from low maintenance costs because propane is a clean-burning fuel."
Richesson adds that one of propane's "greatest success stories" is with school buses. "Hundreds of school districts across the United States are now operating their buses on propane autogas because they're realizing the operational and environmental benefits of the clean-burning fuel," he says.
It's not clear how long it will take the Saudis recover from the unexpected attack, which affected about 5% of the world's oil supply and which Saudi Arabia insists was "unquestionably sponsored by Iran."
Propane, which proponents say is a clean-burning, non-carcinogenic alternative, has replaced many older traditional fuel sources to power buses, trucks, and other heavy machinery. In fact, it's the third most popular vehicle fuel in the world — behind gasoline and diesel. One big advantage is that it's relatively cost effective compared to other forms of fuel, producing many more units of energy.
It also meets the stringent clean-air energy standards of the Environmental Protection Agency, which found propane-powered vehicles producing 50% fewer toxins and emissions than motors propelled by gasoline. And unlike many solid fuels, propane is nontoxic and soluble in water — and because it's a gas, it can't accidentally spill and devastate oceans and parklands.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, propane's high octane rating, combined with its low-carbon and low oil-contamination characteristics, results in improved engine life compared to conventional gasoline engines. Engine start-ups in freezing cold weather are easier because propane is completely gaseous when entering the combustion chamber.
Michael Stivala, CEO of New Jersey-based Suburban Propane, the nation’s third-largest retail distributor of propane that sells 450 million gallons to 1.1 million residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural customers in 41 states every year, tells Newsmax most people aren't aware of how versatile the fuel is.
"People just equate it to their barbecue grill, but it is really much more than that. As an energy source, it really reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by vehicles. It's got about 50 to 70% less carbon monoxide than gasoline. It's cost effective," Stivala says.
"It's a very safe commodity to deal with — propane tanks are 20 times more puncture-resistant than the traditional gasoline and diesel tank," Stivala adds. "And it's an abundant product. It's readily available and 90% of it is produced right here in the U.S. It's a good clean American source of energy."
Perhaps propane's biggest competitor as far as cost efficiency and environmental friendliness is electricity. The auto industry is increasing production of electric cars and more charging stations are being built coast to coast. But the production of electricity does trigger environmental concerns.
According to the Pace Energy and Climate Center at Pace University, the variety of fuels used to generate electricity all have impact on the environment.
"Fossil fuel power plants release air pollution, require large amounts of cooling water, and can mar large tracts of land during the mining process," the center says. "Nuclear power plants are generating and accumulating copious quantities of radioactive waste that currently lack any repository. Even renewable energy facilities can affect wildlife (fish and birds), involve hazardous wastes, or require cooling water."
Suburban Propane's Stivala acknowledges electricity's growth, but says propane gives "better performance and better opportunities for refueling. It does compete pretty effectively."
"We haven't generated all of our electric from wind and solar at this point and I think we're very far away from that frankly, maybe decades, maybe never," he says. "To me, [propane] is a great bridge for the green energy future."
And with the sky being the limit for gas prices — financial website Money Crashers ominously asked in a recent headline, "$5 Per Gallon Gas Coming Soon?" — there's no question "green" also refers to potential savings.
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