While the world carries on about electrification as THE solution for climate change, America is missing a prime opportunity to transition medium-duty fleets using an American-made fuel that is readily available and abundant in supply. Would it surprise you to learn there is enough surplus propane in the United States – 20 billion gallons to be exact – to convert at least half of the country’s medium-duty vehicles from diesel to propane? This would reduce carbon emissions by 21 million metric tons, which is equivalent to taking 4.5 million cars off the road every year.

Propane is a by-product of natural gas processing and considered a clean alternative fuel by the U.S. Department of Energy. It produces zero methane, extremely low levels of nitrogen oxides and virtually no particulate matter. Medium-duty vehicles that use conventional propane produce 10 to 15 percent fewer carbon emissions compared with diesel and are cleaner than electricity in 38 states since 60 percent of electricity is still generated from fossil fuels according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Medium-duty vehicles powered by renewable propane will reduce carbon emissions by 100 percent. By 2023, total renewable propane production in the U.S. is expected to reach 25 million gallons, and this number is only going to go up as the market begins to demand more of it.

Earlier this year, engine manufacturer Cummins announced new breakthrough engine technology so efficient that, when paired with propane and other clean fuels, it will reduce carbon emissions in medium-duty fleets by an additional 20 percent. This engine will be ready for market by 2024, making it a very near-term solution for decarbonization. The propane industry saw so much potential in this engine’s ability to reduce emissions, it invested $18 million in the research and development of the product. This is the type of commitment America needs from businesses when it comes to addressing decarbonization.

Transportation is the leading offender of carbon emissions. According to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Transportation Energy Book, medium-duty and heavy-duty fleets make up almost 80 percent of total diesel consumption for transportation in the U.S. Of that, medium-duty fleets account for approximately 11 percent of emissions (201.1 million metric tons) generated from the transportation sector. These vehicles include everything from food and beverage delivery trucks to postal trucks and airport shuttles. There are approximately 51,000 paratransit vehicles nationwide.

America needs more than one solution if it’s going to successfully decarbonize the planet, which is why companies should not be so quick to write off other alternative fuels. While electrification is here to stay, there are challenges that cannot be ignored or addressed overnight, including the time frame for reinforcing our nation’s electric grid, building charging infrastructure, and addressing the environmental impacts of mineral mining and battery recycling. America simply can’t stand by and wait for these issues to be resolved.

A study performed by Natural Gas Vehicles for America further validates the need for a wide path approach. NGVA researchers used data from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the California Air Resources Board, and other environmental entities to produce a cost-benefit analysis related to each state’s investments in alternative fuel solutions and the impact on NOx emissions.

Between 2005 and 2019, California spent 46 percent more ($816 million) on alternative fuel solutions compared with Texas ($561 million), yet Texas exceeded California in reducing NOx emissions by 61,610 tons compared with 35,299 tons in California (43 percent less). This is because Texas chose to focus on replacing older, dirtier medium-duty and heavy-duty diesel trucks with a variety of newer, cleaner fuels such as propane, gas, and diesel hybrid alternatives. Meanwhile, California focused its funding on medium-duty and heavy-duty battery electric test projects.

Moving forward, it’s imperative that fleet owners have a holistic view of their options based on emissions reduction potential, cost, and efficiency. To help with the emissions piece, the Propane Education and Research Council (PERC) has developed an emissions calculator that allows fleet owners to compare conventional propane, renewable propane, and electric medium-duty truck emissions by state. Having practical applications like this will help eliminate confusion over what types of clean energy solutions have the most impact today and in the future.

As we approach Earth Day 2022, we urge Americans, regardless of political affiliation, to accept a wide path approach that uses multiple energy solutions to satisfy a variety of applications. Only then will we truly begin to achieve our climate goals.

-Tucker Perkins, President & CEO, Propane Education and Research Council