According to a new report by the American Lung Association, the Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area has the worst smog pollution in the nation. Coincidentally (or not), this year’s Advanced Clean Transportation Expo is being held in Long Beach. This event showcases the cleanest and most efficient vehicles, fuels, and technologies that will shape the future of transportation. As California considers ways to eliminate smog-inducing trucks from its roadways and ship ports, lawmakers should consider a wide path approach to decarbonization. This will help Californians achieve climate goals faster and improve air quality for everyone, including our most vulnerable populations who often live near highways and other major thoroughfares.  

While electrification may be seen as the darling for climate change, America is missing a prime opportunity to address climate change today by not taking greater advantage of propane. 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. Replacing diesel with propane means no more dirty soot coming from tailpipes – and cleaner air to breathe – for everyone.

Would it surprise you to learn that the U.S. is the biggest producer and exporter of propane? Not only is it an American-made fuel, but it is readily available and abundant in supply. In fact, there is enough surplus propane in the U.S. – 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.

Medium-duty vehicles powered by renewable propane will produce almost no greenhouse gases. In California, World Clean Energy is producing 11 million gallons of carbon zero renewable propane that will be ready for use next year. By 2023, total renewable propane production in the U.S. is expected to reach 25 million gallons, and this number is only going to increase 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 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.

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 nor 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 surpassed 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.

If we truly want to clean up the air we breathe and create a healthier environment for future generations, then it’s time to act now.

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