Path to Zero
Path to Zero
3.15 - Reducing Carbon Intensity with Renewable Propane

In a special edition of Path to Zero, Tucker Perkins shares some significant news about renewable propane and why it’s a clean energy breakthrough.


Tucker Perkins, Host:

Typically, I have a guest with me but today, I’m flying solo for a very specific purpose.

I’m going to talk for just a few minutes about Renewable Propane, and right off the top, I’ve got some news I want to share with you.

PERC, in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Lab – we also call it by its acronym, NREL – recently published a study regarding renewable propane, and it ended with some surprising conclusions.

The study asked the question to bio-refiners: Is it in your financial interest to produce and sell renewable propane to marketers and markets, like transportation –– or –– is it financially smarter to use renewable propane within your refining processes as an on-site fuel or even as a feedstock for creating hydrogen?

The study took more than a year and concluded three things:

First, when sold as a fuel, biorefineries can realize significant revenue by leveraging renewable fuel credits even without a premium on the price of wholesale propane. That means it’s more lucrative to sell it to the marketplace than to use it as a feedstock.

Next, you have to ask, “how lucrative?”

Surprisingly, biorefineries can see a return on their CAPEX investments for the equipment needed to produce renewable propane in as little as two months for large biorefineries or up to 14 months in the worst-case scenario.

So, biorefiners make more money, and do so in a short amount of time.

Vermont welcomed the state’s first load of renewable propane in July (Photo courtesy: Proctor Gas staff)

That’s terrific! but as Steve Jobs used to say, “there’s one more thing.”

The one more thing is the most exciting aspect of renewable propane for me, and here it is ––– the carbon intensity of renewable propane is significantly lower than grid electricity and other fuels. This makes renewable propane a CLEAN ENERGY BREAKTHROUGH.

I’ll talk more about carbon intensity in just a minute, but I wanted you to hear from two experts who understand the potential of renewable propane.

Here’s what Kevin Lucke, the President of Chevron’s Renewable Energy Group had to say about it:

Kevin Lucke, President, Chevron’s Renewable Energy Group:
“We do produce renewable propane from our renewable diesel plant in Geismar Louisiana, and we are continuing to sell that to the transportation fuel market. We’re expanding that plant. So, we should be able to produce more renewable propane when that plant expansion is done. We’re going to need all sources of lower carbon solutions and renewable propane certainly is one of those going into the future.”

World Energy is investing $350 million into fully converting its Paramount refinery to renewable fuels. The company is looking to bring renewable propane to the market by the end of 2022.

And then, my friend Gary Grimes, who is the Director of Sustainability and Technology for World Energy, had this to say:

Gary Grimes, Director of Sustainability and Technology, World Energy
“We’ve long considered renewable propane. It has a number of options. In addition to road use, it could be used inside our facility. And that’s where it goes today, and it’s actually used in the production of these other fuels. It’s the fuel that we use in our heaters, in our process. We don’t currently in Plant A, have the ability to separate it out, although that’s something our engineering team is working on. And by the end of this year, we hope to be able to pull some of that renewable, propane out, and put it into the marketplace.”

It’s not a surprise to me that we’re seeing this enthusiasm. The promise of renewable propane is already being fulfilled!

I get pretty excited about all of this, and I bet you’d like to get on board, so how about we do this? Here, in rapid fire fashion, are five good things to know about renewable propane:

#1 – OK – you know about solar and wind but what is renewable propane made from?

The answer is that renewable propane can be made from a variety of renewable feedstocks, such as soybean oil, used cooking oil, and animal tallow.

The most common form today is a byproduct of renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel made primarily from animal fats, used cooking oil or vegetable oil.

Producing renewable propane using these feedstocks also cuts the amount of waste intended for landfills.

My favorite, though, is by using a plant called camelina. Camelina is a drought resistant ground cover that contains oils that are perfect for the production of renewable propane.

#2 –– How is it different from conventional propane?

The fantastic news is that it is NOT! It’s chemically exactly the same as conventional propane – which isn’t true for products like biodiesel. This means it can drop right into any engine.

It’s really important to talk about this because it means the transition to ultra-low carbon fuels can be done at virtually no cost.

#3 –– It has a wonderfully low carbon intensity. Carbon intensity is the amount of carbon by weight emitted per unit of energy consumed. The lower the number the better. And listen to these numbers:

Renewable propane has a carbon intensity of 21.

Conventional propane has a carbon intensity of 79

Gasoline is 86

Natural Gas is 87

Diesel is 105

And get this –– grid electricity that so many believe is the answer to reducing carbon emissions –– has a carbon intensity of 154!

Now you know why I call renewable propane a clean energy breakthrough!!

#4 –– It’s available today. U.S. production capacity across six of the largest refiners is approximately 10.5 million gallons per year. That’s just a start. We’re in the early days of renewable propane production so expect to see a lot more demand for it in the very near future, because…

And finally, #5 –– Innovation is happening today to make renewable propane even more incredible.

By blending renewable propane with, for example, Dimethyl Ether, which is a biodegradable fuel, it becomes what is known as “carbon positive.”

That means on the carbon intensity scale, renewable propane drops from 21 to zero and even below zero depending on the blend –– which feels like science fiction, but it’s science fact!

Well, those are five great reasons to love renewable propane. The National Renewable Energy Lab’s endorsement of its financial benefits for producers makes renewable propane a truly sustainable fuel that delivers a very low carbon fuel to people everywhere at an affordable cost.

That’s a trifecta in my book. It means renewable propane is truly Energy for Everyone.

I hope you get as excited about renewable propane as I do.

Thanks for tuning in. See you next time on Path to Zero!