Throughout the many months of the COVID-19 pandemic, propane distributors have made it possible for propane-powered grills and patio heaters to light up and warm up outdoor dinners and socially-distant visits with family and small groups of friends and loved ones. But did you know propane also plays a key role in paving the way to a net-zero emissions future? As Propane Education and Research Council’s (PERC) Director of Research and Sustainability, I’m often down in the details of particular research projects, but every once in a while, it’s nice to step back on this Earth Day 2021 and do a quick inventory of the big picture.
Confronting the Climate Crisis
It’s more obvious than ever that commerce and industry, energy producers, policymakers, academic experts, innovators, researchers, nonprofits and consumers have to come together to aggressively confront the climate crisis. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from every sector of the economy is key and so too are conserving natural resources, improving air quality and promoting environmental justice. The next decade will be a pivotal time to make a healthier and more equitable future for people and the planet possible.
The good news is that propane — a plentiful, cost-effective, reliable and environmentally-friendly domestic alternative energy — is already playing a key role in helping to transform the nation’s economy in a number of sectors, including agriculture, on-road transportation, off-road applications, home applications and commercial equipment. Why? Because in addition to having a lower carbon intensity than other conventional fuels, propane generates less particulate matter and pollutants attributed to smog formation and poses no hazard to vital freshwater or marine ecosystems.
Five Ways Propane is Making a Difference Today
Residential Equipment & Construction
Whether for new-home builds or retrofits, propane-fueled furnaces, water heaters and cooking appliances are helping nearly 12 million homeowners replace their higher carbon wood stoves and fuel oil furnaces and at the same time, creating healthier air quality for homes and neighborhoods.
More than 800,000 of America’s farmers are doing their part to cut their carbon footprint, lower operating costs and improve productivity thanks to propane-powered agricultural equipment such as irrigation engines, commercial mowers and flame weed control.
Ports & Shipping
Propane is helping to reduce air pollution at the nation’s ports by not only serving as a cleaner-burning, drop-in alternative to bunker fuels, which are notorious heavy emitters of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides, but also with propane-powered forklifts, which are a more environmentally-friendly alternative to their diesel or gasoline counterparts.
Dozens of states are modernizing their medium- and heavy-duty fleets by phasing out gasoline or diesel-powered vehicles and swapping them for more affordable and cleaner-burning propane vehicles like Boston’s autogas school buses or San Diego’s paratransit propane buses. Today, there are roughly 480,000 buses transporting children to school. About 30,000 new buses are added to the market each year to replace retiring models. Unlike diesel, propane school buses emit 96% less NOx relative to the last generation of buses and virtually no PM 2.5 pollution that can affect the lungs of children – all of this at a lower cost than diesel and MUCH lower than electric. The state of South Carolina recently made a significant investment in propane for these reasons.
Recent severe weather events, from the raging wildfires in the West to the deep freezes in the South, have underscored the important role that propane generators for homes and businesses can play in improving natural disaster resiliency and reducing grid dependency.
Propane is playing a vital role in lowering the carbon footprint of the nation’s economy today and will continue to create innovative solutions to ensure a cleaner and healthier environment tomorrow.