'Poor man's T. Boone Pickens' promotes propane for cars


A new alliance that jokingly bills itself as "the poor man's T. Boone Pickens plan" is seeking to give a unified voice to the fragmented propane industry and make the fuel a viable alternative for vehicles.

Speaking at a National Propane Gas Association meeting yesterday in Washington, D.C., officials from the propane industry officially launched Autogas for America, a group hoping to give propane its day in the sun. Chairman Stuart Weidie said the group's initial goal is to build a stakeholder network with a "common voice, common data and a common language."

"We don't want anybody that's interested in the market to get isolated," Weidie said, noting that there were some 5,000 propane companies across the country. Weidie is the president and CEO of the Blossman Cos., the country's 10th-largest propane dealer.

While there are 14 million autogas vehicles around the world, there are fewer than 200,000 in the United States, according to the group. The fuel, also known as liquid petroleum gas (the group prefers autogas because it is the term used in other countries), is frequently seen as a runner-up to electric, hybrid and natural gas cars, but the organization says the benefits are clear.

The gas is cleaner than petroleum, the group says, and a U.S. EPA study found that it could have "potentially lower" carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide emissions. According to data from the Department of Energy, replacing 500,000 conventional vehicles with autogas ones would eliminate more than 2.64 million tons of greenhouse gases and CO2 equivalent. About 90 percent of the world's supply is produced domestically and Weidie said fueling infrastructure could be built in a matter of days.

Autogas for America wants to see 500,000 autogas vehicles in the United States by 2013, starting with fleet vehicles such as state troopers, delivery vehicles and taxis. To that end, the group is pushing for a renewal of the 50-cent-per-gallon tax credit for alternative fuels in a bill that passed the House and is set to come up in the Senate this week (Greenwire, June 8). Besides getting inclusion in upcoming energy bills, the group also wants EPA to streamline its certification process to make it easier for consumers to own and drive an autogas vehicle (currently the certification needs to be renewed every year).

But first, the group is focusing on getting the entire industry aligned behind one message. The group's website lists 22 businesses and industry alliances as members, as well as 17 clean cities groups. Weidie said it was important for the industry to unite behind one face and invited several "friendly competitors" on stage with him during the launch.

"The CNG [compressed natural gas] lobby is huge," said Tucker Perkins, president of CleanFuel USA. "This is a safe place where we can all go."

Weidie said he recognized that propane would likely not be the ultimate end in vehicle technology. But he said it was cheaper than natural gas, cleaner than petroleum, more effective than electric and more proven than hydrogen.

"At a minimum, we're a great transition fuel to 20 years from today. ... We need to have some transition fuels before we find that magic bullet," Weidie said. "We're right here; we're right now."


- Jason Plautz


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