Study Shows Propane Has a Lower Carbon Footprint Than Electric in Trucks

Research reveals that propane-fueled medium- and heavy-duty engine vehicles have a lower carbon footprint than electric vehicles in most U.S. states.

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Propane Education & Research Council
Propane Education & Research Council PERC

Decarbonization of MD-HD Vehicles with Propane, a new comparative analysis analyzing the carbon footprint of medium-duty and heavy-duty (MD-HD) engine vehicles powered by propane and electricity, has found that propane-fueled MD-HD internal combustion engine vehicles offer a lower carbon footprint solution in 38 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., when compared to electric vehicles (EVs) in these size classes charged using the electrical grid.

The comparative analysis also reveals that MD-HD vehicles powered by renewable propane provide a lower carbon footprint solution in every U.S. state except Vermont, where electricity is generated by, and imported from, Canadian hydroelectric power plants. Renewable propane is derived from sources such as beef fats, vegetable oils, grease residue and other biomass feedstocks.

The analysis further shows that decarbonization can be accelerated by adopting propane as the fuel of choice for MD-HD vehicles. This conclusion is supported by a life-cycle analysis of equivalent exhaust carbon dioxide (CO2eq) emissions between electric- and propane-fueled vehicles across the U.S. using CARB carbon intensity values along with a powertrain efficiency analysis.

Currently, 15 states and Washington, D.C., have proposed full electrification of medium- and heavy-duty trucks by 2050 with a target of 30% “zero-emission” vehicle sales by 2030. The rationale behind the proposals is based on the dubious assumption that the electrical grid will be fully decarbonized by that time. Likewise, policy based on CO2eq emissions alone as opposed to life-cycle analysis results misses the full picture. As a result, policy proposals conflate the promise of electrification with actual decarbonization.

“It’s often assumed that full electrification of all sectors will lead to their full decarbonization, but little thought on how electricity is currently generated, stored, transmitted and consumed has been considered,” said Dr. Gokul Vishwanathan, director of research & sustainability at the Propane Education & Research Council, and author of the comparative analysis. “While a fully renewable-based electric grid is not feasible anytime soon, propane is an effective solution today for accelerating decarbonization of transportation and other energy sectors.”

The comparative analysis presented the following decarbonization recommendations:

  • All 50 states should aggressively invest resources in incentivizing renewable fuels.
  • Federal government agencies, particularly the Department of Energy, should aggressively invest in various parallel pathways for renewable and synthetic fuel production to ensure supply.
  • The U.S. should aggressively pursue immediately available decarbonization efforts using alternative fuels such as propane and dimethyl ether (DME) rather than wait on grid infrastructure improvements that are decades away from realization.