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How propane is helping fleets stay in charge

Dec. 7, 2023
Technical innovations are helping to bring the reliability and reduced emissions of propane to EV charging stations.

For years, a growing number of delivery fleets have turned to propane autogas to accelerate their decarbonization efforts, discovering that propane also offers reduced fuel and maintenance spending, in addition to the benefit of lowering harmful emissions. 

Now, as more and more fleets are transitioning to EVs, amplifying the demand for costly new infrastructure, propane is emerging as a reliable energy source to meet the growing recharging needs of fleets across the country.

Propane-powered EV recharging systems are an innovative and immediately available answer for fleets of nearly any size, already being produced by companies such as Propane Fueling Solutions, EV Power Pods, and e-Boost.

Utilizing a propane-powered generator, this technology allows EVs to be recharged independently of the electric grid and without the time and capital investments needed for new electricity-based charging stations.

“The reality is that more fleets are going to start transitioning to EVs,” says Steve Whaley, Director of Autogas Business Development for the Propane Education & Research Council. “Right now, the electric grid can’t handle the influx of demand and there aren’t enough charging stations to reliably power all the vehicles. This leaves a major growth opportunity for propane providers to step in with a drop-in recharging solution.”

Rather than viewing the move toward EVs as competition, Whaley and his colleagues in the propane industry are confident that they can introduce more fleets to the versatility of propane while offering existing propane providers the opportunity to grow their business and further support the communities that they serve. 

“As an industry, we need to seize the opportunity ahead for EV charging,” Whaley explains. “Fleets are under intense pressure to dramatically reduce emissions and are left with more questions than answers. Many fleets are also finding that a single energy source cannot meet their operational demands. Regardless of how propane gets incorporated into their operations, fleet directors are quickly realizing how powerful propane is to their bottom line and emissions reduction plans.” 

Whaley predicts that propane’s flexibility will allow it to serve a variety of roles as the transition to EVs by fleets continues to expand. 

Initially, propane will be used to help establish the recharging infrastructure that fleets need access to the most, especially in areas where the electric grid either isn’t available or is not reliable, such as rural and remote areas or places where the demand is exceedingly high. 

One example where this initial phase has seen success is in the school bus market. School districts nationwide have been particularly interested in moving away from traditional diesel engines, along with the noise and emissions that come along with them. 

However, investing in the infrastructure needed to operate a fleet of electric school buses would quickly drain the budget of nearly any transportation department while also requiring years of planning and installation. As such, propane-powered recharging infrastructure presents an actionable solution for those fleets.

The landscape is similar when it comes to serving the needs of fleets beyond the school bus market, especially those hoping to transition to EVs sooner rather than later. 

As they pursue the transition to EVs, many fleets are finding that they will have to endure extensive periods of waiting for their local power companies to provide the infrastructure needed—a delay that is not only frustrating but also prevents fleet managers from properly assessing the impact of EVs on their operations. 

Propane-powered charging infrastructure for EVs can be set up far more quickly, allowing fleets to rapidly calculate the capabilities and limitations of EV duty cycles to determine what portion of their fleet can be EV and what portion they will need to retain as autogas vehicles.

In addition to the immediate opportunities for propane-powered recharging infrastructure, a subset of this emerging technology is fully mobile. This promises to become a highly desirable option for towing fleets, which anticipate offering this as a service to EVs stranded and can’t get to a recharging station.

Even as progress continues in the development and deployment of both stationary and mobile propane-powered EV charging systems — providing a cost-effective alternative to traditional charging infrastructure for fleets that is also cleaner than the electrical grid — for the time being, propane autogas will also remain a notable component of fleet fueling options.

While propane autogas vehicles and EVs are both operating in some of the same spaces, propane autogas fleets continue to provide a ready and reliable solution for medium-duty package delivery, food and beverage delivery, paratransit, and the previously mentioned school bus fleets. 

Typically, these fleets service a wider geographic footprint than those in which EVs can reliably operate (generally, up to 400 miles), along with having the ability to carry a heavier payload. Meanwhile, EVs are primarily serving the passenger vehicle market, although Whaley anticipates that, given continued innovation, fleet managers will begin to see these distinctions erode in the not-too-distant future. 

“Even as EV technology gets better at servicing wider areas or solves some of the performance issues many fleet owners see right now, it’s important to keep in mind that propane autogas will also get better as renewable propane grows in production and popularity, providing a more robust comprehensive option.

“New technology is always going to continue to emerge, and it’s important for businesses to innovate to remain competitive,” says Whaley. “As the grid is built out and more infrastructure develops, propane will still have a place as an off-grid and reliable solution for fleets. With more propane-powered charging stations available, the market can expand beyond just business fleets using the technology and into the commercial sector for passenger vehicles.” 

For more information on how propane can reliably power vehicles or provide power generation needs, visit propane.com/powergen.

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