Fuel for Thought: LPG

LPG v Petrol

Why can Australia effective use LPG for public consumption and the US not? (image courtesy of drive.com.au)

A right-handed turn from the left lane. Around the roundabout to turn around. Yielding to electric trams as they stop to pick up passengers. Yep, just a few of the challenges a driver will face in Melbourne, Vic. Not to mention paying on average AUS$1.37 per liter which equates to nearly US$5.20 per gallon at the current exchange rate. yikes.

But the right-sided steering column is not the only thing different between Australian and United States automobiles. How about cars that supplement their fuel usage with Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG)? We have school buses, heavy machinery and public worker fleets that run on it in the States, why not cars?

LPG is the third most consumed non-reusable fuel in the world only surpassed by gasoline and diesel with equivalent of over 7 billion US gallons consumed per year. The chemical make-up primarily sold is propane (C3H8) but generally there are butane (C4H10) mixtures as well. They are both hydrocarbons or compounds that are derived from only hydrogen and carbon. “In 1910, under the direction of Dr. Walter Snelling, the U.S. Bureau of Mines investigated gasoline to see why it evaporated so fast and discovered that the evaporating gases were propane, butane, and other light hydrocarbons. Dr. Snelling built a still that could separate the gasoline into its liquid and gaseous components…” 1 Once the gaseous components are separated, they can be turned into liquid under moderate pressure. Thus, LPG is a by-product of petroleum refining process.

Seems simple enough. But let’s look deeper into the science. A great link I found had this claim about automotive conversion to LPG. According to wiki (ugh, I know but I’ve quoted other sources) “Two recent studies have examined LPG-fuel-oil fuel mixes and found that smoke emissions and fuel consumption are reduced but hydrocarbon emissions are slightly increased.” and ” LPG has a lower energy density than either petrol or fuel-oil, so the equivalent fuel consumption is higher” 2 So it’s not perfect but it does burn MUCH cleaner in the sense smoke and other nasty additives that gasoline has and while CO emissions are increased it is SLIGHTLY. Think of the smog problem in LA…an LPG option could definitely reduce that. And while LPG does burn hotter so more is consumed, the amount compares to diesel especially since it is cheaper and generally taxed less (here in Australia at least) and again is so much cleaner. Remember it is a by-product of gasoline refining! LPG is abundant and can be more so if the oil (and automotive) companies could focus just a bit more towards it.

So Dr. Snelling gave us LPGs stored in cylinders, used for cooking by 1912 and for automotive use in 1913.  But what about today? Let’s take a look at what the rest of the world is doing with LPG. In Tokyo all of the taxicabs run on LPG to reduce emissions. In 2009 Hyundai release the first mass produced hybrid car to be equipped to store and run on LPG. Now in Australia you’ll find Holden (Australia’s branch of GM) producing the same such cars. Not to mention that cars that have been converted here down under and over different parts of the world.

LPG System Layout (image courtesy of www.lpgnortheast.co.uk )

LPG System Layout (image courtesy of www.lpgnortheast.co.uk )

Over the past five years Australia has offered a grant to help subsidize the cost of converting a gasoline based car to carry and use LPG as well. It became so popular that they now have to cap the amount of grant money per year. Each person can receive AUS$1250 which by my research covers half to three fifths the cost to convert with a trained auto mechanic. I can’t see how to could be a bad investment. Cost per liter of LPG here is around 65cAUS so that works out to be about US$2.60 a gallon. What happens is that the car keeps it’s initial petrol (gas) tank but there is a LPG tank that is fitted in the car as well. Sometimes in the trunk or boot  (down under), sometime mounted near the other tank depending on the make and model. It would be unwise to run a car on strictly LPG since it’s lubricant properties are insufficient for common  four stroke car engines.

Folks this is no solution to the problem of our energy consumption in the States (nor world) but it is one the answers. “In 2010, the United States consumed about 137.76 billion gallons (or 3.28 billion barrels) of gasoline, a daily average of about 377.58 million gallons (8.99 million barrels).”3. Keep in mind we said that world wide consumption of LPG is 7 billion gallons per year. More demand could be met and carrying and selling LPG at services station can already be done. It’s just a matter of swapping out a large tank or two depending on how many pumps owners wants. There will be demand. There already is here and let’s be honest, most people’s bottom line is their pocket book. It just so happens that this alternative, does indeed help in the reduction of the pollution of our Earth. While it’s not the best, it is a decent step in the right direction.

I feel as though we as a world (not just nation) need to diversify our energy sources and I know I’m not the only one that feel this way. If it’s good for Australia and has proven safe and efficient in large cities (2 million plus), then how can drivers in the States not benefit? That’s a help to drivers on both sides of the road.

1 Research Lab

2 (from wikipedia article on LPG) Zhang, Chunhua; Bian, Yaozhang; Si, Lizeng; Liao, Junzhi; Odbileg, N (2005). “A study on an electronically controlled liquefied petroleum gas-diesel dual-fuel automobile”. Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part D: Journal of Automobile Engineering 219 (2): 207. doi:10.1243/095440705X6470.

3 U.S. EIA

Joe Grez

Joe Grez

Joe Grzesik (JGrez) is still an artist developer trying to keep up with new technologies. Photography still has been one of his strongest passions. However, now his main focus has led him back to music where he teaches guitar, piano, saxophone and percussion privately. Music education can never be short changed.

2 Responses to Fuel for Thought: LPG
  1. Elizabeth Reply

    Hey Ras, I purchased my calinoft from Burnscoes for 249 NZD. It doesn’t really have a brand, but it is still working fine. The water intake is in my casegravity fed from a creek and the pressure is good, but you can always hook up a marine 12 v pump. They are easy to install, more or less fully automatic andan easy way to enjoy a hot shower whenever you want. cheers, Ben

  2. Joe Grez

    Joe Grez Reply

    Another great link to a forum concerning LPG:


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