Often, when someone hears the word propane, one of two things comes to mind: propane-powered grills or Hank Hill from King of the Hill. But it turns out, propane has many more uses than barbeques.
To discuss propane’s various applications, Drew Bond sat down with Tucker Perkins last week on C3 Solutions’ Tech Voices series. Perkins, who is the President and CEO of the Propane Education and Research Council (PERC), explained how propane is used today and what role it can play in reaching decarbonization goals in the future.
At PERC, Perkins has made it his mission to advance the propane industry and bring innovations to market:
“We’re responsible for clean solutions that Americans trust today. Really, we take great pride in thinking where the industry needs to be in a decade or two decades to provide the innovations that customers will rely on 20 years from now.”
“I would say the main emphasis for us is thinking about how to innovate, and if we need to, we’ll get behind and fund some of those breakthroughs so that we have not only higher-performing products, but we also are bringing products to the market that the market wants today.”
One innovation that Perkins envisions for propane is an enhanced role in today’s energy storage market. Today, the average length of time a lithium-ion battery can store energy is only 1.7 hours. Propane, on the other hand, can maintain energy for almost a decade, as Perkins explains.
“We start talking a lot about batteries, people for once are talking about energy storage. Propane is one of those fuels that is easily stored—you have four gallons in your grill tank. You might use a tank a month or you might use a tank per decade. And still when you turn it on it works fine. It’s a fuel that’s easily stored, easily transported and when it’s used it’s very easy on the environment.”
In addition to its ability to be stored for years on end, propane also delivers a low carbon footprint. This quality has attracted several business opportunities and partnerships for the propane industry both domestically and overseas. In the United States, PERC and the propane industry provide fuel to power UPS delivery trucks and partner with different industry leaders such as GM, John Deere, and Ford.
PERC has also partnered with the National Park Service to provide fuel in Acadia and Denali National Park and to power lawn mowers for the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Internationally, PERC has begun to introduce propane cook tops in Africa to replace alternative cooking fuels such as dung, wood, or charcoal. Those alternatives combine to contribute to indoor air pollution that leads to as many as 4.6 million premature deaths annually.
While PERC has indeed done its part to advance propane’s use across the world, Perkins sees several ways in which propane can play a role in the energy transition. These include the transportation sector, especially with shipping and medium-duty delivery trucks; buildings; and providing power to states and developing nations.
To reach these goals, Perkins acknowledges that the industry must first overcome its biggest challenge, which he says is the public’s perception of propane.
“I think our biggest challenge today is to just be viewed as relevant in this conversation as we think about what our energy needs to look like… I think propane has always been if you would, this niche player. It powers your grill. It powers my home. We’ve always had these niche applications but now as we think about the future, propane could arguably be one of the more perfect tools as we think about decarbonizing, as we think about human health, planet health, and frankly, as we think about justice and equity and who pays for those solutions.”
Immediately on the horizon, PERC is planning to show how his team has found a way to have propane match the thermal efficiencies of diesel, something that he believes will lower shipping costs, reduce transportation emissions, and increase propane’s relevance in our energy portfolio.
As the world looks for solutions to reduce emissions in an affordable and reliable way, private sector innovators and industry leaders such as Perkins and his team at PERC are leading the way to unleashing clean innovations. While we wait for warmer temperatures and grilling weather, it is important to realize the many other roles that propane can have in delivering a cleaner energy future.