Quick disclaimer: I’m not a gear-head or an engineer. My understanding of internal combustion engines is on a par with that of my sister, who once described the reason her car was in the shop as “a loose screw in an oil place.”
Unfortunately, a visit to fueleconomy.gov, a U.S. site, informs us that one of the disadvantages of LPG as an auto fuel in the U.S. is that no new passenger cars fitted for its use are commercially available (though kits to retrofit are). It is more commonly used there for fleets, taxis, and forklifts (there are about 600,000 LPG vehicles in operation in the U.S. today out of 240,000,000 total vehicles (+/- 2.5%). As a corollary to this, the fuel itself is not widely available at ordinary filling stations. And I have to ask, why??
The U.S. is one of the largest producers of LPG, which is a petroleum product (learn all about it here). It was first developed by Dr. Walter Snelling in 1910 (the first automobiles that ran on propane appeared in 1913). Though it is a petroleum product, it burns up to 40% cleaner than gasoline, emitting far fewer hydrocarbons, and it is less costly than gas.
Look at this happy woman:
She is my friend Anita, and she is happy because she has just filled her bi-fuel Chevy Matis with GPL. Bi-fuel? It means her new car runs on either conventional gas or, with the flip of a switch, GPL. She is happy because there is still money in her wallet after filling her car. One reason is because her GPL costs about E .57 per liter instead of the E 1.39 for gasoline. (The man who pumped the GPL is smiling because he likes having his picture taken.)
Here are two more reasons she’s smiling. When she took her old Volvo wagon off the road the Italian government said Thank You For Taking That Big Polluting Monster Off Our Roads by giving her E 1,500. Then she was rewarded with about another E 3,500 when she chose to buy her bi-fuel Chevrolet Matis. (Other car manufacturers in Italy also offer ‘ecocentives’ to those who purchase bi-fuel cars.)
The only trick is to find a station that sells GPL – it’s easier to do here, where there are at least 19 dealers in Liguria, than in the U.S., where you seldom see it sold. But if you can’t find a station, no worries – you can still drive on conventional fuel.
There’s a special adaptor that couples with the GPL fuel receiver of the car – brass! Very pretty. And after the car has been fueled, very cold. The smiling man simply took the adapter, screwed it in, and then attached the pump nozzle to the adapter. It didn’t take any longer to fuel with GPL than with regular fuel.
I’m surprised more is not done with this fuel in the U.S., where efforts seem to be going instead to ethanol blends and bio-diesel. I learned here that if you purchase a hybrid, diesel or dedicated alternative fuel vehicle (what a mouthful), you may be eligible for a tax credit of up to $4,000, which is nothing to sneeze at. There is no reward in the U.S. for purchasing a bi-fuel car. Nor is there a reward that I could find for removing a heavily polluting, inefficient vehicle from American roads. An alternative in the U.S. to LPG is compressed natural gas, or CNG, which burns even cleaner than LPG, but takes up much more room. (Again, new cars are not available with CNG, but retro-fit kits are.) Isn’t it odd that American auto manufacturers haven’t paid more attention to a cleaner technology that’s been around since the beginning of car time? Oh, wait a minute. Thinking about those yo-yo’s, maybe it isn’t so surprising after all.