Propane Use In Agriculture on the Uptick
Back in the Midcentury, some of the tractor manufacturers produced propane tractors for use in regions where propane was cheap and readily available during that time period.
Right now with the fracking boom, we again are faced with a surplus of propane, changing the U.S. from a net importer of propane to a net exporter.
When I attended the recent Northern Colorado Energy Summit, the “New Energy Frontiers” panel told us about the adoption of natural gas for fueling our heavy fleet trucks and rail by converting to CNG or LNG for fuel. I asked the panel if there were any implications in this changing energy landscape for agriculture. Paul Nelson of Ward Petroleum answered that agriculture will again use more propane.
From that comment, let’s speculate on where propane use in agriculture might be increased. Keep in mind that liquid propane has to be delivered and many farms already use it to heat their houses in winter. (Obviously, the infrastructure for using CNG is not available to most rural farms.)
The list that I came up with to increase LP use in agribusiness includes pick-ups, food delivery trucks, fork-lifts, mowers, irrigation generators, flame weeders, grain drying, and perhaps small tractors. It appears that grass mower conversion kits to propane are readily available online. Since there are supposedly 40 million acres of turf grass in the U.S., this is a significant use of fuel, and often rural places have very large areas that they mow —though I question why— so we might speculate that that use of propane could certainly grow.
Because liquid propane has fewer BTUs per gallon than gasoline or diesel, I presume that one disadvantage of using it might be more frequent refueling unless there is a larger storage tank to contain it. Evidently, the Midcentury propane tractors never became very popular, and while I could list some reasons for that which I read on a tractor forum, I’ll refrain because I don’t know whether today’s technology might be able to compensate for some of the problems from fifty years ago.
In Texas, agribusinesses are being encouraged to switch equipment and vehicle fleets to propane autogas, which now costs about 30-50 percent less than gasoline.
Even while taking into consideration that a gallon of LP (propane) has about 70 percent of the energy of a gallon of diesel, today’s high diesel prices make the conversion to LP very attractive.
Finally, I’ll rerun this item which I featured on this site some time ago, which is a tractor that runs on CNG:
CNH Global N.V. has produced a prototype tractor which runs on natural gas. This “Steyr Profi 4135 Natural Power” has a Fiat turbocharged compressed natural gas engine which is 3.0 litre, four-cylinder, and 100kW/136 hp rated. The gas storage is divided into nine tanks totalling 300 liters. This tractor is to be on the market in 2015, and is especially encouraged for farms having their own biogas systems.
Stay tuned as the subject of propane Midcentury tractors is the inspiration for tomorrow’s Luddite Day.