Propane is turning 100 years old in 2012, but it's still an up-and-coming fuel of choice in the landscape industry.
In 1910, Dr. Walter O. Snelling, a chemist and explosives expert with the U.S. Bureau of Mines, was asked to investigate vapors coming from the gasoline tank vent of a newly purchased Ford Model T. Snelling filled a glass jug with the gasoline from the car and discovered on his way back to the lab that volatile vapors were forming in the jug, causing its cork to repeatedly pop out.
Susan Roush drives the first propane powered mustang dragster designed by her father's inspiration of using an American fuel in an American Sport. She won this race.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF JIM COKER.
He began experimenting with these vaporous gases to find methods to control and hold them. After dividing the gas into its liquid and gaseous components, he learned that propane was one component of the liquefied gas mixture. He soon learned that this propane component could be used for lighting, metal cutting and cooking. That discovery marked the birth of the propane industry.
The growth of an industry
1912 - Snelling and colleagues established the American Gasol Co., the first commercial marketer of propane.
1913 - Snelling sold his propane patent for $50,000 to Frank Phillips, the founder of Phillips Petroleum Co. In 2002, Phillips Petroleum merged with Conoco, Inc. to form ConocoPhillips.
1918 - Propane was primarily used for cutting metals. J.B. Anderson of Sharpsburg, Pa., developed the first propane-fueled pump-less blowtorch.
1927 - Phillips Petroleum, today ConocoPhillips, began the research and development of domestic appliances and gas equipment. The Tappan Stove Co. began producing gas ranges. Today, Tappan Stove is part of Electrolux Home Products.
1932 - Propane fueled all the appliances for cooking and heated the water in the Olympic Village at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles.
1933 - A propane odorant was developed to make leaks easier to detect.
1936 - 20-pound cylinders, such as those used for grilling, were first introduced to enhance portability.
1950 - The Chicago Transit Authority ordered 1,000 propane-fueled buses, and Milwaukee converted 270 taxies to run on propane. An estimated 7.5 million propane installations occurred on farms and in suburbs.
1965 - GATX built the world's largest propane tank car, with a 60,000-gallon capacity. Chevrolet introduced four new truck engines designed for propane.
1987 - The National Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association (NLPGA) changed its name to the National Propane Gas Association, the national trade association representing the propane industry.
1990 - Propane was listed as an approved, alternative clean fuel in the 1990 Clean Air Act and, two years later, was listed again as an alternative fuel in the Energy Policy Act of 1992.
1996 - The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) was authorized by the U.S. Congress with the passage of Public Law 104-284, the Propane Education and Research Act (PERA), signed into law on October 11, 1996. PERC's mission is to promote the safe, efficient use of odorized propane gas as a preferred energy source.
2004 - Propane grew to become a $10 billion industry in the U.S. The U.S. consumes more than 15 billion gallons of propane annually for home, agricultural, industrial and commercial uses. Of the 101.5 million U.S. households, 8.1 million depend on propane for one use or another.
Propane is now impacting the landscape and lawn services industry. New technologies and the use of propane have made it easier for landscape contractors to make more sustainable choices when it comes to their truck and equipment fleets. The demand on manufacturers to provide products with increased fuel economy, reduced emissions and lower noise - without sacrificing performance or safety - has come to the attention of everyone.
Propane is a recognized alternative fuel. Roughly 90 percent of it is derived right here in the U.S., where it's a natural byproduct of natural gas and oil. In addition to reducing greenhouse gasses and carbon monoxide emissions, propane is competitively priced with other fuels, and it is used in a closed-loop system, meaning operators are not likely to spill it like they can gasoline or diesel fuel. Two 8-gallon cylinders on a mower will deliver 10-plus hours of run time, and there is no degradation in performance; propane has an octane rating of 105.
Metro Lawn will demonstrate the power of propane in our booth at GIE+Expo by displaying the first propane-powered dragster driven by Susan Roush. Visit booth 11190 to see Susan and to discuss how you can switch to propane.
Jim Coker is president of Engine Fuels at Heritage Propane and the director of the Metro Lawn Program.