In today’s energy environment, coming together as a unified and environmentally conscious industry has never been more important. Earth Day provides the perfect opportunity for companies throughout the supply chain industry to re-evaluate their current practices and determine where they can make a positive change.
Material handling equipment, and the energy sources used to power it, can have a significant impact on a company’s overall sustainability plan. While propane is a long-established productivity driver for all kinds of supply chain operations, it’s increasingly being incorporated into companies’ sustainability action plans because of its clean, low-emissions profile compared to other fuels.
Propane-powered engine technology, as well as the energy source itself, continues to see improvements, making it an important part of the energy conversation today, tomorrow, and into the future.
A transparent look at clean, low-emissions energy
Propane is a clean, low-carbon alternative energy source that can produce significantly fewer emissions than electric and diesel in a wide variety of applications. This includes the ultimate supply chain workhorse: forklifts.
Many material handling professionals know that electric-powered equipment produces zero emissions during operation, but what they may not realize is how often its full emissions profile and impact is overlooked. Propane offers a transparent emissions profile that’s cleaner when taking into account electric’s site-to-source emissions, including emissions produced in the creation and transmission of electric batteries. And because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers electric batteries a hazardous material, crews can’t simply dispose of them without severely impacting the environment.
It’s also important to recognize that, because electricity is a secondary energy source and has to be converted from a primary energy source, some of the input energy is lost in the production and transmission process. In fact, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), more than 60 percent of energy used for electricity generation is lost in conversion.
Compared with diesel forklift engines, propane forklift engines can produce up to 94 percent fewer hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions — without any drop-off in payload or power — according to an emissions analysis from the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). Plus, operating propane equipment results in cleaner air for crews, whereas diesel equipment has proven to irritate respiratory issues among employees and the World Health Organization identifies diesel exhaust as a known cancer-causing carcinogen.
And propane is only getting cleaner as the energy source continues seeing innovation.
In the near future, more propane will be made from renewable sources. Renewable propane is a byproduct of the renewable diesel and jet fuel production process, which converts plant and vegetable oils, waste greases, and animal fat into energy. Because it’s produced from renewable, raw materials, renewable propane is even cleaner than conventional propane — and far cleaner than other energy sources. And considering its chemical structure and physical properties are the same as traditional propane, renewable propane can be used for all the same applications.
Industry developments bring engine technology to the next level
Manufacturers and propane industry professionals are working to bring propane engine technology into the next frontier in terms of energy efficiency and sustainability. Most notably, developments are being made to reduce exhaust emissions, improve fuel efficiency, and increase the reliability of the engine and fuel system.
One example of this is the Ultera technology from Tecogen, a leading manufacturer of clean technologies. Ultera is a proven patented near-zero emissions technology comprised of a two-stage after-treatment system that reduces the criteria pollutants of NOx, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons. The Tecogen technology represents emissions control strategies that could be implemented on existing lift trucks as a retrofit solution, as well as incorporated into the emissions control designs by all manufacturers of new forklifts. Additionally, this propane catalyst engine technology can help businesses meet strict indoor air quality standards, all without sacrificing power or performance.