It already heats your home and grills your steak, and if Brian Feehan and others have their way, it could soon power your child's school bus. Maybe even your truck, too.
Feehan, vice president of the Washington-based Propane Education and Research Council, said his group is working with engine makers, automakers and others to get 10 percent of select auto fleets running on propane by 2017. That, he estimated, would save more than a billion gallons of gasoline per year.
There are already 11 million propane-powered vehicles operating in the world today, Feehan said, making it "the leader in alternative fuel."
"That technology, we feel, is going to be around for a while now," he said at a recent event in Central Park touting the future of the fuel in the automotive industry. "We've perfected it."
The focus, however, remains on fleets rather than on widespread consumer use because propane refueling stations are not nearly as widespread as gasoline stations, while fleet managers can build and install their own refueling stations, Feehan said.
There are about 12,500 propane fueling stations in the country today, he said, but only 2,500 are open to the public. On the other hand, there are about 162,000 gasoline stations in the U.S., according to National Petroleum News.
Still, the fuel has its advantages, said Feehan and the half dozen other auto parts and government leaders at the event. Propane burns cleaner than gasoline, they said.
A gallon of propane contains less energy than a gallon of gas, hurting fuel economy, but propane is much cheaper, and the federal government provides a 50-cent-per-gallon tax credit for its use.
Propane cost an average of $2.60 a gallon in March, according to the Energy Information Administration. Meanwhile, the national average price for gasoline was $3.69 on Friday, according to auto club AAA, Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express.
In July, a San Antonio-area school district unveiled a fleet of 16 school buses it bought from Blue Bird Corp. that are the first in the nation manufactured to run on propane. School officials estimated running the buses on propane would cut their fuel expenses in half.