CLEVELAND — If you think propane is limited to your backyard grill, your little hand-held torch or the tow motors at a factory — think again.
This North American form of energy actually is used on 80 percent of the farms in the country, for three good reasons: Propane is clean-burning, safe, and a reliable, efficient source of energy.
Propane is used on the farm to help control weeds, insects and microbes; protect food and crops through harvest, storage and processing; manage farm waste materials; and most recently, it’s being used to power heavy equipment and farm vehicles.
The farm truck — a staple of farms big and small — is quickly becoming the newest success story of propane technology. Roush Propane Powered Vehicles is a division of Roush Enterprises and named after Jack Roush — an Ohio legend who founded a successful NASCAR race company and engineering firm.
Although the name Roush often is associated with performance cars and high-speed racing, the propane-powered truck the company now builds is practical and makes sense, its designers say.
Roush has worked the past four years with Ford Motor Company and the government-appointed Propane Education & Research Council to develop liquid propane injection systems for a variety of Ford trucks and vans.
The vehicles are still built by Ford and have the same horsepower, torque and towing ratings as their gasoline-powered equivalents, according to Roush.
But unlike their gasoline-powered rivals, propane trucks offer a significant reduction in greenhouse gasses — 24 percent less nitrogen oxide emissions and 60 percent less carbon monoxide emissions.
Of course, the question on everyone’s mind is does it make sense — in dollars and in cents.
The Ford F-250 — a common work truck on many farms — would cost roughly $10,000 more than a similar, gasoline-powered truck. But, coupled with a $5,000 alternative fuel tax credit from the U.S. Department of Energy, as well as a cheaper per-gallon price and lower yearly maintenance costs, the propane-powered truck potentially saves almost $2,000 a year.
That’s figuring 20,000 miles are driven annually, at a cost of about $1.75 per gallon of propane, with an expectancy of 10 miles per gallon.
Making a truck run on propane may sound a bit wild, but actually makes sense, according to Kevin Kane, marketing manager, and Bobby O’Donnell, a dealer of propane-powered Fords at Valley Ford Truck in Cleveland.
Kane estimates propane-powered vehicles have been around at least the past 40 years. But just recently, Roush developed a liquid injection system, and that means better results the whole way around.
“Now, the colder it is, the better it starts,” Kane said, because the vapor system is no longer used.
The vehicle runs quieter than a gasoline vehicle and uses most of the same configurations. It is offered as a factory option, or trucks can be converted. Ford F-150s must be 2007 models or newer, and other models must at least be 2009s.
That’s “the one thing we liked about Roush … Roush has a really good relationship with Ford. It’s a factory option,” said O’Donnell, whose company sells Fords for fleets and commercial, industrial and agricultural use.
And as a factory option, the trucks carry the same Ford warranty with no apparent downsides to any of the vehicle’s operations or performance. The propane can usually be purchased and stored locally, and tanks can be installed in the truck bed, or beneath the truck, if the bed space is needed.
In addition to operating farms, the vehicles are becoming popular choice among farm-related businesses, like seed and fertilizer companies, and anyone else who spends a lot of time on the road, requiring a full-size truck.
Suppliers include names like Heritage Propane, Suburban, AmeriGas and Ferrell, to name a few. Owners can get a 50-cent per gallon fuel credit, if they install their own propane fueling infrastructure.
In addition to vehicle incentives, the Farm Equipment Efficiency Demonstration program also offers a $2,500 incentive to users of propane-powered irrigation engines, $2,500 for propane lawn mowers and $1,000 for tankless water heaters.
O’Donnell said some people may be concerned about the safety of propane-powered vehicles. But after extensive tests and even a demonstration by the TV program Mythbusters, not even a 9 mm bullet can pierce the tank. The actual propane/air mixture will not ignite until heated to about 1,000 degrees.
Roush trucks have been featured at Ohio’s Farm Science Review, and driven in tours throughout rural parts of the country.