Low emission vehicles and LPG: a renewed interest

Tuesday 19th January 2016

In light of the resurgence of using automotive LPG low emission vehicles, Mike Chapman, manager of UKLPG, discusses the financial and environmental benefits of switching to LPG.

Many will remember the popularity of automotive liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) with both policy makers and the automotive industry in the UK in the early 2000s. But, when government subsidies ended in 2005 and with uncertainty over long-term fuel duty support, vehicle manufacturers gradually withdrew from providing new models, so interest in the fuel declined across the fleet market.

However, the global picture is somewhat different. For example, automotive LPG is a very popular fuel in countries such as Italy, France, Poland and Germany, with the latter country boasting around 17 different vehicle manufacturers offering automotive LPG options on their cars and vans. With the recent diesel emissions scandal on the radar of consumers and businesses alike, the right conditions are now in place for automotive LPG - the long-time Cinderella fuel of the industry - to once again become popular in the UK.

Why LPG?

According to data from Public Health England, poor air quality is responsible for the deaths of 29,000 people each year, and it is clear that action must be taken to clean up the nation's roads. Electric and hydrogen vehicles will deservedly benefit from further government and industry backing, but a level playing field must be created to give equal recognition and support to all alternative fuels.

The reality is that, unlike emerging fuels, automotive LPG is ideally placed to make an immediate impact to reduce the pollutants plaguing our roads, especially those that are harmful to human health. Furthermore, for cost‑conscious fleet managers, the sums really do add up. Although subsidies ended in 2005, vehicles have continued to be converted post‑production in the UK. Thousands of motorists have benefited each year from lower running costs and reduced, cleaner emissions.

Additionally, automotive LPG system manufacturers have continued to develop and refine their systems and the technology is well proven and extremely reliable. Research and development continues, with automotive LPG systems now available for many vehicles withdirect‑injection engines.

20 per cent less CO2

According to the 2015 European Fuel Quality Directive, which places automotive LPG as part of the solution to decarbonising the transport sector in Europe, automotive LPG emits over 20 per cent less carbon than both petrol and diesel. Research conducted by the EU Joint Research Centre has given automotive LPG a greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity figure far more favourable than petrol or diesel. Calculated on a life cycle basis, meaning that the emissions from the extraction, processing and distribution are included, the figures given in the Directive show automotive LPG as 73.1 gCO2eq/MJ, petrol as 93.3 gCO2eq/MJ, diesel as 95.1 gCO2eq/MJ, CNG as 69.3 gCO2eq/MJ and LNG as 74.5 gCO2eq/MJ.

The EU has set a target to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of fuels and, clearly, automotive LPG has a tangible role to play in achieving this goal. Indeed, its significant air quality advantages over even Euro 6 diesel engines (especially in real world driving conditions) means that automotive LPG is plainly positioned as a low emission vehicle fuel.

Biopropane source

Of course, the story does not stop with existing automotive LPG technology as the fuel is also a strong partner for future technologies. It has significant scope to work with fuel cells, plug-in hybrids and APU types. Additionally, Britain has been identified as one of five potential European countries for distribution of a new supply of biopropane. Once deployed, biopropane could make a major contribution to Britain's 2020 Renewable Energy targets in both transport and heating applications.

Biopropane is chemically indistinct from propane and can therefore be used in any ratio with fossil fuel propane, right up to the maximum 100 per cent. This will make it the first ‘drop-in' renewable transport and heating fuel available in the British market. The scale of deployment in Britain and applications chosen for this green gas will very much depend on the regulatory frameworks in place for heating and transport.

Stephen Rennie, managing director of Calor Gas Limited, said: "We are very excited about this development as it shows that automotive LPG, via biopropane, has a long term future in the British energy market and has a major part to play in helping Britain achieve its renewable energy targets.

"The financial environment has long been a concern of fleets and vehicle manufacturers. In the past, the Treasury has made announcements covering periods of up to three years that the differential in duty between automotive LPG and petrol/diesel would not decrease by more than 1p per year. In practice, the difference between the duty on petrol and diesel has remained constant over the past 12 years, at around 42 pence.

In December 2013, following representations by the automotive LPG industry, the government gave a commitment that this support on fuel duty would be extended for 10 years until 2024.

Support for automotive LPG

Over the past year, there has been an increasing acceptance of automotive LPG in the low emission vehicle arena. In 2014, for example, a report by The LowCVP outlined a roadmap to decarbonise road transport fuel in the period to 2030 and beyond. The Fuels Roadmap set out a variety of transport options to deliver on the UK and Europe's low carbon transport targets, highlighting a role for automotive LPG and bio-LPG.

Furthermore, according to Element Energy's research, converting 10 per cent of medium to large spark ignition internal combustion engine (SI ICE) cars and vans to dual-fuel automotive LPG would bring savings of 100 kt CO2. This is based on accepted tank-to-wheel (TTW) savings of approximately 11 per cent for an automotive LPG vehicle compared to SI ICE. These figures do not take account of the Well to Tank figures as highlighted by the EU which, if included, would double the carbon savings.

Celine Cluzel, principal consultant at Element Energy, authored the LowCVP studies: Options and recommendations to meet the RED transport target; and Road Transport Fuels Roadmap for the UK.

Cluzel commented: "Meeting the UK's carbon reduction targets calls for a transformation in the way in which we think about transport. However, it is important that we embrace the divergent technologies, fuels and powertrains available to ensure we are able to map out a complete journey towards decarbonisation.

"In the case of automotive LPG, there are clear reasons for its inclusion in the Roadmap, not least its impact on reducing emissions and minimising energy spend. Automotive LPG is a national natural resource and, as such, provides significant opportunities to augment the wider low carbon transport picture."

Lowering emissions and costs

Drivers in the UK saved an estimated £66million on their fuel bills in 2014 by using automotive LPG, according to Autogas Limited. Reported figures put the average current UK price at the end of September for automotive LPG as 56.1 pence per litre (ppl), compared to 109.78ppl for unleaded petrol.

One organisation which has benefited from the switch to automotive LPG is Anglesey County Council, which first realised the benefits of the fuel back in 2007. To meet emissions and cost management targets, the council converted 63 vehicles to automotive LPG. The majority of vehicles converted under the scheme were vans used by highway inspectors, waste management inspectors and home carers, as well as for general council duties. Such vehicles are typically expensive in terms of fuel costs and are widely acknowledged as a high level emitter of pollutants, including NOx, which is known to cause and exacerbate respiratory problems, such as asthma.

Following the conversion, the council now saves an average of £1,200 per vehicle per year, meaning it is able to continue to provide valuable services in the Anglesey area without compromising on quality.

Noel Roberts, the council's fleet manager, said that the council's ‘phenomenal savings' have delighted the board, with an average annual saving of over £75,000. The introduction of automotive LPG has been so successful for the team that it has installed its own tank on site for refuelling and made it council policy to buy dual fuel vehicles only in the future.

Paying for itself

The Fiat Doblo Cargo 1.4 won Fleet Van's ‘Van of the Year' award in 2010 and has been converted to run on LPG by Autogas Ltd. The van itself costs £14,845 excluding VAT when new and, after paying £1,450 plus VAT for the conversion, the savings immediately start from lower fuel use.

Autogas Ltd advises that the van costs 10 pence per mile in automotive LPG, as opposed to 17 pence per mile for petrol, raising the combined mpg figure from 39.2mpg to 56.2mpg. Meanwhile CO2 emissions are down by 17 per cent, NOx is down 20 per cent and there are no particulate emissions at all, unlike with diesel. On these figures, the conversion will pay for itself after 20,000 miles. After 60,000 miles, taking off the cost of the conversion, each van running on automotive LPG could save £2,800.

The final view

Rob Shuttleworth, chief executive of UKLPG, commented: "Automotive LPG offers important environmental and financial benefits, with independent studies showing that it can make a positive impact in the battle to cut both greenhouse gases and urban pollution. The infrastructure and fuel are in place in the UK, with around 150,000 motorists having already converted their vehicles to take advantage of a network of more than 1,400 refuelling points. This is helping to cut pollution in our inner cities and contributing towards the UK's carbon reduction targets. The backlash to the recent emissions scandal shows that consumers are clearly looking for reliable and clean fuels which are much less damaging to the environment and emit significantly fewer harmful pollutants.

"Both policy makers and manufacturers must start engaging with the respective alternative fuel industry bodies to see how they can support proposals for lower emissions.

"It's time to seize the opportunity to map out the future of low‑carbon transport for the UK - and to give consumers and fleet managers a chance to more widely benefit from the range of proven solutions that alternative fuels offer."

For more information, please visit www.drivelpg.co.uk.


The trade association for the LPG and bioLPG industry in the UK