Pros and Cons of the Most Common Green Fuels

Posted by PS Energy Group on May 18, 2021 3:30:00 PM

With lowering fuel and maintenance costs, compliance with government regulations, and reducing carbon footprint being top priorities for businesses that operate fleets, it’s no wonder that fleet managers are increasingly turning to green fuels to power their fleet vehicles. A 2020 fleet purchasing survey indicated that interest in green fuels is on the rise after remaining relatively flat for the last several years. 

Which Green Fuel is Best? The Fuel that Works Best for Your Business.

Around ten years ago, fleet managers had a relatively simple fuel decision — gasoline or diesel. With green fuels added to the mix, the fuel decision is not straightforward. Factors now include budget, infrastructure, vehicle needs, vehicle use, and overall business goals.

Considering the benefits green fuels can provide, adding green fuels is worth exploring. This includes the federal, state, and local tax incentives, the credits for infrastructure installation, green vehicle purchase, and the amount of fuel used. But the question is: With the many options available, what green fuel or fuels should you consider adding?

To help you best answer that and give you a baseline to discuss green fuel specifics with your fuel provider, let’s look at the pros and cons of the green fuels that are most widely used by fleets. The most common are Biodiesel, Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), Ethanol, and Propane or Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG). 

Biodiesel

Biodiesel is a form of diesel fuel manufactured from vegetable oils, animal fats, or recycled restaurant grease. It can be legally blended with petroleum in any percentage with the most common including B2 (2% biodiesel), B5 (5%), and B20 (20%). 

Pros:

  • Suitable for light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles
  • Typically requires no vehicle alterations
  • It can be used in most diesel engines, especially newer ones 
  • With government incentives, lower total cost of ownership compared to gasoline
  • Little to no loss in MPG compared to diesel
  • Highly available from fuel suppliers at truck stops and travel centers in most regions
  • Produces fewer air pollutants (other than nitrogen oxides) and fewer greenhouse gases
  • Biodegradable, non-toxic, and safe to handle
  • Produced domestically from non-petroleum, renewable resources

Cons:

  • Loss of 10% of maximum power output with B100 (100% biodiesel) and 2% for B20
  • Filters can clog more often due to higher lubricity
  • Gels at warmer temperatures than diesel

Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)

CNG consists primarily of methane and is a clean-burning fuel. It’s suitable for vehicles that run on both types of CNG fueling systems — CNG-dedicated vehicles that solely operate on natural gas or dual-fuel vehicles that use both natural gas and gasoline. 

Pros:

  • Same MPG as gasoline
  • Lower cost than gasoline
  • Lower maintenance costs — CNG prolongs engine life 
  • Less greenhouse gas emissions and smog-producing pollutants than gasoline
  • Approximately 87% produced domestically 

Cons:

  • Vehicle alterations required 
  • Reduced usability due to lost space with tank
  • Shorter driving range than gasoline vehicles
  • Distribution infrastructure lacking
  • Higher infrastructure costs
  • Compared to traditional fueling centers, CNG fueling stations are much more scarce
  • In-house fueling stations require significant investment 

Ethanol

Ethanol is an alcohol-based fuel derived from several different plant materials, including corn, sugar cane, or various grasses. It’s used in flex-fuel vehicles. The most common blends are E85, E10, and E15-20. “E” describes the percentage of ethanol fuel by volume. For example, E85 is 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. 

Pros:

  • Higher octane than gasoline for increased power and performance
  • It is a natural anti-freeze, so it prevents gas lines from freezing
  • Burns cleaner than gasoline, emitting much lower greenhouse gases 
  • Lowers air pollutant emissions
  • Flex-fuel tax credit
  • Domestically produced; reduces the use of imported petroleum

Cons:

  • Only compatible with flex-fuel vehicles 
  • Ethanol absorbs dirt easily, which can cause corrosion and damage to the engine
  • Not as fuel-efficient as gasoline
  • Produces more smoke-causing chemicals than petroleum oil
  • More fill-ups required, which could reduce driver productivity
  • Not readily available in some regions

Propane/Liquefied Petroleum Gas/LPG

Propane is a clean-burning fuel that’s been used for decades to power dedicated and bi-fuel propane vehicles. Dedicated propane vehicles are designed to run only on propane, while bi-fuel vehicles have two separate fueling systems. This enables the vehicle to run on either propane or gasoline. 

Pros:

  • Suitable for light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles
  • Lower cost than gasoline — considered the least expensive green fuel
  • Horsepower and torque are similar to gasoline
  • Half the carbon emissions of gasoline and fewer toxins
  • The lowest range of flammability of any green fuel, which makes it less combustible and less dangerous than gasoline 

Cons:

  • Costly conversion, but costs can usually be recovered through the lower maintenance and lower fuel costs associated with propane
  • Weaker power as propane is less dense than gasoline 
  • The propane tank is heavy and consumes a lot of space 
  • Vehicles burn through propane quickly, which means reduced range and more trips to the pump 

Tags: Fleet Management, Fuel Management

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