Propane: The underestimated fuel is being used across the jobsite
By Jeremy Wishart
Propane has been a fixture on construction sites for years, most often used for power generation and materials handling. Recently, however, site managers are using propane to power a growing number of applications.
More construction firms are beginning to recognize the advantages that propane has to offer — it’s a versatile fuel that saves time and money on a jobsite, and aids in reducing emissions.
Versatility is definitely one of propane’s key advantages. It powers equipment vital to construction jobsite operations, such as unloading products from trailers and powering tools and jobsite lights. It is also used for towable prime power generators and portable generators, which provide power to all parts of a jobsite if electricity isn’t accessible. Propane-powered portable light towers are also used to keep large projects well-lit during long days or overnight work.
Propane produces fewer emissions than diesel or gasoline, so contractors are able to use it indoors or outdoors, without being tethered to electrical outlets or bound by the limits of a battery’s charge. Propane-powered aerial lifts, forklifts, and wheel buggies make moving materials on, off, and around a site easier and more efficient. Even propane-powered heaters are used safely indoors with proper ventilation, providing a more comfortable workspace for employees and meet the humidity or heat conditions needed for drying/curing material finishes.
Propane engines are also used to power concrete finishing equipment, such as riding trowels, grinders, polishers, floor strippers, and concrete saws.
On sites where longer days are necessary, propane is advantageous. It requires minimal downtime for refueling. For many machines, refueling is as simple as swapping out an empty cylinder for a full one. The process takes a matter of minutes. There’s no downtime spent searching for the correct fuel or running equipment to a refueling station.
Contractors that decide to use propane, have two refueling strategies to choose from: a cylinder exchange program, or on-site refueling.
By choosing a cylinder exchange program, contractors simply store propane cylinders in a cage at a corporate office or on a jobsite. A set schedule can be determined with a local propane retailer to exchange empty cylinders for full cylinders.
For larger operations, an on-site refueling strategy may be the better option. This requires a propane tank to be installed at a corporate office. In some cases, the construction contractor’s local propane retailer will set up a portable propane refueling solution directly on the jobsite, if it is a long-term project.
Training employees to refill cylinders for use is handled by the propane retailer. Having on-site refueling is also beneficial to businesses considering incorporating propane autogas trucks into transport fleets.
Managing multiple sites
During busy construction months, managers and employees may have a lot of back-and-forth travel between sites. Using propane autogas work trucks can give contractors a one-fuel solution to help lower costs and reduce emissions, as they move employees and equipment from one site to another.
Conversion kits are available for a wide variety of medium-duty pickups and vans, so an existing vehicle fleet may be converted. Training operators to refuel propane vehicles is done quickly and easily by working with a local retailer. An added bouns is that propane vehicles don’t require the additional fluids and filters needed on lower-emissions diesel technology.
Refueling with propane autogas in vehicles is similar to using traditional fuels, and fleets can use either on-site refueling infrastructure, or make use of a public refueling network available 24/7 through a card lock system. Some companies claim that using propane autogas vehicles is reducing the fuel costs for their fleets by as much as 30 to 50 per cent.
Propane costs mirror those of gasoline and diesel, but over time are more consistent. The cost per gallon is typically lower than gasoline and diesel, and construction companies can further protect themselves from market fluctuations by entering into fuel contracts with a local propane retailer. This helps with annual budgeting.
Using propane also ensures fuel purchased won’t be fuel wasted for companies that store equipment during the winter. Unlike traditional fuels, propane won’t deteriorate in storage and doesn’t contain ethanol, which can harm small engines. It also can’t be siphoned out of equipment fuel cylinders for other uses, providing a measure of security to jobsites.
Clean and green
More and more businesses are seeking green services to gain competitive advantage. That’s no different for contractors looking to stand out during the bid process, which often requires projects to include some form of green or renewable energy.
Propane emits fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and there’s no risk of spills. The cylinders operate using a closed-loop fueling system, which eliminates the possibility of wasted fuel. It should also be noted employees operating propane equipment won’t leave the jobsite smelling like gasoline or diesel, and won’t breathe in harmful exhaust fumes – known to contain carcinogens.
Propane equipment is already fueling many of the equipment must-haves on jobsites across Canada. As contractors begin to recognize the versatility, cost savings, productivity and security of this cleaner fuel, it’s easy to understand why propane use is on the rise.
Jeremy Wishart is the deputy director of business development at the Propane Education & Research Council. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.