12/8/2012 7:00 AM
By Michael Short Delaware Correspondent
HARRINGTON, Del. — Alternative energy usually brings to mind solar, wind or hybrid cars.
But some experts say an alternative fuel for some farm uses could come from a very familiar source.
Propane, an old reliable that has heated homes for years, is seen by some as cleaner, more efficient, less costly and widely available, making it an attractive option for farm uses like irrigation equipment.
The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) held a demonstration of propane-fueled irrigation engines on Dec. 1 at the annual auction at Taylor & Messick in Harrington.
The propane-powered F250 engine from a Ford pickup truck was set up in the bed of a pickup. The surprisingly quiet sounding engine attracted some attention and a few questions from those attending the auction.
But for farmers much more used to diesel fuel, it may be a technology that could take some getting used to.
"It's clean and plentiful and the cost is right for fuel," said Michael Offord, national sales manager for Engine Distributors Inc.
Offord said the engine being demonstrated could use any of four different fuels: gasoline, LP gas, CNG (compressed natural gas) or natural gas.
He said propane for industrial use (not home heating) can cost an estimated $1.46 to $1.76 per gallon, considerably less than the cost of diesel fuel.
Offord also said the cost of propane-powered engines is "significantly less than diesel" engines.
All of which makes Offord and Greg Zilberfarb of PERC supporters of the idea that farmers should consider propane as an alternative fuel. Both said that propane, unlike some other fuels, is an abundant domestic source of energy.
Zilberfarb, a consultant for PERC, said that propane is already in use on many farms in equipment like mowers, orchard heaters, grain dryers and forklifts.
Delaware farmer Kevin Evans said the benefits of propane-fueled irrigation units, coupled with incentives to purchase the engines, makes switching to propane an attractive option for his 1,700-acre grain and vegetable farm.
"With propane, farmers don't have to worry about fuel tampering or pilferage, and the fuel delivery model is simple and efficient,” he said. “The environmental benefits of operating on propane are just an added bonus to farmers like me who strive to preserve the environment in which I work and live every day."
"With more than 215,000 acres of irrigated crop land in Maryland and Delaware, irrigation is pertinent to the livelihood of Delmarva farmers," said Mark Leitman, PERC's director of business development and marketing. "Propane-fueled irrigation engines are more reliable and cost effective than electric or diesel engines. They can perform over vast acreage and in a variety of weather conditions, while improving irrigation efficiency, minimizing negative environmental effects and maximizing yields."
Propane-fueled irrigation engines produce about 11 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than diesel engines.
"Events like this demonstration provide the opportunity for farmers to see firsthand how propane-fueled farm equipment can help them be more productive and economical," Leitman said.
For more information about PERC and propane, call 202-452-8975 or visit www.agpropane.com.