LPG Cars

We have converted our three vehicles from gasoline operation to propane operation.  Propane creates a lot less greenhouse gas than gasoline or diesel and the conversion is not tremendously difficult.   Here is some background information:

Propane Cars!

We have played with lots of small steps that we can take in our day to day life to create a sustainable and satisfying life.  Our old house is a great place that catches a lot of sunlight in the winter months.   It’s got a massive basement and foundation that seems to be a good heatsink to keep the place relatively cool in the summer.  We have been paring our energy consumption and converting the lawn around the building into an edible forest, but we have to wander away from the place from time to time and when we do, we are often grabbing the car keys and going for a ride.  

This has been troubling us more and more as it becomes clear how inherently destructive the internal combustion engine is.   There don’t seem to be many options to internal combustion.  We can grab the bus, it’s burning diesel.  We can ride the bike or walk, but our regular daily lives take us beyond bike and foot range on most days, so we have been reluctantly staying with automobiles as primary transportation.

It may be that the car of the future will be electric and maybe we can convert to clean and sustainable electric generation  over time, but for now we are driving cars with internal combustion engines.

Given that reality, we decided to try converting our cars to run on propane instead of gasoline.   The greenhouse gas tailpipe emissions of a propane vehicle are way under the greenhouse gas tailpipe emissions of a gasoline or diesel vehicle.  That sounds pretty good.  It seems like a good transitional step that we can use while we wait for sustainable transport to show up at our doorstep.

I will tell you a little more about our propane vehicle conversions in the posts to come.

Meanwhile, here are some good links about propane cars if you are interested:

September 2009:  Ok, let’s talk about the details of converting a vehicle to run on propane.

First you need to think about how you are going to install an lpg tank in the vehicle.

Here is an easy lpg tank installation in my 1995 Chevy S10.  We got the tank for $100 on Craig’s List.   We had a friend weld up the mounting brackets and set the tank.  That was $300 as I recall.

This was easy because the bed of a pickup is an easy place to mount a tank.  If you are converting a passenger car it is a little trickier.   It is ideal to start with an older car with a big trunk.

We got this Jetta on Craigslist for $250 and towed it home.  It needed a brake job, a head gasket, ignition switch work, headlights, a radio, door handle replacement, battery, power steering pump, new tires and wheels and the headliner needed to be reglued.  Otherwise, it was in great condition.  I had most of the parts in the garage already, so I put this car back in running condition on the existing gasoline fuel injection system for starters.

These inline four cylinder engines on the MK I and II VW engines seem to really set up easy in propane conversion.  I have done an 89 Golf and an 85 Cabriolet before starting on this Jetta.  The Jetta has a big trunk, wide and deep.  I believe this is going to be an easier conversion than the Golf or the Cabbie.

I think this is going to be a good fit for the great double tank that I found for $25 on Craigslist.

I haven’t tried to sort it out exactly yet, but this is a Machester tank and I think the capacity is probably about 16 gallons.  I got this tank with hoses and fittings for remote filling and nice length of fuel line that may work from the trunk to under the hood.This tank needed a bit of wirebrush work to get rid of surface rust and a new coat of a rust prevention type paint.  These  propane tanks often look pretty rust because in use as the pressure drops water/frost/ice condenses on the outside of the tank.  That’s pretty much guaranteed to produce some rust.  Make sure you are just looking at surface rust.  If in doubt, take the tank to a propane supplier and ask them to check it fou your.  They will often rebuild – replace the valves for a reasonable price and give you the peace of mind that your tank is safe.

Here is the tank, scrubbed and repainted, in the trunk of the 1989 Jetta:

Actually, the tank is upside down with the valves and wiring exposed.   I flipped it and moved on the next steps.

Once the tank is set you need a way to fill the tank.  I use good high pressure hose from the tank to the trunk.

At left is the spot I chose for the filler.

At right is the backing for the filler.

Here is the finished installation of the filler valves, inside and out. I use standard filler and bleeder valves on the outside of the vehicle.  Take care where you place these to reduce the chance of knocking one off.  I like mine right above the bumper.  It makes it easy to fill, you don’t go crawling under the car or bumper when refilling.

I use isolation valves between the tank, the filler and the bleeder.  This will come in handy if there is ever reason to replace the filler or bleeder valve or if there is an occasion when you have to pull the tank for some reason.  I open and close these every time I fuel up and I recommend this approach as a safety step. This adds a step to the fueling process because you have to open the trunk, open the valve, then close the valve again when tank is full, but I think it’s the way to go.

This Jetta is going to be my daughter’s car so I am trying to add a lot of automatic safety features to the installation.  Just below the valves you can see an electric solenoid switch that I am planning to use at the tank outlet.  If this works as planned, the switch will shut off automatically when the ignition is turned off and stop any flow of propane from the tank up to the engine.  The risk of a broken fuel line spilling liquid propane should be considered on this kind of conversion.  You want to know exactly how your conversion is going to work in the event of a fuel spill.  You will want to know how you are going to stop the flow of fuel in an accident.  I use both automatic and manual shutoffs for safety.     More soon.

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