3 Questions to Ask Your Propane Supplier

How working with a propane supplier can ensure success with propane forklifts

By Jeremy Wishart

For more than half a century, propane forklifts have been used in manufacturing facilities and warehousing operations across the world. The equipment has been a mainstay in the industry for its low fuel and operating costs, 100 percent reliable power, and versatility for indoor and outdoor use.

But there’s another reason propane forklifts remain a popular choice: the support of propane suppliers.

Propane suppliers are located across the United States, so the fuel is available whether a company is located in a rural, suburban, or urban community. In addition to helping companies get set up to run propane forklifts, propane suppliers also act as a long-term partner to make sure companies are maximizing their propane equipment to receive the best return on investment. Companies that maintain strong relationships with their suppliers can see benefits for years from the partnership. Plus, many propane suppliers are privately-owned, family businesses with strong roots in the local community.

For material handling operations new to using propane forklifts, asking your propane supplier these three questions can help ensure success with the fuel.

Question 1: What are my options for propane refueling?

Facility managers know that their operation is unique and unlike any other. Fortunately, refueling with propane isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. There are many convenient refueling options for propane forklifts, but perhaps the most widely utilized are cylinder exchange programs and on-site refueling. With a cylinder exchange program, propane cylinders are typically stored in a cage in a well-ventilated space inside or outside a company’s facilities. A propane supplier will exchange empty cylinders with full ones, providing an easy grab-and-go system for employees.

For companies with very large operations or those that prefer to handle refueling internally, a propane supplier will typically install propane fueling infrastructure on site. Propane fueling infrastructure is very similar to gasoline and diesel, with fuel stored in above-ground tanks ranging from 1,000 to 30,000 gallons. A propane supplier can also recommend how many propane cylinders should be stored on site and how often the supplier should come by to exchange the cylinders, ensuring that a company never has to worry about not having fuel.

A major benefit of propane’s refueling systems is that once one propane cylinder is emptied, an employee can simply swap it out with a full cylinder and get right back to work. There’s no refueling downtime. One propane cylinder typically lasts an entire eight-hour shift, giving companies uninterrupted operational capability.

Another advantage to propane refueling is that an investment in propane cylinders and storage cages can last decades. Beyond the initial equipment purchase and cost of fuel, companies are only responsible for buying and storing the cylinders — which can last up to 27 years of use, three times as long as the average forklift battery. Additionally, companies may be able to lease propane cylinders and storage cages from their propane supplier.

Finally, companies may also be able to lock in a fuel price with their local propane supplier, providing more financial peace of mind.

Question 2: What safety measures does my company need to take to accommodate using propane forklifts?

Due to the nature of the equipment, forklifts introduce some workplace risks. Like any forklift, using best practices during operation greatly reduces the risk of workplace injury. But outside of that, there are a couple of ways companies can work with their propane supplier to ensure safety when operating, storing, and exchanging cylinders for propane-powered forklifts.

A propane supplier will work with a company to determine the best location for placing propane infrastructure, but generally, the safest location for a propane cylinder storage rack or cage is located away from exits, stairways, entryways, and high-traffic areas. The cylinders can be stored horizontally with the pressure relief valves in the uppermost position, and operators should use proper lifting techniques when removing cylinders from storage and placing onto a forklift.

For operations where fueling needs are handled by the forklift operator or other internal staff, the propane supplier will provide training specific to the refueling process. The training will show operators the proper techniques for lifting cylinders and placing them on equipment safely, among other procedures. Additionally, each time propane cylinders are exchanged, a propane supplier will inspect them and remove any with damage or excessive wear, ensuring continued safety for employees and equipment.

Propane forklifts are also able to be used in indoor warehouses with proper ventilation as well as in outdoor or cold-storage applications. Propane produces far fewer carbon monoxide emissions than diesel-powered forklifts, and are rated to withstand dust, debris, and liquid from outdoor use. By working with a propane supplier, companies can check that all ventilation meets federal safety requirements.

And that’s it. Unlike electric forklifts, there are no additional electrical hazards or heavy batteries to worry about. Propane is also nontoxic, unlike diesel, which would require downtime to clean up and safely dispose of.

Question 3: How can propane help my company’s low-emissions efforts?

For companies that want to reduce their carbon footprint, propane is a great solution that offers benefits beyond simply reducing emissions. For example, propane is classified as an approved clean alternative fuel under the Clean Air Act of 1990, and its use in forklifts is eligible for alternative fuel rebates. By talking to a propane supplier, companies may be able to learn more about applying for these rebates, or if additional local incentives are available for propane use.

A propane supplier can also let companies in on new innovations and insights on propane and forklift technology, such as the results from a recent emissions study done by the Propane Education & Research Council in partnership with the Gas Technology Institute. The study, which was conducted from 2016-2019, revealed that propane forklifts had an edge over gasoline, diesel, and electric equipment.

Another innovation for companies to watch is the increasing possibility of renewable propane, a byproduct of the renewable diesel and jet fuel production process which converts plant and vegetable oils, waste greases, and animal fat into fuel. The fuel is carbon neutral at the point of combustion, meaning no new carbon is added to the atmosphere when renewable propane is burned.

Setting up a relationship with a propane supplier can ensure long-term benefits for companies using propane forklifts, as they can provide consistent refueling, regular training for employees, and eyes on safe refueling equipment. Additionally, propane suppliers can keep companies apprised of new opportunities and advances in the industry.

For more information about propane forklifts, visit Propane.com/Propane-Products/Forklifts.

Jeremy Wishart is director of off-road business development for the Propane Education & Research Council. He can be reached at jeremy.wishart@propane.com.