Primary or secondary? Understanding propane stations in the DOE’s AFDC Station Locator

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC) Station Locator has been tracking alternative fueling station data for more than 20 years.

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A screenshot of the Station Locator map on the DOE Alternative Fuels Data Center website.
A screenshot of the Station Locator map on the DOE Alternative Fuels Data Center website.

As propane vehicle technology becomes more advanced, propane dispensing infrastructure has evolved along with it. In particular, the propane industry is focusing much of its attention on enhancing the customer fueling experience by installing propane dispensers that are dedicated for vehicle fueling. These industry trends have also spurred a change in the way that propane fueling station data is represented.

An example of a dedicated (or “purpose-built”) propane fueling station, which is primarily, or exclusively, used for fueling vehicles.
An example of a dedicated (or “purpose-built”) propane fueling station, which is primarily, or exclusively, used for fueling vehicles. Source: Utah Clean Cities

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC) Station Locator has been tracking alternative fueling station data for more than 20 years, including propane, biodiesel (B20 blends and above), compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, electric, E85 ethanol and hydrogen. It is the most comprehensive online database of public and private access alternative fueling stations in the United States.

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Because many public propane stations serve customers other than drivers and fleets (e.g., those looking to fill barbeque grill cylinders), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), who maintains the Station Locator, has collaborated over the years with propane industry partners to establish and represent the vehicle fueling capabilities of each station. The initial criteria, developed in 2012, were based on whether the propane station had vehicle-specific (i.e., lower) pricing for propane vehicle fuel.

Breaking Down Primary vs. Secondary Propane Stations
A table that helps break down primary vs. secondary propane stations in the Station Locator
An exmple of a non-dedicated (or non-“purpose-built”) propane fueling station, which is primarily used for fills other than propane vehicles (e.g., barbecue grill cylinders).
An exmple of a non-dedicated (or non-“purpose-built”) propane fueling station, which is primarily used for fills other than propane vehicles (e.g., barbecue grill cylinders). Source: Los Angeles Clean Cities

Based on feedback from propane industry partners, NREL revised the criteria in early 2016 to distinguish between propane dispensers that are purpose-built for vehicle fueling and those that are not primarily used for vehicle fueling. Pricing is no longer part of the criteria, though stations with vehicle-specific infrastructure may also have vehicle-specific pricing. As of early 2017, all 3,100+ public access propane fueling stations listed in the Station Locator are categorized with either a “primary” or “secondary” station service designation based on these revised criteria. The goal of these station service designation categories is to ensure that Station Locator users are aware of the fueling services available to them at each propane station they visit and to ultimately establish consistency in the propane vehicle fueling experience.

As the alternative fuels and advanced vehicle technologies evolve, NREL will continue to adapt the Station Locator to meet the needs of drivers and fleets. For more information about the Station Locator, visit the site via the links on this page. You may also contact the Technical Response Service at technicalresponse@icf.com or 800-254-6735 with any questions or comments.

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