(November 14, 2017) — Capt. Bernardo Herzer, chairman and founder of LEHR Inc. (Los Angeles), has a passion for creating applications for propane that result in a cleaner planet through environmentally friendly technology. Since 2004, LEHR has been producing propane-fueled lawn and garden products, as well as the world’s first line of propane-powered outboard motors. The clean-burning products are designed to be a reliable replacement for their gasoline-burning counterparts, stemming the pollutants they produce. Unlike gasoline, propane is not a water pollutant.
The benefits to the environment caught the attention of the International Green Industry Hall of Fame (IGIHOF), which in October presented Herzer with its Lifetime Achievement Award and inducted him into the organization. The mission of IGIHOF is to recognize excellence and outstanding achievements in the green industry. He has also been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with a Clean Air Excellence Award. From his base in Southern California, Herzer has traveled to all corners of the globe promoting propane as the best clean alternative fuel to replace gasoline in all types of engines. In October, as he has done in the past, Herzer spoke at the annual World LP Gas Forum in Morocco, updating those attending on application developments for propane in the marine industry.
Herzer began his maritime career at the age of 14, and joined a world sailing tour with his family at 17. He later owned and commanded oceanographic research vessels on many expeditions, including some for the U.K. Department of Fish and Wildlife in the North Sea. Concerns about climate change and overfishing led him to a career as an advocate for those issues and a creator of solutions. Many involved the utilization of propane, owing to its environmentally friendly benefits.
His concerns about gasoline spillage led him to convert gasoline-powered engines for land vehicles and maritime vessels in his teenage years. He later founded LEHR, a self-funded venture. After his success with lawn and garden products, he began offering the world’s first OEM propane outboard motors. Herzer holds more than 60 patents and hundreds of products in multiple industries. LEHR also offers propane commercial floor polishing and grinding equipment, as well as propane scooters. In addition, the company supplies fuel systems to OEMs in the form of propane engine solutions.
In 2014, Herzer was appointed chairman of the World LP Gas Association’s (WLPGA) Marine Group, whose key objectives include:
• Creating awareness in a coordinated manner on the use of LPG for marine purposes;
• Bringing the LPG industry and related manufacturers together with aligned activities to grow the marine segment’s use of the fuel; and
• Helping educate local and regional legislators to accommodate and promote LPG for marine applications
At the 2017 WLPGA Forum in October 2017, Herzer updated those attending on efforts to upgrade maritime standards internationally for all vessels, from small fishing boats to coastal freighters and ferries, on up. Herzer told BPN, “There is a huge consensus to improve maritime emissions. Until recently, propane has not been utilized as a marine fuel in any meaningful way, but when it comes to environment-friendliness as well as economic advantages, propane is the peg that best fits in the hole.” At the WLPGA gathering he also introduced a new propane-fueled two-stroke outboard motor, designed to be a good fit for smaller boats.
“In comparison with traditional and alternative fuels such as CNG and LNG, LPG has the distinct advantage of not being a greenhouse gas,” Herzer said. “For example, LNG has a certain amount of fuel that doesn’t burn, which is called slippage. Vessels fueled by LNG release this unburned methane greenhouse gas to the atmosphere.” He doesn’t consider CNG ideal because of the high pressure and low energy density in a compressed gas, as well as the high cost of the equipment. “Electric may be fine for automobiles, but propane provides more engine density to power vessels through the water,” he said. Skeptics may point out that propane’s gasoline-gallon equivalent (GGE) is 80%, or simply, a gallon of propane produces 80% of the energy of a gallon of gasoline. However, Herzer points out that since a gallon of propane is lighter than premium unleaded gasoline (4.2 lb versus 6.5 lb), it actually packs more punch per pound than gasoline.
What are the big challenges for propane in the marine sector? Propane has the potential to replace other fuels due to its lower cost and environmental benefits, but Herzer points out the need to educate consumers and work with authorities to update regulations. In conjunction with WLPGA, whose members are stakeholders, manufacturers, and LPG distributors worldwide, he is striving to switch over to newer technologies to meet the environmental demands of a changing world.
He has his work cut out for him in his quest to replace fueloils. Further, the natural gas lobby is strong in its support for LNG, and the European Union supports it. Nonetheless, regarding LPG use in all vessels, from small skiffs to ocean going cargo vessels, he is excited about the progress being made, especially with larger ships. Herzer is an advocate of LPGreen, a joint development project between four maritime industry partners, which has developed a new LPG carrier that should reduce fuel use in all stages of operation.
A savings of 5% to 9% in total consumption for loading and discharging, as well as sailing in laden condition and under ballast, is expected according to DNV GL, the classification society and one of four partners in LPGreen. According to Kostas Vlachos, COO of Consolidated Marine Management (CMM), another LPGreen partner, “The LPGreen project could not have happened at a better time. With 2020 fast approaching, the shipping industry will have to make the right decisions in regard to the proper option and avoid spending a lot of money unnecessarily to meet the new regulations coming over the horizon. This concept of LPG carriers offering the efficient option of burning LPG is new. Nothing like it has been developed in the past.”
As chairman of the WLPGA’s Marine Group, Herzer has been instrumental in educating the LPG industry about upcoming Marine Classification Society and International Maritime Organization (IMO) emissions standards. The more stringent rules take effect in 2020. He discussed with BPN the business partners in 30-plus countries LEHR is working with, and the various challenges faced in first- and second-world countries versus third-world countries. “In first- and second-world countries we face the challenge of getting industry leaders to ‘un-learn’ a few assumptions and re-learn what they need to know, including opportunities with a new fuel.” The LPGreen project, an example of a first-world project, has some main objectives: use LPG as a fuel; develop a highly fuel-efficient vessel; increase load rates to spend less time at terminals; and give utmost attention to both safety and an ergonomic arrangement of machinery to improve the safety of the ship personnel as well as ship operability.
At the WLPGA Forum in Morocco, Herzer discussed the challenge facing maritime propane use in third-world countries and how his company is meeting this challenge. “We introduced our new two-stroke motor,” Herzer said. “This is a lighter engine that is much more appealing to fishermen who often carry the engine to and from their boat daily. It has been tough to sell owners of small vessels to switch to propane use when it requires a move from a two-stroke engine to a four-stroke engine, [which is] typically heavier and more expensive. LEHR is now offering a two-stroke motor.” Herzer’s newest innovation, the world’s first OEM two-stroke LPG-powered outboard engine, is the company’s largest propane outboard yet, a 40-hp model. The two-stroke, oil-injected marine outboard engines utilize LEHR’s gaseous fuel technology to eliminate the environmental downside of gasoline, extend engine life, and reduce the cost of operation. “This new innovation incorporates an oil-injection system that is both reliable and cost effective,” he said. “LEHR has introduced a direct competitor to gasoline 40-hp two-strokes, which are the most common commercial fishing engines in the world.”
For propane companies in the U.S., there are opportunities for maritime propane consumption, especially those near the ocean or large lakes, Herzer added, but there are also markets along small rivers and lakes. He pointed out that fishing is the largest participation sport in the U.S. today. “I know baseball and football are perceived as the biggest sports in the U.S., but in terms of what people actually do instead of watch, it is fishing. And people who fish often already have a propane source for their barbeque grills.” He noted that pontoon boats are the top users of new engines in the marine industry. Pontoon boats usually require 200 gallons of propane at a time. “This is a worthwhile drop for a propane retailer. There is a lot of opportunity in getting to know those in the marine industry in your area and selling them on the benefits, especially cost savings and less environmentally-unfriendly exhaust under the water,” Herzer said.
It remains to be seen if propane ultimately becomes a dominant marine fuel. It is certainly worth strong consideration and Herzer is steadily playing a role in changing the way people think. —Pat Thornton