Asia will be the key driver for the liquid petroleum gas (LPG) market in the next decade as the industry works with the United Nations to promote the fuel as a clean and cheap alternative, an industry official said yesterday.

James Ferrell, president of the World LP Gas Association, said on the sidelines of a two-day LPG conference, that robust economic growth in China and a growing middle-class in Asia would propel rapid demand for LPG.

"The number one driver is going to be Asia," he said.

LPG, commonly known as propane and butane, is mostly used across Asia for cooking, heating water and transport.

Ferrell said a clear example was Thailand, the country that triggered the 1997-98 Asian economic crisis across the region but was now seeing robust growth.

State-owned petroleum firm PTT Plc said yesterday Thai LPG consumption was seen jumping 54 per cent by 2012 to four million tonnes, from 2.6 million tonnes in 2001.

Ferrell said Asia had a large "aggressive population" focused on improving their living and working conditions. "More Asian people seem to have an ability to move further ahead if they want to move ahead," Ferrell said.

He said in developed countries there was not a lot of room for market growth and competition from alternative fuels would prove tricky for LPG producers.

"It is a difficult time in developed countries, so the trick is to maintain market share and not worry too much about growth."

Ferrell said demand in most of Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe would help replace demand in the maturing markets in North America, Western Europe, Japan, and South Korea.

LPG demand in South Korea is projected to rise by just 6.5 per cent to 7.01 million tonnes between 2001 and 2004, according to Korea-based LG-Caltex Gas Co.

In order to find new markets, Ferrell said his industry body was co-ordinating with the UN Development Programme and other aid agencies to push LPG as a clean fuel alternative to those which cause respiratory diseases in many developing countries, such as coal and wood.

"It is important for our association to link programmes like that to our members and allow them to play a responsive role in world development," Ferrell said.

The theme of the association's conference in Bangkok this year was: LP Gas - A Clean Energy Fuelling Economic and Social Development.

Susan McDade, UNDP's sustainable energy programme manager, told the seminar more than two billion people in the developing world solely depend on traditional fuels like wood and animal dung for cooking and heating.

She said the pollution from those fuels killed over two million people a year in India alone. "The figure should make all of us think of how energy could affect people," McDade said.