What is LPG? Natural gas is one of the world's most commonly used fuels. However its versatility is limited as it can only be transported via a pipeline. Where natural gas mains do not reach or a remote unit requires a power source, LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) is the perfect solution. LPG is transportable in tanks, canisters and bottles. Because it can be so easily transported it is a great solution to ‘off-grid’ rural homes and businesses. LPG’s adaptability means it can provide an energy solution for numerous applications in addition to heating, hot water and cooking, such as camping, boating, vehicles, outdoor catering, hot air balloons and even portable hair-curling appliances.
LPG Explained - What is LPG?
LPG is a bi-product of crude oil refinement and therefore a fossil fuel. It is transported as a liquid. LPG is a chemical mix of mainly two flammable, non-toxic gases called propane and butane with a small mix of natural gas. Both propane and butane are hydrocarbons (their molecules are made up of different combinations of hydrogen and carbon atoms
. LPG sometimes contains a variant of butane called isobutene.
The content mix of each gas in LPG varies, dependent on where the LPG has come from. Some canisters contain pure butane, which tends to be used in smaller appliances like boats and gas-powered barbecue stoves. Butane doesn't burn well at low temperatures, so portable canisters will contain a blend of 20 percent propane and 80 percent butane. Propane is not affected by freezing temperatures as it has a much lower boiling point making it better for all year-round outdoor use in colder climates. Household tanks are more likely to contain a majority of propane to allow slow burning at lower temperatures.
What’s in an LPG tank?
An LPG tank or bottle contains a liquid and not a gas. The liquid is formed because the propane and butane have been compressed. This means the gases take up approximately 274 times less space than usual. By compressing (increasing the pressure of) the gas, it will lower the temperature dramatically, forming a liquid. Due to this process of compression, LPG takes up relatively little space, meaning that tanks and canisters can be deceptively more stocked than meets the eye. When LPG is then released slowly via a valve it turns back into a gas, rich in slow burning energy.
The usage of LPG can be split into two categories.
50% of LPG consumption takes part around homes, mainly for heating and cooking in place of piped natural gas. It’s normally used in rural homes that are remote from the mains gas supply. This form of LPG will be delivered by a tanker to a tank (can be above ground or below ground) situated outside the owner’s home and piped in through a valve. Smaller portable LPG canisters may be used around the home to power standalone stoves, BBQs and outdoor heaters. Outdoor heaters are very fuel-inefficient as they are literally only temporarily heating the surrounding air.
The other 50% of LPG used is a split between LPG powered vehicles and industrial use. Filling an LPG-converted vehicle will cost roughly half the price of a petrol and diesel vehicle at the pumps with minimal difference in performance. LPG is used not only in rural business for heating and cooking but anywhere that requires a unit to be remotely powered, such as porta-cabins, forklift trucks, welding, catering vans and kilns.
The ups and downs of LPG
People choose to power their homes with LPG when access to mains gas is unavailable. LPG is seen as a cleaner option to oil and coal as it burns efficiently and produces less carbon deposits. The gas remains competitive in price when supplied to homes and nearly half the price of petrol and diesel when powering vehicles. Users of LPG find that it burns at a constant temperature making it ideal for cooking and heating swimming pools in rural hotels. LPG is easily accessible by either canister or truck delivery. Compared to oil, LPG is not a dirty product, it is odourless and can’t be spilled. LPG supply companies (usually) own the tank located in the customer’s garden, which means the supplier pays for installation and maintenance.
LPG can carry risks. As a pressurized gas it is highly flammable and can be at risk of explosion. If LPG comes into contact with human skin (during refuelling) it could cause extreme frostbite and leave very painful scars. As LPG is a by-product of crude oil refinement, and therefore classed as a fossil fuel, although cleaner than most fossil fuels, LPG still remains harmful to the environment. LPG is considered higher risk than natural gas due to the transportation and refuelling points involved.