The kitchen is defined by several things, including pots, food, kitchen appliances like the refrigerator and the microwave, and many others. The most prominent of all is a source of fuel to cook the food. Most developing nations or the majority of the people in rural areas use firewood to lit the fire for the same, whereas urban centers and the developed world use propane gas.
Propane gas is commonly referred to as Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) and is the common source of fuel for homes, industries, businesses and agriculture. It is used for heating, cooking and is also used as fuel for internal combustion engine applications. For a product that has such valuable uses, could it be bad for the environment or is it safe? This article discusses propane and its effects on the environment.
Is Propane Gas Harmful to The Environment?
Propane gas is not harmful to the environment. Of course like any gas, propane will have some level of emissions. However, it is fairly low compared to other fuels. Actually, while propane does emit low levels of carbon dioxide, it does not emit any wastes such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides or methane.
Propane is an environmentally friendly fuel both before and after combustion and therefore does not leave a detrimental impact on the environment. It is a relatively clean-burning fuel and is known for its lower carbon content.
Where propane is associated with harm is if someone breathes in or swallows it. It is colorless and odorless but is extremely flammable and taking it in can be a fire hazard. It also takes the place of oxygen in the lungs, making breathing more difficult or impossible.
The gas occurs naturally and comes from natural gas wells and oil wells and does not occur in isolation. It is naturally found in combination with other hydrocarbons and can only be retrieved through the natural gas processing and crude oil refinery processes.
It is extracted from heated crude oil using a distillation tower, separated from the unprocessed natural gas using refrigeration, pressurized and stored as a liquid in cylinders and tanks. The pressurization and storage in pressure vessels help ease the storage, shipping and distribution of the gas.
Is Propane Flammable?
Yes, propane is a flammable liquefied gas. Under pressure, and in its liquid state, commonly referred to as LPG, propane is not flammable. Only when the fuel is released and converted to a propane gas will it become combustible.
It is for this reason that when stored in its liquid state, it is easily stored without the worry of it bursting into flames. However, if it hits temperatures above -44° F (-42° C), including room temperature, the propane will ‘boil’ move from its liquid state to a gaseous state and will ignite quite easily. This makes it ideal for use in cooking appliances as well as in other applications.
Another issue to consider to understand if propane is flammable is the ratio or mix of propane and atmospheric air. Between 2.15% and 9.6% propane and air mixture is required for propane to be combustible. Any content higher or lower than these figures, and the combustion will be blocked.
Such improper mixtures can also lead to the production of unhealthy carbon monoxide gas, which results from incomplete combustion. When the mixture of air and propane is maintained at ideal levels, it burns and is one of the safest and clean sources of fuels in the world. Its narrow range of flammability, and its much higher ignition temperature, make it a safe fuel for consumer applications.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), rates propane as a “0” for risk of instability. The organisation’s rating of 4 on flammability, indicates that propane burns readily, and as such, requires cautions in handling in use.
Such caution includes prohibiting smoking or open flames in storage areas where propane is stored. Although specific conditions must be present for propane to ignite, users need to be aware of their environment when using propane.
The good thing about propane is that its tanks are puncture-resistant, and is more than 20 times resilient than tanks holding gasoline, ethanol and methanol. Moreover, since propane is stored under pressure in liquid form, the storage tanks are engineered to hold up for years, even under extreme conditions.
Is LPG the Same as Propane?
Yes and No! Well, the two terms are used interchangeably especially in the grilling industry. In fact, propane, liquid propane, propane gas, and LP all refer to the same thing when talking about grills. However, when you decide to get technical with the two, the differences become more apparent.
Propane gas, after its extraction, is put under pressure, so that it can be stored, and is stored in a liquid state. Whenever you open the valve on a propane tank to use the grill, that liquid propane is actually boiling back into propane gas, which is then sent into the grill through the hose or regulator.
When liquid propane boils into a gas, it drops down to about -43.6° F, which is why propane tanks feel cold to the touch. It is also why condensation can form on them on hot and humid summer days.
The other major difference is in the fact that liquified petroleum gas (LPG), can be referring to either propane or butane gas. Propane and butane have similar chemical formulate, are liquified under pressure, and both flammable gases are considered LPG.
Whilst propane and butane are both independently LPG, they are unique chemically, being different chemical compounds. Propane’s chemical formula is C3H8 while butane is C4H10 and while LPG is either or a mixture of the two, they are different chemicals.
This means when you talk of LPG you could be referring to propane, butane or a mixture of the two. The distinction depends on the manufacture as well as the country. For instance, in Australia, LPG is composed of propane, therefore when referring to LPG as propane, would be accurate. However in the United States, ‘LPG’ is not a common term and the majority call it propane.
Is Propane a Greenhouse Gas?
No, propane is not a greenhouse gas. Propane is not regarded as a greenhouse gas and is even listed as an approved clean energy source by the 1990 Clean Air Act. This does not mean that it does not release or emit greenhouse gases, because it does.
However, the levels of emissions are fairly low in comparison to other fuels. In fact, while it does emit low levels of carbon dioxide, propane does not emit any wastes such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides or methane.
According to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)’s analysis on the emissions of carbon dioxide across different fuels, propane emits 139.0 pounds per million British thermal units (Btu). Only natural gas emits less, at 117.0, with coal-producing anywhere between 214.3 and 228.6 pounds per Btu.
According to Propane Education and Research Council, propane can actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The gas and its use has been approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency as a clean alternative fuel and also performs better than many other fuels concerning greenhouse gas emissions.
Even when upstream emissions, which are emissions released as a result of extracting and processing energy, are factored into the equation, propane is still one of the best fuel options from a greenhouse gas perspective. In addition, the gas does not have contaminants of other fuels like diesel and has fewer criteria pollutants across many applications.
What’s more, is how propane is portable, can be well stored and has loads of environmental benefits, making it better for serving the unique needs of several applications.
Is Propane Environmentally Friendly?
Indeed, propane is environmentally friendly. There are several reasons as to why such a bold conclusion can be arrived at:
1. It lowers greenhouse gas emissions
Propane is one of the cleanest and most versatile fuels in the world. According to the Canadian Propane Association, propane can emit up to 26% fewer greenhouse gases than gasoline in vehicles, 38% fewer greenhouse gases than fuel oil in furnaces and half the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of a charcoal barbecue.
What’s more, propane’s end-use greenhouse gas emissions are significantly lower than gasoline, diesel, heating oil and coal. Only natural gas has a better track record with regards to having lower end-use carbon dioxide emissions than propane.
The two are therefore better than ethanol, gasoline, kerosene diesel, heavy fuel oils and bituminous coal in that order with regards to the same, with the coal producing the most carbon dioxide.
2. It reduces air pollutants
Air pollutants negatively affect people and ecosystems worldwide. This means a gas that produces or emits fewer pollutants is better for the environment. Propane emits 60% less carbon monoxide than gasoline, 98% less particulate matter than diesel and contains virtually no sulfur, which contributes to the production of acid rain.
Further, propane emits no soot and also produces lower levels of air toxins, such as benzene and acetaldehyde, than either gasoline or diesel. Propane also emits low hydrogen and nitrogen oxides, which are the basic precursors of ground-level ozone, or smog.
3. When it spills
In the unlikely event of a leak, propane becomes a vapor that does not contaminate the soil, air or aquifers, unlike liquid fuels. Propane dissipates quickly into the atmosphere and a small amount of air movement is enough to disperse the vapor. This becomes important when operating in environmentally sensitive areas such as farms, nature reserves or by water.
4. It has no fugitive emission impacts
Fugitive emissions refer to a gas that escapes into the atmosphere before it is combusted. Propane, like any other gas, can escape into the atmosphere before being combusted. The good thing about it is that since it is not a greenhouse gas, it has no impact on the atmosphere even if it is accidentally released before it is combusted.
Unfortunately for natural gas (methane), it is a potent greenhouse gas in its unburnt state. Up to 5% of natural gas is inadvertently released during transmission, before use and this unburnt methane generates 25 times more greenhouse impact on the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
5. It can combat climate change
Propane plays a vital role in the fight against climate change in several ways. First, it helps to lower the emissions in the transportation industry, the largest emitting sector. It does this by utilizing low-emission vehicle technology that is available now.
Secondly, it strengthens infrastructure resiliency planning and risk management by providing a backup energy source at vulnerable public facilities.
Thirdly, propane acts as a reliable and portable backup energy source to be used in conjunction with renewables.
Finally, it lowers emissions and improves the health outcomes in rural and remote communities that use diesel or fuel oil.