Propane: Homegrown, clean energy

- 12:23 am - July 22nd, 2016


Propane – you’ve heard about it for years. It’s not a new commodity in the energy market, but it’s role is changing.

The ubiquitous by-product is as commonplace in the world of energy production as manure is in industrial agriculture. But unlike manure, propane can easily be harnessed into clean energy with many applications.

That’s why propane is increasingly giving its more commonly known cousins - natural gas, fossil fuels and electricity – a run for their money. And with that shift, propane, and the technology that relies on it for power, is emerging as a better, more environmentally friendly source of energy.

What is propane and how is it used?

Propane is a by-product of natural gas processing and petroleum refining. This gas is everywhere these energy products are made.

Colorless, odorless and tasteless, propane can be extracted from natural gas streams in natural gas processing plants as well as by refiners as part of the crude oil production process. Propane extraction from natural gas accounts for more than 70 percent of the United States’ domestic supply.

When people think of propane, they often think of fuel canisters powering gas grills and outdoor stoves. But the gas has much more far reaching applications in residential and commercial markets for structural heating by way of furnaces, boilers and gas logs as well as water heating, cooking, household appliances such as clothes dryers and out-door industrial equipment including mowers, generators and tractors.

As the propane market grows, a new technology emerging is combined heat and power systems, which harness the gas in such a way that maximizes energy value and efficiency.

Big Benefits    

In terms of efficiency and long-term return-on-investment, propane is gaining ground. The area, though, where the gas is getting the most attention, is on the environmental front where it’s being seen more and more as a clean energy option.

Energy choices for commercial and residential consumers are becoming more complex as they now weigh not just typical factors such as cost, performance, reliability and safety, but also energy efficiency and environmental impacts.

There are some upfront costs when it comes to propane powered systems, particularly for structural heating and combined heat and power units, but the long-term economic value and reduction in environmental footprints for consumers offer plenty of incentives.

Here’s a few factors to consider:

  • Unlike natural gas, propane is not a greenhouse gas, and unlike fuel oil, propane is not a groundwater contaminant.
  • Propane is a low-carbon fuel that has essentially no greenhouse gas effect because it deteriorates rapidly when released into the atmosphere.
  • Propane-powered combined heat and power systems deliver approximately twice the energy value from a unit of fuel compared to electricity from a central generation station.
  • A propane household produces on average 7.6 metric tons of CO2 annually compared to 10.1 for an all-electric home.
  • Electric baseboard heat and electric furnaces produce approximately three times as many greenhouse gas emissions as a propane furnace.
  • A propane hot water heater produces one-half the greenhouse gas emissions as an electric hot water heater.  
  • Per pound of fuel burned, coal emits more than twice the amount of carbon dioxide as propane does.
  • As a fuel, propane produces fewer criteria pollutants than diesel, fuel oil, gasoline and coal, including reactive hydrocarbons, sulfur oxide, mercury and particulate matter.
  • A propane furnace saves more than 5,000 kilograms of CO2 per year compared to an electric furnace.
  • A propane water heater saves around 1,000 kilograms of CO2 per year compared to an electric water heater.

At the end of the day, propane is a domestically produced, clean energy source that offers great efficiencies and long-term solutions to some of today’s toughest energy issues. What’s not to consider?