Propane is an appealing fuel for many reasons. It is a reliable, affordable, American-made fuel that can heat a home for the winter just as easily as it can power a small grill on the Fourth of July.
The National Propane Gas Association estimates approximately 50 million American households use propane in some form, with 7.8 million of those households relying on propane for their heating. Propane also serves as a fuel source for about 900,000 commercial, 168,000 industrial and 320,000 agricultural businesses and contributes about $46.4 billion to the United States’ gross domestic product each year.
But did you know propane is a clean energy source that can also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Read on to learn more about the benefits of propane as a dependable and energy-efficient fuel.
What Is Propane?
Propane is a byproduct of natural gas production and crude oil refining, produced from the liquid substances recovered during these processes. Other fuels produced in this way include ethane, methane, butane and other hydrocarbons.
Does Propane Help Cut Emissions?
Using propane can help reduce carbon emissions.
Like petroleum and natural gas, propane is a fossil fuel. So, as with using petroleum, using propane means generating some amount of carbon emissions. However, propane has a lower carbon content than other fossil fuels like gasoline and diesel.
Carbon Dioxide Emissions Factor
A figure known as the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions factor describes the carbon content of different gases.
1. Emissions From Heating
For stationary combustion emissions — the type produced by a heating system, for example — we would measure the CO2 emissions factor in kilograms of CO2 per million British thermal units, which are a measure of heat.
Bituminous coal, for instance, has a high CO2 emissions factor of about 93.28, and natural gas has a CO2 emissions factor of approximately 66.88. Propane has a lower CO2 emissions factor of only around 62.87. This emissions factor is not exceptionally low — the number for biomass gas is 52.07 — but it is lower than many other types of fossil fuels. Direct use of propane around the home also reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 50%, compared with the use of electricity.
2. Emissions From Vehicles
Measurements for the CO2 emissions factor for vehicles are slightly different. Often, we measure mobile combustion CO2 emissions factors in kilograms of CO2 per gallon. Measured this way, the CO2 emissions factor for gasoline is 8.78 kilograms per gallon. For diesel fuel, it is 10.21, for jet fuel, it is 9.75 and for biodiesel, it is 9.45. For propane, this figure is again much lower, at 5.72 kilograms of CO2 per gallon. In vehicles, propane engines emit 12% less CO2, 20% less nitrogen oxide and 30% less carbon monoxide (CO) than gasoline engines, and they produce 80% fewer hydrocarbon emissions overall than diesel engines.
So using propane means sending fewer harmful carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Homeowners, farmers and other business owners who use propane for heat can feel good about doing their small part to help curb the carbon emissions that have powered climate change.
Propane Benefits and Considerations
Using propane as a fuel source has a few other notable benefits as well.
Lower transportation costs: The United States meets some of its need for fuel with imports from abroad. The transportation costs associated with importing petroleum from across the world can be high. But much more of the United States’ propane supply comes from North America, so the transportation costs associated with propane are often lower.
Energy security: The domestic infrastructure used to transport propane is reliable. A stable network of pipelines, railroads, barges, highways, trucks and tanker ships helps keep the supply chain moving. So the likelihood of fuel disruptions due to infrastructure problems or disturbances abroad is relatively low. And unlike the electrical grid, your store of propane can never experience an outage during a storm. Using propane can provide consumers with the peace of mind of knowing that their fuel source is dependable and secure.
Fuel diversification: Relatedly, relying too heavily on a single form of fuel would put the United States at a disadvantage economically. If the United States relied solely on petroleum imports from Saudi Arabia, for example, and that supply suddenly became scarce, fuel costs would skyrocket. Using fuels from different sources is one helpful solution, and using different types of fuel is another. Having severl different fuels at our disposal, including propane, makes it less likely the United States would be subject to an economic crisis if oil or electrical costs soared.
Agricultural benefits: Propane is in use on about 40% of American farms. And for agricultural businesses, propane offers substantial perks. The Propane Education and Research Council (PERC) offers farming companies up to $5,000 as a financial incentive for buying qualifying new propane-powered equipment. In exchange, the farms commit to providing PERC with performance data about that equipment. Though this program may not be right for everyone, if businesses in the agriculture industry have been interested in switching to propane, this farm incentive program could be just the thing to make it worth the investment.
Is It Worth Switching to Propane?
Whether or not switching to propane is a sound investment depends on a few different factors.
There are a few disadvantages to using propane. Propane has a lower fuel economy than gasoline does, though its lower cost per gallon may outweigh this potential drawback. But some of the advantages may make switching to propane the right choice if they are priorities for you and your home or business. It’s essential to keep the following considerations in mind.
Environmental friendliness: As we have discussed above, propane emits less carbon into the atmosphere than many other fuels. Though propane is not strictly green energy — it still produces greenhouse gases, after all — it is a much cleaner form of energy than gasoline and most other fossil fuels. If you value environmentally friendly energy, propane is worth considering.
Costs: Propane-powered vehicles are often more expensive than the comparable gas-powered vehicles required to transport gasoline. But propane itself is generally cheaper than gas, so using propane as a vehicle fuel may quickly give returns on the investment. And using propane as a heating source can lower fuel bills as well. If cost-effectiveness is a priority, propane might be the right choice.
Safety: Propane is flammable, but it is completely safe when handled properly. And one benefit of propane is that it is nontoxic to living things. So if it leaks into the soil or a nearby body of water, it will do less harm than a spill of crude oil or gasoline.
Widespread availability: Though many fuel companies supply propane, propane is not as readily available as fuels like diesel and gasoline or automatically installed in most homes the way electricity is. If availability is a high priority, other options may work better for you, or you may choose to work with a reliable fuel company that can keep you supplied with propane and refills all year long.
Contact Foster Fuels for All Your Propane Needs
When you’re considering a switch to affordable, clean-burning propane, trust Foster Fuels as your supplier. We are a local, family-owned, full-service business with 94 years of service in the industry, and we pride ourselves on our friendly, reliable customer service and three generations of industry expertise. We offer both residential and commercial fuel services. And our auto-fill program means you can get convenient refills whenever our trucks are in the area, so you can have a reliable supply of propane on hand without having to pick up the phone.