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What is Propane?

Sara Schmidt
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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Whether being used for daily cooking use, home heating, or the occasional barbecue, propane is a popular fuel. A liquid form of petroleum gas, it is not a naturally occurring resource. It is instead refined from crude oil or natural gas, then pressurized until it becomes a gas.

Many people refer to this fuel as liquefied petroleum, or LP, and it is also known as liquefied petroleum gas, or LPG. The gas's European name is autogas. It is odorless and colorless, and it can be used to power homes, businesses, vehicles, and emergency backup generators.

On its own, propane is considered nontoxic. A fuel with a high octane rating, it is considered to be safe around water, soil, and other resources. For this reason, it is often used in portable stoves, torches, BBQ grills, and other outdoor equipment.

This gas is used all across the globe by millions of people in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors. It is typically stored in a tank, from which it can be easily dispensed and refilled. Residential tanks may fuel a whole home, or only one energy source in a home, such as the stove. Some people prefer to use propane in their homes in order to maintain power during electrical outages.

Molecularly, the gas is made up of eight hydrogen molecules and three carbon molecules. When in liquid form, this fuel has a temperature of -50°F (10°C), and its boiling point is -44°F (7°C). This means that that it is dangerously cold and should not come into contact with human skin.

Though considered a fairly safe and efficient fuel, propane is a petroleum product. The gas is a nonrenewable resource, created from fossil fuels over millions of years. Humans cannot replace it, so it may eventually have to be replaced by alternative fuel sources.

This fuel can also be dangerous in some situations. Propane has more than 25 times the energy of natural gas, so it can cause severe damage if a storage tank ruptures or explodes. Such occurrences can be deadly, resulting in massive destruction and property loss. Gas leaks can also create explosions or fires. This fuel can also produce carbon monoxide, a toxic gas that is listed as one of the most common causes of air poisoning across the globe.

Safety precautions can be met in order to prevent LP damage from occurring. Oderants are often added to it so that it can be smelled in the case of leaks. Care should be used when mowing or moving objects around tanks to avoid jostling or possibly rupturing them. Tanks should never be stored indoors, and should always kept upright. Tanks should never be cut in half or thrown away in a dumpster; instead, they should be properly disposed of by contacting a gas company.

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Sara Schmidt
By Sara Schmidt
With a Master's Degree in English from Southeast Missouri State University, Sara Schmidt puts her expertise to use by writing for WiseGeek, plus various magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She published her own novella and has other literary projects in the works. Sara's diverse background includes teaching children in Spain, tutoring college students, running CPR and first aid classes, and organizing student retreats, reflecting her passion for education and community engagement.
Discussion Comments
By disciples — On Oct 16, 2012

Where can I find the lowest prices on propane refills? If there a website or some kind of service that tracks the prices in your area the way they do with gas prices?

By truman12 — On Oct 15, 2012

I know that a lot of people swear by charcoal grills, but I have always been a propane guy myself.

I think it is easier to set up, cheaper in the long run, and easier to cook on. Plus, I do not always need to grill a bunch of stuff. For instance, I make a great grilled veggie lasagna, but it would be a huge waste to have to build an entire charcoal fire for 5 minutes of veggie grilling. The propane grill lets me grill only as much as I need.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt
With a Master's Degree in English from Southeast Missouri State University, Sara Schmidt puts her expertise to use by writing for WiseGeek, plus various magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She published her own novella and has other literary projects in the works. Sara's diverse background includes teaching children in Spain, tutoring college students, running CPR and first aid classes, and organizing student retreats, reflecting her passion for education and community engagement.
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