Propane is a clean energy solution because propane is an environmentally friendly fuel.
At EDP, we are committed to a low-carbon, sustainable future for everyone in the U.S. and around the globe. Because energy usage is a complex topic, let’s look at some of the most common myths and misunderstandings about propane.
Actually, propane is very environmentally friendly. Propane is stored as a liquid, but when released into the air, it vaporizes and dissipates — which means it won’t contaminate groundwater, drinking water, marine ecosystems or other sensitive habitats. When vaporized, propane produces virtually no ozone-harming effects and unlike natural gas, it is not a greenhouse gas in its un-combusted state.
It’s important to understand that electricity doesn’t automatically mean de-carbonization. Electricity must be generated by a primary energy source and in the U.S., natural gas and coal are electricity’s largest primary energy sources. Further, once generated, electricity must be transmitted through power lines, where electrons encounter resistance and lose energy. This means that getting one unit of electricity to wherever the plug is located can take up to three units of source energy. Propane is different. According to the Department of Energy’s Energy Star program, propane has a source-site ratio of 1.01. It is delivered on site, rather than transmitted or piped, so virtually no energy is lost in the transfer. Plus, propane’s storage flexibility means sensitive habitats can remain undisturbed, eliminating the need for pipelines or high-voltage power line installations.
For years, the Propane Education & Research Council has been committed to facilitating the production of propane from renewable sources — and now, it has arrived. And it’s arrived via a price competitive, abundant feedstock with low carbon intensity, one with a high-energy conversion so BTU’s aren’t wasted.
Bio-diesel refineries can produce renewable propane from animal fats and cooking oils before they are made into bio-diesel — material once resigned to the landfill now has a new life. Our research has found that renewable propane has an ultra-low carbon intensity and that agricultural byproducts — such as biomass –– will likely provide the ability to make renewable propane at scale. And because renewable propane’s chemical structure and physical properties are the same as propane produced from fossil fuels, it can be used for all the same applications.
No energy is completely clean — even renewables like solar, wind, and hydroelectric have negative environmental effects. But when it comes to carbon emissions, propane is one of the cleanest fuels available. In comparison to other widely used fuels, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows that propane offers one of the lowest in carbon emissions per million BTUs. Here’s a summary table:
For a comprehensive comparison of fuel types, please visit: https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/co2_vol_mass.php
Propane is extremely energy efficient, especially when compared to other fuels. Liquid propane has a higher energy density than ethanol, methanol and liquefied natural gas, meaning propane vehicles go farther on a tank of fuel than most other liquid alternative fuels, assuming comparable equipment efficiency. And because electricity is a secondary energy source, generated using a primary energy source, saying it’s the most environmentally friendly fuel available is not accurate. According to EIA, 2019 saw about 24% of electricity in the U.S. produced by the burning of coal.
Like conventional vehicles, propane vehicles comply with all applicable safety regulations, including Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Compared to gasoline and diesel, propane has a higher autoignition temperature (the point at which a gas or vapor can ignite in air without a spark or flame being present), making unintentional autoignition far less likely.
In a real-world study conducted by West Virginia University, propane autogas school buses reduced smog-producing emissions by cutting 96 percent more nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions compared to clean diesel buses.
Plus, propane autogas passenger vehicles can emit up to 36% fewer NOx emissions than diesel vehicles, 70% fewer sulfur oxide emissions and up to 45% less particulate matter than electric passenger cars throughout the full fuel cycle.
Propane fuel has a lower carbon content than electricity, conventional gasoline and diesel fuel. That’s why propane is listed as an approved clean alternative fuel under the Energy Policy Act of 1992.
Fuels aren’t binary: clean or dirty, good or bad. They exist on a continuum from very clean to very dirty. Consider solar and wind (pretty clean energies once they are produced) on one end of the continuum, with coal and oil (dirty when they burn) on the other.
From a carbon standpoint, natural gas sits closer to the cleaner end of the continuum, but natural gas has its own problem. It is methane, a greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide, but 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Once it’s in the atmosphere, it absorbs sunlight like a sponge.
Propane — not a greenhouse gas in its original state and made when methane is purified for commercial use — takes its place on the carbon continuum close to renewable resources, which is why propane is designated a clean energy alternative under the Energy Policy Act of 1992.
Not true — propane is extremely versatile! Classified as an alternative fuel under the Energy Policy Act of 1992, propane is used in nearly 12 million U.S. households for residential purposes. Millions of Americans also use propane for transportation, commercial, industrial and agricultural applications—you’ll even find propane powering fleets of buses serving schools and National Parks like Acadia and Mammoth Cave. And don’t forget the tens of thousands of forklifts operating in enclosed warehouses (where low emissions are highly desirable), the thousands of mowers, and the myriad high-intensity energy agricultural uses like grain drying.
With more people working and cooking at home, awareness of indoor air quality is higher than ever before. Individuals with pre-existing lung conditions are especially concerned about hazardous air pollutant contributors. In the video below, we look at ten indoor air quality facts, including cooking with propane and natural gas at home, along with offering some helpful tips for improving your overall air quality.
Propane and natural gas have many similarities, but the two fuels are not the same. This video compares natural gas to propane and looks at the three main differences between the two.
Not until the electric grid is 100% renewable. In 2020, 60% of all electrical power generation in the United States came from burning coal or natural gas. Even electrification advocates admit electrifying everything will take over 20 years and cost about $20-$25 trillion. Clean and renewable energy like propane can accelerate decarbonization today.
While most electric vehicles produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than their gasoline-powered counterparts, carbon still runs through them in the form of grid electricity, and more than 60% of energy used for grid electricity generation is lost in conversion. And as the New York Times reports, “Like many other batteries, the lithium -ion cells that power most electric vehicles rely on raw materials — like cobalt, lithium and rare earth elements — that have been linked to grave environmental and human rights concerns.”
These days, they can! The propane industry is continuously innovating, both at the industrial end of the marketplace and for families enjoying a camping trip with the Little Kamper’s exchange service, for example, or Ignik’s stylish and refillable gas growler. Both provide refillable, no-waste solutions for heat and cooking outdoors.
False. Propane contains zero methane.
Global warming potential (GWP) is a measure of the relative global warming effects of different gases. The higher the GWP number of a given gas, the more warming of the Earth compared to CO2 over a comparable time period. Carbon dioxide has been designated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as the reference/baseline gas, so it has a GWP of 1. Because of its low carbon chemistry, propane has a GWP of 5, much lower than emissions from other energy sources.
Methane, on the other hand, is the primary component of natural gas and a powerful greenhouse gas. When released into the air, methane is slow to break down and produces a global warming effect 28 times that of CO2 over a 100-year period. Measured over a 20-year period, that ratio grows to 84-86 times more powerful than CO2. The bigger challenge? Scientists, including the Environmental Defense Fund estimate that at least 25% of today’s warming is driven by methane releases.
Not Actually True. Most hydrogen produced today is extracted from natural gas in a process called steam reformation. The process not only requires a lot of energy, it emits vast amounts of carbon dioxide.
Green hydrogen, on the other hand, is made using renewable energy, such as wind or solar-generated electricity, to split water molecules so the full fuel cycle is near net-zero. Today, very little hydrogen is green because the process is not only energy intensive but cost prohibitive. Producing 1 kilogram of hydrogen which has a specific energy of about 40 kWh/kg requires 50–55 kWh of electricity.
A few other facts about hydrogen:
- It is expensive. In 2019, the average price per kilogram of hydrogen was $16.51.
It is hard to store. Liquid hydrogen is approximately 7% the density of water so must be stored below its boiling point of –423 ºF.