COVID-19 Message to Propane Customers   Learn More »

Learn More

COVID-19 Message to Propane Customers   Learn More »

Learn More

Propane is clean and environmentally friendly.

That’s good, but energy is a complex topic leading to myths and misunderstandings – a few of which we address below.

Myth #1: Propane is not safe for the environment.

Actually, propane is a liquid when stored, but when released into the air, it vaporizes and dissipates. This unique characteristic means it cannot contaminate groundwater, drinking water, marine ecosystems or sensitive habitat if released. When it vaporizes into the air, it produces virtually no ozone-harming effects and unlike natural gas, is not a greenhouse gas in its un-combusted state.

Myth #2: Electricity is better than fossil fuels.

First and foremost, electrification doesn’t automatically mean de-carbonization. Electricity must be generated by a primary energy source. In the U.S., the largest primary energy sources used for electricity generation are natural gas and coal. Second, it’s important to note that once generated, electricity has to be immediately transmitted through power lines. As it travels from its generation source, the electrons flowing through the power lines encounter resistance and lose energy. This means to get one unit of electricity to a site (wherever the plug is located), it takes 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 to a location rather than transmitted or piped, so virtually no energy is lost in the transfer. It’s also worth noting that the flexible sizing of propane storage means sensitive habitat can remain undisturbed, eliminating the need for pipelines or high-voltage power line installation.

Myth #3: Propane isn't a renewable energy.

Stand by to be surprised. For several years, Propane Education & Research Council has been committed to finding a way to manufacture propane from renewable sources. The bar we set for ourselves was that the feedstock had to be inexpensive and abundant, it had to have low carbon intensity, it had to deliver a high-energy conversion so BTU’s aren’t wasted, and finally, it had to be price competitive. We’ve done it.

Bio-diesel refineries can produce renewable propane from animal fats and cooking oils before they are made into bio-diesel. These products used to be landfilled without regard. Now, they have new life in an extended way. What our research has found is that renewable propane has an ultra-low carbon intensity. Agricultural byproducts –– biomass for example –– 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, renewable propane can be used for all the same applications.

Myth #4: Propane is not a clean energy.

It’s fair to say there’s no perfect energy. Even renewables like solar, wind and hydroelectric have negative environmental effects, but when it comes to carbon emissions, propane is one of the cleanest. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows that in comparison to a few other widely used fuels, propane is one of the lowest in carbon emissions per million BTUs. Here’s a summary table:

Source Pounds of CO2 emitted per million BTUs of energy produced
Coal (anthracite) 228.6
Coal (lignite) 215.4
Coal (subbituminous) 214.3
Coal (bituminous) 205.7
Diesel fuel and heating oil 161.3
Gasoline (without ethanol) 157.2
Propane 139.0
Natural gas 117.0

 

For a comprehensive comparison of fuel types, please visit: https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/co2_vol_mass.php

Myth #5: Propane is not energy efficient.

Not accurate, especially when compared to other fuels. Liquid propane has a higher energy density than ethanol, methanol and liquefied natural gas. This means propane vehicles go farther on a tank of fuel than most other liquid alternative fuels, assuming comparable equipment efficiency. Because electricity is a secondary energy source, generated by the use of a primary energy source, it’s not accurate to say that electricity is the most environmentally-friendly fuel available. According to EIA, about 24% of electricity in the U.S. in 2019 was produced by the burning of coal.

Myth #6: Propane isn't a safe fuel for vehicles.

Just like conventional vehicles, propane vehicles must comply with all applicable 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 much less likely.

Myth #7: Using propane causes air pollution.

You might be surprised how much cleaner tailpipe emissions are from propane-powered engines than others. According to the Argonne National Laboratory GREET model, vehicles running on propane reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 10%. More than that, propane autogas vehicles can emit up to 36% fewer nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions than diesel vehicles, and propane autogas passenger cars can emit 70% fewer sulfur oxide (SOx) emissions and up to 45% less particulate matter than electric passenger cars throughout the full fuel cycle.

Myth #8: Propane isn't really any better than diesel or gasoline.

Propane fuel has a lower carbon content than conventional gasoline and diesel fuel. That’s why propane was listed as an approved clean alternative fuel under the Clean Air Act of 1990.

Myth #9: Propane is a fossil fuel and all fossil fuels are bad.

Fuels aren’t binary. They’re not just clean or dirty, good or bad. They exist on a continuum from very clean to very dirty. Let’s agree that solar and wind are pretty clean energies once they are produced. It’s right to say coal and oil are dirty when they burn, so they’re on the other end of the carbon continuum.

From a carbon standpoint, natural gas is pretty clean, so it sits closer to the cleaner end of the continuum, but natural gas has its own problem. It is methane, and methane is a greenhouse gas just like carbon dioxide, only it’s more than 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide because once in the atmosphere, it absorbs sunlight like a sponge.

You might be surprised to know that propane, made when methane is purified for commercial use, takes its place on the carbon continuum close to the renewables as well, which is why the EPA has designated propane a clean energy alternative and why propane is designated a clean energy alternative under the Energy Policy Act of 1992. It’s also not a greenhouse gas in its original state.

Myth #10: Propane's uses are limited. It's mainly for gas grills in people's backyards.

Not at all true! Propane is a versatile alternative fuel classified as an alternative fuel under the Energy Policy Act of 1992. It is used in nearly 12 million U.S. households for residential purposes, and by millions of Americans for transportation, commercial, industrial and agricultural applications. You’ll 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 valued, the thousands of mowers and the myriad high-intensity energy agricultural uses like grain drying.