by Bryan A. Thompson
Last Updated 2/10/2003
C3H8 + 5O2 ---> 4H2O + 3CO2 + energy propane + oxygen yields water + carbon dioxide + energy
Propane is really versatile. You can burn it in natural gas or propane appliances such as heaters, clothes dryers, stoves, and hot water heaters. It can also power generators, cars, heaters, Coleman lanterns and stoves and BBQ grills. In short, it can supply all energy needs during an emergency.
Energy, Density, Weight, etc
See the Fuel Comparison Chart (or as an Excel File) for more information.
Energy Efficiency and Energy Costs
See the Energy Efficiency Comparison (or as an Excel File) for more information.
If you burn propane for heat, it's pretty efficient. You probably need a way to distribute that heat, like a fan. Remember that you'll need good ventilation if you use these things inside, so some of the energy will be lost in the ventilated air.
If you run your generator from propane, it will use about 10% more propane than Gasoline. In other words it will take 1.1 gallons of propane to get the same energy out of the generator that 1 gallon of gasoline would have provided. Propane burned in this manner is a lot less efficient than when propane is burned in a heater, grill or Coleman Stove, but it's still more energy efficient than burning gasoline in the generator.
Cost to Store Propane
These numbers are based on a 20lb tank of propane available at Walmart, Lowe's or convenience stores. The tank itself comes free with BBQ grills and extras can be purchased for about $20. This puts the cost at $1.149/pound or $4.255/gallon to store propane.
If you happen to own your home, this cost largely goes away. Call up the propane gas people and tell them you're thinking of converting all your appliances to propane. They'll be more than happy to permanently loan you a 250 gallon tank because they want to sell you propane. Just don't tell them that you're only going to use it in an emergency...
It's relatively safe to store and/or transport. However you can't store it inside because the cylinders have an overflow vent that could release propane into the structure. It's a lot lighter than gasoline (~3.7 pounds per gallon as opposed to ~6 pounds per gallon for gasoline).
Amount to Store for an extended outage
Do an energy survey.
Determine how much energy your propane devices consume and multiply that by the time per day you intend to run the device. Manufacturers always specify the rate of consumption for each device.
Multiply that by the length of the outage you want to prepare for.
Repeat for each device you wish to power.
Add up all those propane quantities - this is the amount you need to store.
A temporary propane distribution network can be created using off-the-shelf Coleman parts available at Walmart. Basically you get a propane tank, a bulk propane adapter, a propane tee or two if you want to be able to power multiple devices simultaneously, and propane hoses to connect everything to the tank. If you want to switch propane tanks without losing service, you can buy a dual tank adapter.
There are two basic types of propane connectors - the bulk connector (used for BBQ grills and propane generators) and the low pressure connector (used for Coleman lanterns, stoves and heaters, propane torches, etc).
Propane can supply all your emergency energy needs and is easy to store and clean burning, but isn't as cheap to store propane for an energency.
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