LPG stands for liquified petroleum gas, a versatile fuel source that is used around the world. As a by-product of crude oil refinement, LPG is a gas that’s stored and transported at a high pressure which causes it to become a liquid.
LPG has been in use nearly as long as refined oil, first being produced in 1910, so it’s a long-used and well-tested fuel.
LPG is made from propane, propylene, butane, and butylene in various mixtures, produced from natural gas and oil extraction (66%) and from oil refining (34%). The mix of the gases is dependent on the intended use - butane doesn’t burn well at low temperatures so this is offset by adding additional propane which is not affected by freezing temperatures.
LPG can be used for a huge variety of applications including cooking, heating systems, and vehicle fuel. In the UK, around half of all LPG consumption is from heating and cooking in domestic homes - normally those that are off-grid and have to rely on different fuel source.
The other half of LPG use is mostly from industrial use and as a vehicle fuel (where it is commonly known as autogas).
The top benefit of LPG is its portability; it’s usually compressed by over 270 times and held at such pressures that the gas becomes a liquid which makes it highly accessible. It’s also an incredibly versatile fuel as, domestically, it can be used for boilers, gas fires, and even your stove.
Another benefit of LPG is that it’s extremely clean-burning, producing 19% less emissions than heating oil and around 15% less emissions than petrol per unit of energy. It also produces low NOx emissions and has a low sulphur content for improved air quality.
LPG is also a non-toxic, and non-contaminating fuel so it can be stored underground without risk of environmental damage - a distinct advantage over heating oil for example.
One of the best features of LPG is that it can be easily and safely compressed into a liquid for storage which means that a large amount of gas can be stored in a small container. As these containers have to withstand the high pressures that the LPG is under, they’re usually constructed from steel.
When it’s used domestically, LPG is usually pumped into a storage tank that’s situated on the property but owned and maintained by the supplier to ensure high safety standards.
As a highly pressurised gas, LPG carries the risk of explosion through runaway expansion due to heating if the container isn’t strong enough to withstand the build-up in pressure. It’s also highly flammable so a leak could start a fire if exposed to an ignition source.
As LPG is heavier than air, in the case of a leak it can flow it can flow into confined spaces where it carries the risk of asphyxiation, instead of dissipating. Due to it being highly compressed, if there is a spill where the gas is rapidly depressurising then it can cause freeze burns - this happens as gases cool very quickly when expanding fast. All these risks are heavily mitigated by storage safety designs and procedures.
LPG tanks are often designed so that they will vent off dangerous pressure should the gas start expanding rapidly due to heat. This makes them very safe for storing highly compressed gasses.
LPG generally has a powerful odorant included so that leaks can be detected easily and steps can be taken to shut off the supply before ignition, reducing the risk of asphyxiation. Domestic tanks are filled and maintained by professionals with high safety standards and canisters are designed to be incredibly study and reliable so that most users of LPG can be confident in their personal safety.
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