Facts About Propane

Propane, the most common liquefied petroleum gas (LP-gas), is one of the nation's most versatile sources of energy and supplies about 4 percent of our total energy needs. Propane exists as a liquid and a gas. At atmospheric pressure and temperatures above –44 F, it is a non-toxic, colorless and odorless gas. Just as with natural gas, an identifying odor is added so it can be readily detected. When contained in an approved cylinder or tank, propane exists as a liquid and vapor. The vapor is released from the container as a clean-burning fuel gas. Propane is 270 times more compact as a liquid than as a gas, making it economical to store and transport as a liquid. Approximately 90 percent of the United States’ propane supply is produced domestically, while 70 percent of the remaining supply is imported from Canada and Mexico. Approximately equal amounts of propane come from the refining of crude oil and from natural gas processing. Thus, propane is a readily available, secure energy source whose environmental benefits are widely recognized. Propane is an approved, alternative clean fuel listed in the 1990 Clean Air Act, as well as the National Energy Policy Act of 1992. USES OF PROPANE This remarkable fuel serves approximately 60 million people in the United States. In 1999, 19.6 billion gallons of propane were consumed in the U.S. as follows:

  • 8 billion gallons for residential/commercial/recreational usage.
  • 0.4 billion gallons for internal combustion engine usage.
  • 9.8 billion gallons for chemical, industrial and utility usage.
  • 1.4 billion gallons for other uses, including such agricultural applications as grain drying and flame cultivation.

Consumers use propane for heating and cooling homes, heating water, cooking, refrigeration, drying clothes, barbecuing, lighting, and relaxing in front of the gas fireplace. According to the 1997 Residential Energy Consumption Survey report published by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA):

  • 8.1 million households use propane, and 4.6 percent of these homes use propane as their main heating source.
  • Of the nation’s 6.3 million mobile/manufactured homes, 16 percent use propane as the main heating fuel. AS AN ALTERNATIVE FUEL FOR VEHICLES Propane gas is the most widely used alternative fuel, with nearly 4 million vehicles worldwide running on propane. More than 350,000 vehicles run on propane in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center.
  • The Alternative Fuels Data Center documents 4,175 public propane refueling stations (more than three times as many as any other alternative fuel), and industry estimates range to 10,000 or more. There is also an established network of licensed propane conversion centers throughout the country.
  • Propane-powered vehicles offer the best combination of durability, performance and driving range.
  • Propane's low pollution characteristics make it a safe choice for more than 300,000 forklift truck operators and other indoor industrial vehicle operators. • It is a popular and safe fuel for business and municipal fleets across the United States. More than 80,000 bus, taxi and delivery services, and other fleets are fueled by propane. U.S. automobile and truck manufacturers are producing more and more vehicles equipped with propane-powered engines to keep pace with this growing demand.
  • Because propane is portable and clean-burning, it is used by millions of recreational vehicle owners and camping enthusiasts.
  • Gas grills, outdoor gas lights, mobile home and RV appliances, generators, and greenhouse heaters can all be fueled by propane.
  • Millions of people are already using propane to safely and economically fuel heaters for their swimming pools, saunas, patios, and whirlpools.
  • Because they are easier to use and better for the environment, gas grills are becoming ever more popular with the American public. According to 1999 statistics, 75 percent of all U.S. families own a barbecue grill, and 60 percent of these grill owners use a propane gas grill. Also, in 1999, manufacturers shipped a total of 14.9 million propane gas grills to retailers.
  • Propane is a staple on 660,000 farms, where it is used in a wide range of agricultural applications:
  • Crop drying—corn, soybeans, grains, tobacco, apples, peanuts, onions and other crops.
  • Flame cultivation—controlling weed growth using propane burners.
  • Fruit ripening.
  • Space heating—for barns, pig farrowing houses, chicken houses, stock tanks, nurseries, greenhouses, orchards, and incubators.
  • Water heating—for dairies and stock watering tanks.
  • Refrigeration of foods.
  • Running a variety of farm engines, including tractors, weeders, irrigation pumps, stand-by generators, and seedling planters.


More than 1 million commercial establishments, such as hotels, restaurants and laundromats use propane in the same way a homeowner does: for heating and cooling air, heating water, cooking, refrigeration, drying clothes, barbecuing, and lighting. More than 350,000 industrial sites rely on it for space heating, brazing, soldering, cutting, heat treating, annealing, vulcanizing, and many other uses. Petrochemical industries use propane in the manufacture of plastics.

In 1910, a Pittsburgh motor car owner walked into chemist Dr. Walter Snelling's office, complaining that the gallon of gasoline he had purchased was half a gallon by the time he got home. Consumers were being cheated, he said, because the gasoline was evaporating at a rapid and expensive rate, and he asked Dr. Snelling to investigate. Dr. Snelling took up the challenge. Using coils from an old hot-water heater and other miscellaneous pieces of laboratory equipment, he built a still that could separate the gasoline into its liquid and gaseous components and discovered that the evaporating gases were propane, butane and other hydrocarbons. People soon discovered the value of this wonderful new fuel. By 1912, the first propane gas stove was cooking food in the home. The first propane-powered vehicle ran in 1913, and, by 1915, propane was being used in torches to cut through metal. By 1920, propane was marketed for flame cutting and cooking applications. In 1927, total sales of propane in the United States exceeded 1 million gallons. By the 1930s, the Compressed Gas Association (CGA) established and proposed a set of recommendations to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). In 1932, the first pamphlet of standards (No. 58) was adopted for publication. Known as the Liquefied Petroleum Gas Code, or NPFA 58, this standard is still in use today, having been adopted by most states as the basis for their regulations. After World War II, as the nation’s population grew and its economy expanded, annual sales of propane gas increased to more than 15 billion gallons. Today, propane gas is an $8 billion industry in the United States alone and is still growing.