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Companion Brands Information Page: What is LPG? LPG – Liquefied Petroleum Gas – is the name to describe propane and butane gases. In chemical terms, these gases are light hydrocarbons derived from natural gas and crude oil. They are extracted from natural ga

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The ABC of LPG

What is LPG? LPG – Liquefied Petroleum Gas – is the name to describe propane and butane gases. In chemical terms, these gases are light hydrocarbons derived from natural gas and crude oil.

They are extracted from natural gas by means of compression and condensation and are separated from petroleum through distillation in the refinery.

A specific property of LPG is that it can be compressed from gas to liquid state under relatively low pressure. This means that it can be conveniently stored in thinwalled transportable containers. When the container valve is opened and liquid returns to its gaseous state it can be used as a high-performance energy source for a host of applications.

1 volume of liquid gas will expand into 270 volumes of gas vapour. The return to the gaseous state is a result of atmospheric temperature transmitted through the cylinder wall causing the liquid to boil. The gas is given off just like steam from boiling water. The liquid will not boil if temperatures drop below –41şC (propane) or OşC (butane).

The amount of gas which can be released from the container is governed by the heat available to boil the liquid. If gas consumption is excessively heavy, the container will not be able to transmit sufficient heat to generate more. Therefore, if a large burner is used or if several burners are connected to the same container, satisfactory performance can be obtained only from large-size containers which have sufficient surface area to transmit the heat requirements from the atmosphere to the liquid gas.

Advantages of LPG

LPG has virtually taken over as the energy source for portable cooking, lighting and heating appliances. It has a number of advantages when compared with solid fuels;

  • It will light directly without preheating
  • Its high calorific value means short heating times
  • It is a very clean fuel, burning safely with a blue smokeless flame
  • The light gas containers are easy to transport, refill and change

Solid fuels are still used in specialised outdoor activities such as bushwalking and mountaineering where ultra lightweight is a prime consideration. But generally the lightweight comparison is only valid on short term excursions – in the long run, the volume of LPG necessary for such activities may weigh less than the alternative solid fuel source.

Propane, Butane – the Difference

There are two types of LPG marketed in Australia for use with portable gas appliances: propane and butane.

Propane is the gas most commonly used. Customers own the cylinders and have them refilled at the many filling stations operating throughout the country. Propane can be confidently used in all climatic conditions likely to be found in Australia.

Butane, liquefaction occurs at lower pressures than propane and is therefore sold in light weight nonrefillable cartridges. It will not perform at temperatures below zero.

Because of the different operating pressures of the two gas types, appliances designed for use with one gas should not be used with the other gas ie butane appliances should not be used with propane gas. Most appliances designed for use with LPG cannot be used with natural or town gas.

Burning Temperature

The maximum flame temperature from an efficiently designed burner, regardless of its size, using propane or butane, is approximately 1900şC. A large burner will generate more heat than a small burner because it provides more flame area. When using industrial or handyman type burners for heating and soldering, the hottest point of the flame is at the top of the bright blue cone about halfway along the flame length.

Commonsense Precautions

LPG in itself is non-toxic and can be inhaled with few side effects. Cold burns can result on contact. Since the gas is odourless, a distinctive scent has been added to act as a warning in case of a gas leak.

Combustion of the gas is of primary importance in LPG operation, and must be complete to ensure that fumes do not contain toxic carbon monoxide. Proper ventilation is essential when an appliance is operating. If there is a smell of gas or if an appliance is not burning as it should (with a clear blue flame), all operating valves must be turned off. As it is heavier than air, leaking LPG will collect at the lowest available point.

The appliance should not be used until the fault is rectified. Always refer to manufacturer's operating instructions before attempting to locate or rectify a fault. Regular maintenance of all equipment should be carried out at least once a year. Again, refer to the manufacturer's instructions on maintenance methods and procedures.

LPG containers should never be kept below ground level.

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