Midwest Propane - A Division of Tidewater Propane
A Division of Tidewater Propane

Propane FAQ

Who "Discovered" Propane?

In 1910, a motor car owner walked into the Pittsburgh office of chemist, Dr. Walter Snelling with a complaint. The car owner claimed the one gallon of gasoline he purchased at the pump was only half a gallon by the time he drove home.

The car owner complained that the government should look into why consumers were being cheated because the gasoline evaporated at a rapid and expensive rate.

Dr. Snelling however, took a scientific approach to the matter and discovered the evaporating gases were not gasoline at all. They were propane, butane and other hydrocarbons. Using coils from an old water heater and miscellaneous pieces of lab equipment, Dr. Snelling built a still which separated the gasoline into its liquid and gaseous components.

Propane Patent Sold to Phillips Petroleum: Dr. Snelling completed his propane research and was not interested in pursuing it further. He sold his propane patent to Frank Phillips, the founder of Phillips Petroleum Company. The price was $50,000. Today, propane is a growing, multi-billion dollar industry in North America.

What were the First Uses for Propane?

By 1912, propane gas was used for cooking in homes.

The first propane powered car appeared in 1913.

By 1915, propane was used for metal cutting torches.

In 1920, propane was marketed for flame cutting and further cooking applications.

Today there are over 1000 uses for the clean, efficient energy of propane, world's most versatile energy.

Safety Right From the Start: The Compressed Gas Association (CGA) was established in the 1930's and proposed a set of recommendations to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). In 1932, the first pamphlet of standards was adopted for publication. Today, all aspects of the propane industry are subject to stringent standards in an effort to ensure workplace, consumer and public safety.

What is Propane?

Propane comes out of the same well as natural gas and crude oil. These products are called "hydrocarbons" because they contain hydrogen and carbon. At a fractionation plant or refinery, the substances are "cleaned up", heated, cooled and separated. The chemical formula for propane is C3H8. Propane is shipped throughout North America by pipelines, trucks and tank cars (rail).

What is The Propane Advantage?

The great characteristic of propane is that it can exist as a liquid or a gas.

It is stored and transported as a liquid, but can be used as either a liquid or a gas. A small amount of propane liquid produces a lot of propane gas (called vapour) and that reduces the size of storage containers required. It also enables propane to be stored and transported economically.

What Does Propane Look Like?

Just to look at propane, it would be difficult to tell it from water. Like water, propane can exist as a liquid or a gas. In its natural state, propane is a clear, odourless, colorless, non-toxic liquid. As it changes from a liquid to a gas, it appears as bubbles.

Why Does Propane Smell?

In its natural state, propane is odourless. As a safety precaution, an odourant called Ethyl Mercaptan is added so any presence of propane may be easily detected. And while most of us are able to detect even the slightest propane odour, some people are unable to. Mercaptans are used in diverse applications, ranging from agricultural supplements to polymerization modifiers. We offer a wide range of mercaptan structures, including linear, branched, and functionalized. Functionalized mercaptans are listed here.

How is Propane Stored?

Propane is stored under pressure, in specially designed tanks. Depending on the application, the cylinder or tank may be constructed of steel, aluminum or stainless steel.

All Midwest Propane tanks are made to the highest standards by tank manufacturers in Canada and the United States. Regardless of material, each propane cylinder and tank is designed and manufactured in accordance with stringent requirements. This applies to the cylinder on a barbecue, the tank in your backyard, or the tank on a propane delivery truck.

How Does Propane Expand?

Propane is 270 times more compact as a liquid than as a gas. If you reverse that, propane will expand 270 times if it changes from a liquid to a gas. One liter of liquid propane will expand to 270 litters of vapour.

How Does a Liquid Become a Gas?

When does water become steam (or a gas)? When it boils. The same holds true with propane. Propane becomes a gas when it boils. Propane remains in a liquid state as long as it is kept under pressure. But as soon as propane is exposed to normal atmospheric conditions (the outside air) it will boil. When propane boils it changes to a gas. Propane boils at -44 Fahrenheit or -42 Celsius.

Is There a Simple Way to Detect Propane?

Most of us are able to use our eyes and nose to help detect the presence of propane. For peace-of-mind though, gas detectors are readily available at retail stores.

Leaks are uncommon, but a simple way to check piping, fittings or a tank for a leak is to mix dish soap with water and spray it on the area you are concerned about:

If bubbles form, you may have a leak and should take immediate action: Turn off the propane supply to that appliance and call your Midwest Branch immediately.

If a leak is at fittings at a tank or cylinder: Turn off the propane (using the valve at the tank or cylinder), and call Midwest Propane immediately.

If the tank or cylinder itself appears to be leaking: Call your Midwest Branch immediately.

Important Note: This is not intended as a comprehensive commentary on leak detection and response. This general information is provided as an overview for information purposes only. Contact your Midwest Propane Branch for further information or assistance.

What effect does breathing propane have on humans and animals?

Propane is non-toxic. It is non-poisonous. But if you were in a room filled with propane, it may displace sufficient air that you may become light-headed, or unconscious. Extended oxygen shortage may cause asphyxiation.

Where do propane vapours collect?

Propane is heavier then air. In the unlikely event of a propane leak, vapours may collect in low-lying areas, including ditches, basements, and wells. If you suspect a propane leak, Contact your Midwest Propane Branch immediately.

Is propane a solvent?

Propane may dissolve natural rubber products and may affect some petroleum products. That is why all hoses, fittings and material must be designed, manufactured and approved for specific use with propane, in accordance with all safety requirements.

Why do cylinders require Re-Inspection?

Each time your propane cylinder (i.e. BBQ "tank") is refilled, a visual inspection is conducted. Evidence of damage or lack of maintenance may obligate the propane operator to decline the refill and advise why. Every 10-years, the service relief valve on your propane cylinder must be replaced and the cylinder re-inspected.

Can the Tank Pressure Get Too High?

Every propane cylinder and tank is fitted with a relief valve. If the pressure inside the tank or cylinder is too high, the relief valve is designed to activate at specific pressure levels. Depending on the application, relief valves are pre-set to activate at different pressure levels. Regardless of the application, if a relief valve is activated, it is designed to close again once the pressure inside the cylinder or tank has been reduced below the relief valve setting. On most propane cylinders, the relief valve is an integral part of the service valve. It's one of the reasons propane cylinder valves must be replaced every 10-years.

Does Midwest Propane Sell Propane Appliances?

Yes. There are over 1,000 different uses for the clean energy of Midwest Propane. We sell propane appliances and equipment for every application: agricultural, commercial, construction, residential and industrial.

When Will Propane Burn?

For propane to burn, there must be just the right mixture of oxygen and propane:

If there is too much propane (too rich), it won't burn.

If there is too little propane (too lean), it won't burn.

Propane will only burn when the mixture of propane and oxygen is within the range of flammability: Lower Flammability Limit 2.4% Upper Flammability Limit 9.5%

Example: a mixture of 2.4% propane and 97.6% oxygen through 9.5% propane and 90.5% oxygen will burn. A flame will not burn inside a propane tank. The mixture is 100% propane too rich to support combustion.

How Does This Compare to Other Gases?

Range of Flammability: Propane 2.4% to 9.5% Natural Gas 4.0% to 14.0% Acetylene 2.5% to 81.0%

What Does "Ideal Combustion Ratio" Mean?

Propane vapour will burn in any mixture within its range of flammability, but combustion may not always be efficient. As a result, most gas appliance burners are designed and adjusted to burn an ideal gas/oxygen mixture. This mixture is commonly referred to as the "Ideal Combustion Ratio". Even with an ideal mixture of propane and oxygen, there must be a source of ignition for combustion to take place. Propane will not burn on its own.

What are Sources of Ignition?

Ignition sources are usually expressed as the minimum temperature needed for a mixture of propane and oxygen to ignite. Ignition temperature of propane is approximately 920°F.

That may seem high, but compared to a common sulfur match, it isn't... ignition temperature of a sulfur match is as high as 3,000°F

A common ignition source for propane is another flame, such as the flame of a pilot, match or electronic igniter. There are others. Many develop enough heat to ignite a combustible mixture of propane and oxygen, including sparks from electric connections, including switches; engines; vehicle exhaust; a lit cigarette; even the static electricity generated by a nylon jacket.

That is why sources of ignition are not permitted around a propane installation. It's also why our Midwest Propane Uniform Program does not permit clothing made of 100% nylon or polyester.

What Are the "Products of Complete Combustion?"

During combustion, propane generates heat, which is measured in British Thermal Units (BTU's) or kilopascals. In addition to heat, there are certain products of complete combustion: carbon dioxide (CO2), water (H20) and nitrogen (N).

Example: Burning 1 cubic foot of propane produces - 3 cubic feet of CO2 4 cubic feet of H2O 18.5 cubic feet of N

How Does Temperature Affect Pressure?

There is a direct relationship between temperature and pressure:

If the outdoor temperature is 10 degrees, the propane inside a cylinder or tank will also be 10 degrees.

As the temperature outside the tank increases, so does the temperature inside the tank.

As the temperature rises, so does the pressure inside the tank.

Propane cylinders and tanks are never filled to 100% capacity. Sufficient space must be left in the container for the liquid to expand. As the temperature of liquid propane increases, it expands and takes up more space inside the tank, forcing the vapour into a smaller, tighter space.

The radiator on a vehicle is a similar example most of us can relate to: on a hot day, or after an extended drive on a hot day, the liquid in a rad expands, forcing vapour into less space and the pressure increases. In extreme cases, the expanding liquid may expand, consume all available vapour space and the rad will bubble over.

How Safe is Propane?

Propane is safe energy. In fact, the National Fire Protection Agency declares gas the safest way to heat your home: safest by a 4 to 1 margin. Here are the odds a member of the general public will be involved in one of the following incidents:

Individual Risk to Specific Fatal Incidents* Motor Vehicle Accident: 1 in 4,700 Air Plane Crash (as a passenger): 1 in 140,000 Struck by Lightning: 1 in 1,375,000 Struck by Tornado: 1 in 2,450,000 Dam Failure/Rupture: 1 in 6,300,000 Air Plane Crash (as a person on the ground): 1 in 37,000,000 Propane Storage or Transportation Incident: 1 in 37,000,000 (*Source. U.S. Department of Energy, LPG Land Transportation and Storage Safety)

What is a Remote Control Propane Truck?

In 2000, Midwest Propane installed wireless remote control systems on all delivery and transport trucks. The remote controls enable drivers to safely control the trucks functions when out of - and away from - the cab.

What Determines Propane Prices?

Like all energies, propane prices are influenced by several primary factors, including supply and demand. In recent years, consumers have also see the influence of "geopolitical" factors on energy prices. These complex factors may be described simply as "any real or perceived threat to peace, reliable access to oil and gas, and steady refining, production and distribution.

Does Canada Have Enough Propane Supply to Meet Demand?

Yes. Canada is a net exporter of propane. In other words, Canada exports more propane than it imports. Over 95 percent of propane in Canada is produced as part of the natural gas. While supply is local, demand is global, and the worldwide demand for propane is growing each year.