Propane is used extensively in portable stoves; barbeque units, etc. as it is lightweight and vaporizes easily when released from the container wherein it was packed under pressure. Propane can explode so propane tanks have to be stored properly. This is also why leaks are dangerous. A smell is added to the gas to make it clearer that there is a leak.
A big leak is needed to make it explode though. Another danger is that it can remove the oxygen from a room. It is heavier than air and sticks around. For this reason, it is important that you use it with care. A plumber can help to install it properly. Natural gas is often used as an alternative and the advantage of this is that you don’t have to use tanks if you have a gas line running to your home.
Along with propane, there are five other gases butane, butadiene, butylene, isobutylene, and propylene are the constituent gases of LPG. When propane burns, it does not leave any residue like coal, wood, or petrol. It is more eco-friendly compared to most of the fossil fuels.
Propane has the molecular formula C3H8 and it is a compound created with three molecules of carbon and three molecules of hydrogen. At normal temperature and pressure, it is in a gaseous state; however, under high pressure, it can be liquefied and transported via tanks and pipelines. Propane is one of the constituent gases of LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) and is generated during the refining of crude oil.
Can propane tanks explode?
Propane is an extremely explosive material but under a few circumstances, they do explode. Though it is a rare occurrence for the entire propane tank to explode, LPG cylinders do explode due to negligence or wrong usage. If there is a fire in the house where the LPG cylinders are kept, they will be amongst the first to explode.
Once the safety valve is destroyed, the highly combustible gas will start leaking and cause a loud explosion. However, we often hear in news clippings about gas cylinders bursting. It happens due to the negligence of the homeowner. If there is a gas leak and if someone lights a match stick or lighter in that environment, there will be an explosion. If it happens too close to the LPG cylinder, it might take the form of a bigger explosion. It is important that you inspect a tank regularly.
The propane-LPG tank explosions are the rarest of rare occurrences because they have a built-in pressure relief valve. If there is any anomaly in the tank, the valve will start its work and release the pressure. That will convert the liquefied propane to gas and it will seep out. However, if there is any fire outside, then it will catch it and there might be a heavy accident.
If the gas regulators or the hose carrying the gas from the cylinder to the stove has a leak, then the LPG will start leaking, making it risky. Hence, otherwise odorless LPG is mixed with Ethyl Mercaptan is added to the cylinders while packaging it. Hence when we smell of gas leakage, it is basically Ethyl Mercaptan that we smell, not propane, and it has been very effective in saving lives.
Welding gas cylinders explosion
People often get confused between an acetylene gas cylinder and a propane gas cylinder. Acetylene is commonly used for welding and those cylinders often explode. Often reporters mix up the two substances and report incorrectly in media and sometimes, just to increase viewership, they report incorrect information knowingly.
Propane explosions: myth or reality?
If you have watched the James Bond movie ‘’Casino Royale’’ you would have seen him blowing up a propane tank with one shot. In reality, it is not possible. Forget about blowing off the tank, it is very difficult to even pierce it with multiple shots. Of course, if you point your bullets exactly at the same point repeatedly, eventually it will give up, however, do not try it in a full cylinder at home. It might turn out to be dangerous.
Mythbusters, a popular TV show talked about this myth. Let’s watch the videos for fun-
History associated with the discovery of propane gas
The French chemist Pierre-Eugène-Marcellin Berthelot synthesized propane in 1857. It was first synthesized in a lab before its natural source from petroleum crude oil was discovered. Along with methane, acetylene, and benzene, which were synthesized in the labs, propane too was synthesized in the labs. However, Berthelot was unable to recognize the combustible properties of the gas.
In 1864, another chemist, Dr. Edmund Ronalds, discovered propane as a byproduct of the refining process of crude oil. Since it was a naturally occurring substance, the cost of extracting it was reduced compared to creating it in the labs.
Later in 1910, an explosives expert and chemist, Walter O. Snelling, discovered the combustible properties of propane. He had accidentally discovered this property while investigating vapors leaking from a Ford car’s gasoline tank.
Snelling discovered the capability that propane has to many other combustible gases and started selling it as LPG in 1912.
At that time, Snelling was employed with the U.S. Bureau of Mines. He also started using propane to light his own house and cut metal. It became extremely popular commercially. Later, in 1912, the four chemists started a company by the name of American Gasol Co. Their goal was to power homes with the gas in a safe way.
The journey of propane had just begun
LPG-fueled pump-less blowtorch was invented in 1918 and it took the industrial world by storm. By the 1920s, the sale of propane in the U.S and Europe started picking up. New appliances that used propane as fuel were continuously manufactured and made available to the general public, and the response was very good. By 1927, LPG became very popular and people started using gas-powered cooking stoves in their kitchens. It is close to 100 years now since LPG became the main source of fuel for cooking in households across the globe, and to date, it has not lost its sheen.
In the US, in 1922, the production is LPG was close to 223 thousand US gallons, and by 1935, it reached 56 million US gallons. In America, railroad tank car transport, gas odorization, local bottle-filling plants, etc. all started using propane as their primary fuel by the 1930s. Slowly the entire world started following the footsteps of the U.S and the global consumption of propane along with other combustible gases started increasing.
The Discovery and use of propane have pretty much changed the industries and the domestic arenas across the globe for more than a century now. Whether it is the domestic gas stove, barbeque stove, or fire lamps that we use for decoration today, we cannot think of life without propane. It is a dangerous gas though and has to be used with care.