What is a Propane Generator? Benefits & Limitations

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In Brief: What is a Propane Generator?

A propane generator produces electricity by converting the energy attained from propane gas combustion. Benefits of propane generators are they are readily available, highly efficient, provides contingency during natural disasters. They have low operating costs, no start-up issues, and longer shelf life, need less maintenance, environmentally friendly, noise-free, and safe.

Generators are the devices that convert the mechanical energy to electric energy, usually by combusting fuels.

They are great backup devices when you are experiencing a power outage or need extra power to use specific tools.

A propane generator produces electricity by converting the energy obtained from the combustion of propane gas.

Propane is a side product that is obtained during crude oil and natural gas processing.

It can exist in gas form at a specified temperature but can also be turned to liquid, and it belongs to the group of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG).

In this article, we will let you know the working mechanism of a propane generator, followed by its pros and cons, to help you decide if you need a propane generator for your home.

How Propane Generator Works

A propane generator works more or less the same way as conventional generator except that the propane one needs specialized carburetors to burn propane.

When you start the propane generator, it burns the propane and generates energy and heat.

This heat leads to the production of ammonia gas by burning the water and ammonia mix, which is already present inside the generator.

The ammonia gas produced flows through the generator.

The mechanical power is then forced into a circuit and induces an electrical current.

The electric current is directed through copper wires to external power machines, devices, or entire electrical systems.

Propane generators come both in standby and portable models. Standby models are more efficient and can produce electricity for several days as you can store the propane in tanks and use.

Portable generators are preferably suitable for shorter periods and usually provide less power.

Some standby propane generators automatically turn on and off with the help of a transfer switch in the case of a power outage. Other portable and standby models need to be manually turned on and off.

Benefits of Propane Generator

In this section, we will let you know some key benefits of using a propane generator over other fuel generators.

Ease of availability

Propane is readily available throughout the USA at many gas stations, hardware stores, and dedicated propane suppliers.

You can also store additional bottles adhering to some rules and regulations, making it readily available even if you don’t go outside to buy some.

Low operating cost

Propane generally costs less, and if you are someone who uses the generator regularly, it is beneficial.

Maintenance costs of the propane systems are usually less when compared to gasoline due to lo less or no build-up of deposits in the engine.

High efficiency

Compared to natural gas, propane can produce almost double the amount of energy per cubic foot.

A cubic foot of natural gas has about 1,040 BTU, while one cubic foot of propane contains 2,490 BTU.

If you don’t use your conventional generator for months, it will be filled up with contaminants and carbon, affecting the performance of the generator the next time you use it.

A propane generator doesn’t get contaminated and keeps your generator contaminants and carbon-free even you don’t use it for more extended periods.

This ensures reliable and efficient generator and increases the durability of the generator system.

Fewer start-up issues

Diesel or gasoline is more vicious in cold weather, and sometimes it’s challenging to start the generator in extreme winter weather.

Also, diesel engines suffer from “wet stacking,” a problem that can damage the engine and degrade performance.

Propane has a freezing point of -44°F and doesn’t have any start-up issues.

Further, compared to gasoline or diesel generators, propane models are less likely to freeze during cold weather.

Since there is no carbon deposit build-up like gasoline generators, propane generators have fewer start-up issues and almost instantly start when you want to use the system.

Contingency during natural disasters

It is often difficult to get gasoline or natural gas supply through pipelines during natural calamities.

Propane generators will offer you a high back up during storms, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc. as they can be stored in a tank or cylinder and used readily on demand.

Longer shelf life

Gasoline can start to degrade after a few months of storage without stabilizers.

Diesel, too, can be stored up to 18-24 months, but you need to install large storage tanks, which will add to the overall cost.

Propane has a longer shelf life than gasoline or diesel, and you can store large volumes of propane for extended periods.

Because of the propane’s longevity, there is no need to buy expensive stabilizers to keep it from going bad.

Requires lower maintenance

Gasoline or diesel deposits carbon in engine and exhaust and needed to be cleaned regularly. They also leave residue in the system parts and fuel lines.

Propane doesn’t have any of the above issues and hence needs comparatively less maintenance.

Environmental friendly

The combustion of propane produces a meager amount of harmful Carbon Monoxide (CO) compared to gasoline or diesel.

Excess amounts of carbon monoxide can cause suffocation, is poisonous for plants, and dangerous to human beings.

Since the production of CO is low, propane generators are deemed to be environmentally friendly than other fuel options.

Less noisy

Generators are known to be quite noisy devices, while propane generators produce less noise comparatively.

Safer fuel

Fuels like gasoline are highly flammable (240-280 degrees for gasoline vs. 480 degrees of propane) and are usually stored open. Because of this, there is a high risk of leakage and can be hazardous.

On the other hand, propane is much safer as it is stored in closed tanks or bulk cylinders and also poses minimal risk of leakage.

The safety valves used with the propane tanks can trap fumes while gasoline or diesel storage tanks do not.

Gasoline is also highly volatile, and there is a high chance of evaporation.

At the same time, propane is considered as a green fuel in the unburned state, and evaporation of propane poses no environmental hazard.

Limitations of a Propane Generator

There are also certain disadvantages associated with propane generators, and here we are listing a few of them.

Higher initial cost

The purchasing cost of a propane generator is higher around 15 to 20% more, especially in sizes larger than 30 kW.

Shorter life span

One of the most significant drawbacks of propane generators is they are known to have a shorter life expectancy than diesel or gasoline models.

Between an equally maintained propane generator and a diesel generator, the diesel one lasts longer than the propane one.

Complicated troubleshooting

Propane generators’ have very complex inside mechanics and are more challenging to diagnose the problem and fix it in emergencies.

Further, the fuel system is complicated in propane models and prone to failure easily.

Fast Burn

Comparatively, propane but has a lower energy density of about 26 MJ/L while diesel has an energy density of around 32-40 MJ/L, and that of gasoline is 34.2 MJ/L.

Due to the lower energy density, you need to run propane faster than you will gas or diesel models.
If you need to spend less fuel in emergencies, diesel or gas generators are better than propane ones.

When to Buy a Propane Generator

If you are looking for a generator that you can use after any period, propane generators are the ones to go for as they have a longer shelf life.

If you want a generator, you can count on during emergencies; you should buy a propane generator because of its wide availability and low operating costs.

Further, if you care about the surrounding environment or your body considering propane generator is a good option as it is environmentally friendly and doesn’t emit harmful gases in excess amounts.

A loud generator might consume a good night’s sleep while propane generators are known to produce less noise comparatively.

You should look for a propane generator if you want less maintenance.

Also, propane models are highly efficient even in cold weather and offer you a hassle-free start-up of the system.

Summary

Propane-based generators have many advantages over other fuel generators, and we have tried our best to explain their working along with pros and cons.

We hope this will help you in your final decision if you are considering getting a propane generator for your home.

About Susan

Susan is a senior product analyst and reviewer at Mechanicology. In her long career of writing on various topics, she has covered power tools, gardening tools, appliances, consumer goods, and many more. She loves traveling with her family for extended vacations, thanks to their RV.

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