Written on: May 23, 2022
A lot is happening in the renewable propane industry these days, with development, production and usage all ramping up. This is excellent news for home comfort providers and customers alike.
If you’re not fully versed, you might be confused by what renewable propane is and how it’s used. Here are ten essential facts you should know.
Just as conventional propane is a coproduct of crude oil and natural gas extraction, most renewable propane can be considered a coproduct of biofuel creation. Many of the same feedstocks that go into creating biofuel — animal oils, vegetable oils, biomass — are used to create renewable propane.
Conventional propane and renewable propane are molecularly identical. They can coexist in the same equipment without modification. And all the efficiency of conventional propane is present in renewable propane. It’s over 90 percent efficient in modern heating equipment and produces 43 percent fewer emissions than an equivalent amount of grid-produced electricity.
Production of renewable propane diverts used cooking oil and meat fats from languishing in landfills. In 2018, in conjunction with biofuel production, renewable propane production used the following as feedstocks:
That’s a lot of waste being put to good use!
Soybean oil is one of the most common feedstocks for both biofuel and renewable propane. It comprised 57 percent of all feedstocks in 2019! This presents enormous opportunities for soybean growers in the United States.
The 200,000 tons of American renewable propane currently made is only 0.1 percent of total propane production. There’s tremendous potential for growth as more resources are dedicated to renewable propane production. Also, since renewable propane is often a coproduct of biofuel, they will scale up together.
Unlike many renewable products and technologies, renewable propane is not theoretical or planned for the future. It’s here today! Even back in 2019, 7.6 million gallons of renewable propane were in circulation in the U.S., heating homes, powering appliances and fueling vehicles.
Renewable propane’s carbon intensity ranges from 20.5 to 43.5 grams per megajoule. That places it well below grid-based electricity, diesel and gasoline. It’s also one-half to one-quarter the carbon intensity of conventional propane.
In fact, renewable propane is carbon neutral at the point of combustion. A recent study determined that if one million European homes that currently exist beyond the gas grid used renewable propane, this would eradicate up to 5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions!
Carbon dioxide emissions reduction is just one of renewable propane’s environmental benefits. When burned in vehicle engines, it produces far less nitrogen oxide than gasoline. Nitrogen oxide is a contributor to acid rain and respiratory issues.
Research happening right now could bring us to a place where renewable propane produces net-negative carbon emissions. One of the most promising tools for reaching this goal is dimethyl ether (DME). Researchers can now synthesize this biogas from animal waste. This prevents the release of methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and the product can be blended with propane.
There’s almost infinite potential with renewable propane, and both the public and private sectors seem to recognize this. Their investment in its future is vital.
Recently, we’ve been happy to see California’s Innovative Renewable Energy for Buildings Act, which will create incentives for renewable propane producers to create fuel for state buildings.
We’ve also seen major corporations like U-Haul, Suburban Propane Partners and UGI acquire and invest in renewable propane technologies, development and production. Hopefully, this investment will lead to continued evolution and growth for this vital, innovative fuel source!
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