Why is Propane Stored in Household Tanks But Natural Gas is Not

Household Propane Tank

Propane is a liquefied petroleum gas also known as LPG. It is a gas that is normally compressed, stored and delivered as a liquid and non-toxic, colorless and odorless. Propane is a safe, clean and reliable energy source. You must understand how to properly use and store propane. You must also know how to detect warning signs of a gas leak that can significantly be risky and hazardous in your home. Homeowners need to be aware of basic safety tips.

One of the safety features of propane is its unique smell-it can smell like rotten eggs, a dead animal or a skunk’s spray. Ethyl mercaptan is a sulfur-based compound and is added to propane so that it can be detected when propane is in use. Consider installing a propane gas detector if you are concerned with you or other people in your home that have difficulty in smelling propane. Propane detectors sound an alarm if they sense a propane concentration.

To get a useful amount of gaseous fuel into a reasonably-sized tank, you have to liquefy it. some fuels are easier to liquify than others. Propane has a boiling point of -44 degrees Fahrenheit at atmospheric pressure but natural gas has a boiling point of -260 degrees Fahrenheit at atmospheric pressure. This means that natural gas has to be cooled to a much lower temperature than propane to be turned to a liquid that can be stored in a tank.

Propane molecules are made up of three carbon atoms bonded in a chain with eight hydrogen atoms bonded to these carbon atoms.

Household propane is not usually kept in a liquid state by a low temperature. High pressured is used to keep propane a liquid at room temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit or 21 degrees Celsius and it has to be held in a tank at a pressure of about 850 kPa. This can be accomplished with a strong metal tank. To keep natural gas a liquid, it requires a room temperature and maintains a pressure of about 32,000 kPa. Household metal tanks cannot resist this pressure. Natural gas is not stored in household tanks because the symmetry of its molecule makes it hard to liquify.  You could store methane in a tank in the gas state but it has such low density in the gas state that you could not store a usable amount. Natural gas is processed and stored at refinery plants and then pumped to households in the gas state through pipes. The properties of different basic fuels are summarized below, showing nicely the trend in room temperature liquid pressures. Remember that the pressures are approximate.

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