Carbon Intensity: Propane vs the Electric Grid

Written on: April 18, 2022

Conventional Propane Accelerates Decarbonization — Renewable Propane is Even Better!

propane vs electricityTo hear some pundits and public officials tell it, the only way to achieve a net-zero energy future is to electrify everything. That means dramatically altering how Americans heat their homes, cook their food and drive their cars.

Unfortunately, advocates of “electrify everything” are often more interested in producing good headlines than good environmental policy. Electricity has many important uses but also many drawbacks. Putting all our eggs in the electrification basket is short-sighted, reckless and not especially effective in helping the planet.

Right now, we have an eco-friendly, domestically-produced energy source in propane. Propane is more efficient than electricity for heating homes and powering appliances; its carbon intensity is far lower than typical grid-sourced electricity.

And propane is becoming cleaner by the day.

Conventional Propane Leaves Grid-Based Electricity in the Dust

Across the country, electrification advocates are pushing mandates for electric heat pumps, vehicles, water heaters, clothes dryers, cooking ranges, etc. The argument is that forcing these electric conversions will reduce people’s carbon emissions. But this logic is flawed.

Our electric grid is far from clean or energy-efficient. Today, nearly 25 percent of grid power comes from burning coal. One-quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions came from electricity production in 2020. Meanwhile, we lose 60 percent of all energy used in electricity generation during conversion. It takes 3.03 units of electricity to deliver a single unit of energy to an American home.

Let’s compare this to conventional propane:

What’s true in the home is also true on the road. This year, the comparative analysis showed that propane-fueled medium- and heavy-duty vehicles across 38 states and Washington DC produced a smaller carbon footprint than the same number of electric vehicles charged from the grid.

Renewable Propane Promises Still Greater Carbon Reductions

Renewable propane — molecularly identical to conventional propane but produced using renewable sources — offers an even brighter energy future. It further outpaces electricity for carbon reduction.

Renewable propane, compared to conventional propane, is a fungible product, meaning that no special equipment is needed to transport, store or use renewable propane. It has the same characteristics, including energy efficiency and low carbon intensity.

These products differ primarily in how they are made. Whereas conventional propane is a concurrent fuel product of extracting natural gas and oil, renewable propane comes from organic products commonly used in biodiesel creation: animal oils, vegetable oils, biomass, and other triglycerides.

The feedstock for renewable propane is inexpensive and plentiful, and its conversion process has an extremely low carbon intensity. In fact, renewable propane is carbon neutral at the point of combustion — there is no new carbon added to the atmosphere.

There’s still greater potential for decarbonization with renewable propane that incorporates dimethyl ether (DME), a naturally-occurring carbon gas that can be stored as a liquid under pressure and mixed with conventional propane. DME has exceptional carbon reduction capability, potentially leading to negative carbon output in the future.

The decarbonization value for both conventional and renewable propane is outstanding. They are reliable, sustainable energy sources available today. While we wait for the electric grid to transition to more renewable sources, propane remains this country’s energy solution.

If there’s a topic in the world of propane that you want us to cover, feel free to reach out.