Renewable Propane and the Carbon Cycle

Written on: February 26, 2024

Propane, rPG and other renewable liquid gases and fuels can decarbonize homes and businesses.

propane carbon emissions united states As we consider an all-of-the-above strategy to deal with climate change, we must consider the total carbon impact that our energy choices have. To do so, it’s crucial to look at how we can most effectively reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases entering our atmosphere.

Unfortunately, many of the loudest voices in the climate debate are looking past this essential goal to push agendas focused on widespread electrification at the expense of other innovative, effective, and more affordable solutions.

Producers of liquid gases and other fuels are making major strides in developing products that prevent CO2 from entering the atmosphere. To understand the decarbonization value of products like renewable propane and other innovative blends, we need to go back to basics.

What is the Carbon Cycle?

Carbon is the building block of life on this planet. It’s also finite. That means that the amount of carbon on Earth does not increase or decrease — it transitions. Most carbon exists in rocks, sediments, living organisms, under the ocean and in the atmosphere.

Oceans absorb carbon from the atmosphere, and so do plants via photosynthesis. Conversely, carbon moves from living beings into the atmosphere when they decompose or, in the case of animals, when they exhale. Carbon also goes into the atmosphere when there’s a volcanic eruption.

Then there’s the burning of coal, oil and other fuels, which releases CO2 into the atmosphere.

How Does Carbon Drive Climate Change?

There are a range of greenhouse gases that cause Earth’s temperatures to rise. These include CO2, methane and nitrogen. When these gases enter the atmosphere, they absorb the Earth’s infrared heat and re-emit it. Some heat returns to the Earth. A certain amount of these gases is necessary to maintain the balance of temperatures, but too much can cause the negative impacts of climate change.

Governments, businesses and climate activists are looking for ways to reduce the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Many states are pushing to convert automobiles, heating systems and other equipment to electricity. However, this ignores that electricity generation — heavily reliant on coal, natural gas and petroleum — comprises roughly one-quarter of America’s greenhouse gas emissions. (It’s second only to transportation for GHG impact.)

Carbon sequestration seeks to prevent CO2 from entering the atmosphere. Companies like CarbonQuest help the commercial building sector decarbonize by trapping CO2 from flues before it can reach the atmosphere. This can eliminate up to 85% of a building’s emissions.

Conventional propane is also part of the solution. Its carbon intensity is well below diesel, home heating oil and the average U.S. grid electricity. Propane is methane-free, and homes with propane furnaces generate up to 50% less nitrogen oxide emissions than those with electric furnaces.

What Role Does Renewable Propane Have in the Carbon Cycle?

As stated earlier, the decomposition of plant life and other organic matter releases carbon into the atmosphere through the normal carbon cycle. However, renewable propane gas — and other renewable gases and biofuels — repurpose this sequestered carbon in plants, woody biomass, municipal waste, fats, oils and grease to create fuel that can be used in existing furnaces, boilers and other equipment.

Renewable propane functions just like conventional propane, but it derives from feedstocks that would otherwise be decaying in forests, landfills, farms and other spaces. Research happening right now into biogases like renewable dimethyl ether is further reducing the life-cycle carbon emissions of propane.

These solutions will not require homeowners and businesses to spend money to convert to electric heating, nor are they reliant on grid-based electricity, which currently has a significantly adverse impact on the carbon cycle.

Are you interested in learning more about the Renewable Propane Alliance? Get in touch with us today!

Sources: The U.S. Department of Energy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Propane Education & Research Administration