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Propane as a fuel

I was originally looking at propane as a source of power for the initial transitory period. It is an excellent choice. However, while investigating storage solutions I found advantages in considering it for longer term use.

Advantages

  • It last for a very long time, several decades
  • It can power cookers, light, fridges, freezers and engines
  • There is even a electrical generator option
  • You can buy propane from a multitude of sources (OPSEC)
  • Spread the risk of loss by having several canisters

Disadvantages

  • Isn’t as powerful as petrol or diesel in an engine
  • Isn’t as efficient in a generator
  • Equipment cost
  • Fuel must be stored under pressure. In canisters
  • Explosion risk
  • Cannot be replaced after an event

Most of the suitable propane equipment I have found seems to be for camping use. This is logical I suppose as for long term use most people will plug into the mains, either gas or electric, for their power. Campers usually only want the equipment for short term use and thus as has been pointed out before the units are not as efficient as they could be for that reason.

Storage of fuel
As the fuel has to be stored compressed we already buy it in a storable format. Gas tanks. These vary in size from small portable units, larger less portable tanks through to fixed buried tanks. They will store quite happily in those until required. They are best stored outside though just in case there is a fire.

Buying equipment
Propane equipment is expensive. It requires a special conversion for engines which can cost several £K. Freezers and fridges are also expensive; I suspect that they are seen as a luxury although cookers and lights are more reasonable. All, bar the engine conversions, can be bought in camping and caravan shops. Engine conversions are at specialised garages and I’m not going to deal any further with that here. I consider using propane wasteful as a fuel for engines.

One thing to consider is that countries without easy access to a power and gas grid like the UK use alternatives like propane as the substitute main fuel. This means large tanks in the garden and, you guessed it, cheaper and more efficient equipment. Although when you factor in transport costs it still works out expensive. Perhaps next time on your camping trip into Europe you can bring back a cheaper propane freezer.

Power Generation
Conversion of energy from any source to any other is wasteful. However, when there are few options using propane to power a generator is one option to generate power for your use.

Improving efficiency
Now if we were to take the available fridge and freezer equipment now and provide better insulation or a cooler storage place then the efficiency would be increased. Making it use less fuel and thus better for our use. Clearly leaving the cooling grids open to allow the hot coils to be air cooled is a must. However moving those coils slightly to allow you to better insulate the unit and make it more efficient is not an impossible task.

To further extend the life of your propane you would of course move over to wood for cooking and lighting as soon as you could and if you were using it as engine fuel or a generator then the sooner you find a replacement the better all around.

Conclusion
Making civilisation last longer for your group by having the capability to freeze or refrigerate will make everyday living easier. It may not last forever but every day counts. Propane seems the only fuel that you can buy now at a reasonable cost that you could still be using 25 years from now. Do you think your wind turbines or solar panels will last that long?

7 comments to Propane as a fuel

  • Luddite

    Propane fridges and freezers are great – completely silent, no moving parts, too. You used to be able to get them from catering suppliers in this country, that’s where I got my big one (I also have a small under-the-counter fridge that came out of a motorcaravan).

    One of my vehicles has a propane tank as well as petrol which gives me around 500 miles range without refuelling.

    BTW, if anyone is thinking of using Butane instead, although it’s less toxic, it won’t leave the cylinder in temperatures below -2 degrees centigrade.

  • Skvez

    >Do you think your wind turbines or solar panels will last that long?
    Wind turbines will need repaired many times over the course of 25 years but if you made them yourself and still have decent tools you could still have turbine generation 25 years after a “Major Event”.
    Most solar panels will still be working after 25 years. In fact most of the solar panels ever made are still working, we don’t know how long they last as too few have failed yet to allow a decent estimate of life expectancy! It’s probably 50 to 100 years.
    The problem with wind and solar is that after 25 years there will be *no* batteries still working and so no way to store your power for when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun shining. I suppose that might not be too much of a problem for a fridge or freezer.

  • Skean Dhude

    Luddite,

    Sounds like you have it under control already.

    Skvez,

    Accepted. The key words there are made yourself. Someone, such as yourself, could make one from scratch. (Do I sense an article here?) but most people couldn’t and I would guess the kits available to buy would be difficult to repair without spares from that supplier.

    With solar panels I was thinking more about them getting damaged by the wind flexing them, something getting dropped on them or some other physical type damage. They are outside, in the open and unprotected. They could be reconfigured if it was minor damage but again that is not for everyone.

    Propane will survive an EMP, doesn’t need batteries and when you want the power you just turn it on.

    Personally, I’ll be aiming for all of the above but propane has gone up in my opinion as a very useful tool in our toolkit.

  • Luddite

    I was planning on making a wind generator to trickle charge a battery using small sails and an 18v cordless drill. The reason for sails as opposed to the normal bladed design was so that I could call it a garden ornament, thereby by-passing the need for planning permission.

    The problem so far is that the drill is quite stiff to turn, although when the wind is good, the output is 14-19v. Perhaps I need to work on the sail design.

    However, as you point out, its life is limited – once the bushes wear out or the windings short, if drills are no longer being made, it becomes useless.

  • Skean Dhude

    I’ve seen a wind turbine that doesn’t have blades and is vertical. Like a barbers pole with slots instead of just colour. The wind goes in the slots and turns the dynamo. I’m sure you have seen them used for advertising. You could put it on a pole which you can raise or lower as required. That would enable you to use one without planning permission. You could even put a couple on your roof without them being recognised as such.

    You can make your own windings if you have wire, bushes can be made with wire braid. Entropy wins though and eventually you will run out of those and need replacements.

    Loos like I need a warehouse just to store my stuff.

  • Skvez

    Skean,

    Yes an article on wind turbine manufacturer is on my list of things to get around to. But it’s not near the top of my list.
    Vertical Axis Wind Turbines (VAWT) are indeed an ‘alternative’ to the more common HAWT (Horizontal Axis Wind Turbines) that we are more familiar with. And while VAWTs do have some advantages over HAWT in terms of even load, the full weight of the VAWT sits on the bearings which is a big disadvantage as it makes them complicated.
    I’d recommend staying away from bushes, use a Permanent Magnet rotor and embed the windings of your stator in resin of some sort.
    The bits that fail on a wind turbine (that you need to have spares of or be able to replicate) are primarily bearings and blades.

  • Skean Dhude

    Skvez,

    I wait patiently. 🙂

    So those turbines have a name VAWT. Sounds much better than wind turbines. I would have though bearings on a straight axis would be simpler than having them off at 90 degrees and pulling down bust I’ll accept what you say.

    Do the normal turbines use rotors and emedded windings? If so they don’t sound very fixable.

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