Propane vs. Butane: What is the difference?

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Difference between Propane and Butane

Propane and butane are two gases that often serve similar purposes, which is typically for fuel. That being said, each gas has its own unique qualities, and each has its respective advantages and disadvantages. Let's take a look at some of them in this comparison article.

Propane
Butane

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Propane is commonly seen as a gas, in which form it is classified as a three-carbon alkane. For purposes of transport however, propane is usually compressed into liquid form. Propane is a by-product that results from the processing of natural gas and the refinement of petroleum, and its most common use is as engine fuel, as well as fuel for gas lights, barbecues and portable stoves. Propane is also widely used as fuel for residential heating systems.

Butane is also a gas, and it is classified as a four-carbon alkane. The term itself may refer to n-butane isomer or isobutene or "methylpropane". Butane is a highly flammable substance, and the colorless gas is easily converted into liquefied form.

Source And Composition

Both propane and butane are obtained from petroleum, which itself may either be oil or natural gas. Being a three-carbon alkane, propane is comprised of three carbon atoms and eight hydrogen atoms. Butane for its part is comprised of four carbon atoms and ten hydrogen atoms. Both gases react similarly upon combustion, in which process they both release water and carbon dioxide under ideal conditions. In situations wherein there is a lack of oxygen, both or and butane tend to produce soot and carbon monoxide.

Advantages And Disadvantages

Propane is a lot more common in North America, where it is often used as fuel for residential heating systems. In addition, propane is widely used as a fuel source for a variety of portable devices. Propane has also been used as a source of fuel for vehicles, in which case it is usually combined with small amounts of butylene, propylene, and even butane. In such combinations, the resulting compound is often referred to as liquefied petroleum gas or LPG. Ethanethiol may also be added to propane in order to give it a characteristic odor. This is done primarily for safety purposes, since propane on its own is odorless.

Butane has the advantage of being cheaper than propane, although it is far less common in North America. This makes it a lot harder to find devices that accommodate with butane tanks. Butane is also a considerably more efficient fuel than propane, and it yields more energy with a similar amount of fuel. This makes butane ideally suited for situations wherein a lighter weight fuel is required.

On the other hand propane has the advantage of a lower boiling point, which makes it more suitable for fragile and harsh weather conditions. Propane is also the better option for situations in which fuel will have to be stored in below freezing temperatures.

Similarities and Differences

Propane

  • A by-product that results from the processing of natural gas and the refinement of petroleum
  • More suitable for fragile and harsh weather conditions

Butane

  • A highly flammable gas that is easily converted into liquefied form
  • Cheaper than propane

Which fuel is least dangerous to use?
  • Propane
  • Butane
 
 

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