Clean, affordable and reliable — propane is becoming even more sustainable
Propane is already one of the most energy-efficient and clean-burning home fuels around. Iowa families can feel good about how well it warms their homes, heats their water, and powers many of their appliances, but propane is also becoming cleaner by the day. Indeed, the industry is leading the way in decarbonization with renewable propane.
What is renewable propane?
Just as conventional propane is a by-product of oil and natural gas extraction, renewable propane is often a by-product of biofuel production. It’s molecularly identical to conventional propane, totally methane-free, but produced using organic and recycled ingredients common in the biofuel production process, such as:
- animal oils
- vegetable oils
- inedible corn
- other triglycerides
The feedstocks used are plentiful and inexpensive. They are considered waste products of food production, so no food is sacrificed to make renewable propane. On the contrary, renewable propane production diverts landfill waste that would otherwise contribute to greenhouse-gas emissions. This is part of the reason the largest source of renewable energy these days is refused (see graph).
In 2018, biofuel and renewable propane production diverted roughly:
- 7.5 billion pounds of soybean oil
- 2 billion pounds of corn oil
- 1.7 billion pounds of yellow grease
- 618 million pounds of white grease
Know what else benefits from renewable propane production? The U.S. soybean industry. Soybean oil is a common feedstock for biofuel and renewable propane, comprising roughly 57% of all biofuel feedstocks in 2019.
How is renewable propane used?
Because it’s chemically identical to conventional propane, renewable propane can be used in standard propane equipment and appliances without modifications. It has all the same benefits and efficiency as conventional propane, but because of its production process, renewable propane is carbon neutral at the point of combustion!
Renewable propane has an incredibly small carbon footprint compared with grid-based electricity. Around 61% of electricity generation comes from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. Depending on the feedstock, renewable propane’s carbon intensity can be about one-seventh that of American grid electricity.
It also has a fraction of the carbon intensity of diesel or gasoline. Today, renewable propane powers space heating and fuels vehicles and equipment, all while reducing greenhouse gases, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter. This offers enormous decarbonization and public health opportunities for construction, manufacturing, agriculture, and transportation.
What does the future hold for renewable propane?
In the United States and Europe, researchers are improving methods for producing renewable propane. Innovations could lead to propane with net-negative carbon emissions!
One of the most promising methods for achieving this objective is the biogas dimethyl ether (DME). Producers can isolate it from animal waste and mix it with propane, eliminating methane and carbon dioxide emissions.
Renewable propane is already in use on roads and in homes and businesses. We expect production to ramp up dramatically in the coming years. By 2030, renewable propane — along with conventional propane and other innovative blends — will likely be America’s most widely available, affordable carbon-neutral energy solution.