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What is LPG fuel?

By: Tracy Wilkinson - Updated: 26 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
What Is Lpg Fuel?

What is LPG fuel?

Liquified petroleum gas (LPG) is also known as GPL, LP Gas or Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and is a fuel made up of a mixture of hydrocarbon gases.

Specially modified or LPG converted cars can run on the fuel which is normally derived from fossil fuels and is either taken from gas or oil streams as they come up from underground or is manufactured during the process that refines crude oil.

LPG comes in several different varieties, including those which are mostly made up of butane gas, propane gas or as is more common; a mixture of the two. LPG is provided in pressurised bottles made of steel which are not filled completely - to allow the gas to expand safely during storage.

In some areas, especially the US, LPG is also referred to as Autogas. In the UK this type of fuel has been used since before the second world war as an alternative fuel for spark ignition engines and in more recent years has also been utilised for use in diesel engines.

Advantages of LPG fuel

LPG fuel is popular because it is non-corrosive, non-toxic and has a high octane rating. It has less particulate emissions when compared to diesel and burns more cleanly, meaning that there is less wear and tear on your engine – and it is less likely to suffer problems.

It emits similar levels of Co2 to diesel engines, and far less than those running on petrol. Noise levels are said to be considerably lower than they are with other types of engine and the cost of LPG gas is also usually lower than diesel or petrol which makes it an attractive option.

Governments often offer tax relief on LPG as an ‘alternative fuel’, which can bring down the cost of motoring for drivers wishing to move away from more traditional fuels, and depending on the vehicle you have, you can qualify for exemption from the London congestion charge – saving £8 a day if you drive daily in or around the Capital.

Disadvantages of LPG fuel

LPG fuel is not the easiest thing to get hold of. It has a limited supply with only around 1400 fuel stations providing this type of fuel in the UK, possibly because it has to be stored in the highly pressurised tanks mentioned earlier which are classed as ‘dangerous goods’.

Because it doesn't come through the traditional style pumps it can be more difficult for fuel providers to keep on top of supply and demand it than it is with the diesel and petrol pumps and despite governments pushing LPG as an alternative fuel it hasn’t taken off as well as they had hoped.

Because there is less demand for LPG than there is for traditional fuels, this has an impact on its availability. To add to this, LPG suffers from a comparatively lower energy density than diesel and petrol models, which means that although it is a cheaper than more conventional fuels, it suffers from poorer miles per gallon performance than equivalent models, which equals lower fuel efficiency.

Dangers of LPG fuel

Although LPG is perfectly safe if handled correctly, it is a very dangerous substance and for this reason it is monitored very closely and there are strict controls around its storage and supply.

To understand why it is classed as a ‘dangerous good’, read the following example, which explains what would happen if a container of LPG was to burst:

If this was to happen, the LPG would leak out as a supercool liquid which would then freeze anything that fell within its range. It would then boil into the atmosphere and become an oxygen displacing gas which would suffocate any living thing within the area. The gas can spread out far further than the liquid that it initially comes from and can cover an area which is estimated at several hundred times more than the area covered by the liquid itself.

When the gas is diluted by the atmosphere, it will then become ignitable and create a fireball which may cover many square miles, burning everything in the area.

The Future for LPG

As environmentally friendly solutions become more popular with motorists, and car manufacturers try to come up with greener models and concepts, LPG fuel is getting more and more exposure across the world - especially in models that are run as bi-fuel, using a tank of LPG and a tank of either petrol or diesel fuel – with the ability to switch between them when appropriate.

Recent figures suggest that there are over 10 million LPG vehicles being used worldwide and it even has the royal seal of approval - the Queen has had several cars from her private collection converted to run on LPG fuel!

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