Propane vs. Butane – Know the Difference

September 6, 2022

Propane and butane can often get lumped together in discussions of fuel sources for home appliances and systems. In some ways, the comparison is fair – both are forms of Liquified Petroleum Gas and they do share some similarities, but their differences are important and set propane apart as a superior fuel for many home, commercial and agricultural applications.

LPG – Same Chemicals, Same Source

Propane and Butane are both byproducts of the process of refining crude oil into various petroleum products, including gasoline. Chemically speaking, propane and butane are nearly identical. “Prop-“ and “But-“ are the prefixes in chemistry-speak denoting “three” and “four,” corresponding to the three and four Carbon atoms that propane (C3H8) and butane (C4H10) contain.

Their similar structures and identical sets of elements cause them to behave very similarly. Both act as efficient, relatively clean sources of fuel for combustion (read: burning) that can also be contained as a liquid, under pressure, before being released and quickly evaporating under standard atmospheric pressure. Storage as a liquid is considered safer in general, but even when propane and butane burn, they are non-toxic and produce little-to-no harmful byproducts, smoke or particulate matter (think grime, soot and dust).

Chemical Differences

The primary chemical difference, other than numbers of carbon and hydrogen atoms, is that butane has a much higher boiling point: -2 C compared to propane’s -42 C.

Functionally, this means that propane can be stored as a liquid in colder climates and still vaporize for use as a gas fuel, whereas butane may be less likely to vaporize. While this makes butane a great fuel for small-scale applications where it needs to stay liquid, like in lighters or as a refrigerant in cooling systems, it’s not the best fuel for systems that require outdoor storage or that need high pressure behind the fuel stream, such as in heaters, propane grills, and more.

Practical Differences

As we mentioned already, propane serves as a much more ideal source for many indoor and outdoor homebound appliances. Heaters, space heaters, outdoor grills, clothes dryers and more can all use propane as an efficient, clean-burning, and cost-effective fuel source. All while storing propane under pressure – as a liquid, still! – outdoors in an above-ground or buried tank.

Propane, although a byproduct of fossil fuel production, is still much more environmentally friendly than other fossil fuels, including the coal or natural gas that likely supplies your local electrical grid with energy. Turning to propane for as much energy as possible is not only a smart decision financially, as it’s much more efficient at converting energy than other fossil fuels, but a smart decision environmentally too. Propane combustion offputs minimal amounts of greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide, and certainly far less than coal, natural gas or gasoline.

Propane is also considered a great home fuel source because it burns clean, meaning no harmful smoke, particulate, or fumes are created while burning. That’s why it’s such a great fuel source for grills and other cooking implements, as it imparts no harmful chemicals to the cooking food.

If you’re interested in propane as a fuel source for your home’s or business’s heater or other appliances, give Butch’s Propane a call at 605-857-1111 to learn about our services and service areas. Butch’s Propane is proud to deliver to our customers on a schedule that works for you and whenever your tanks get low, guaranteeing that you always have the fuel you need before you need it.

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