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Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG)

What is it?

Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is a highly flammable, liquefied mixture of hydrocarbon gases, primarily propane and butane. In their natural state these gases are odourless, colourless and heavier than air. The pungent odour often associated with LPG is a safety measure added during the liquefaction process.

LPG was first produced by Dr Walter Snelling in 1910, with commercial products appearing in 1912. LPG is derived from natural gas, though it is also produced as a by-product of the crude oil refining process.

Generally it comes in two varieties, also known as blends. The first blend, a liquefied mixture of propane and butane gas, is commonly referred to as ‘autogas’ and is used to fuel a wide variety of motor vehicles. The second blend contains only propane. Typically it comes in cryogenic cylinders (gas bottles) and is used in barbecues, caravans and households.

How is it used?

LPG has a wide variety of applications. It is used as a liquid fuel for modern internal combustion engines like those found in electric generators, motorbikes, cars and heavy vehicles. Much like liquefied natural gas (LNG), LPG is often decompressed back into its gaseous form, for use in domestic heating and cooking. This is especially common in remote communities which may not have access to the commercial natural gas plumbing generally available in major cities.



In its liquid form, LPG can also be used as a refrigerant for both commercial and industrial cooling systems.

Who uses it?

LPG is consumed heavily across the globe, with Japan being the largest single importer. Asia also claims the world’s largest consumer of residential-commercial LPG, China, and the world largest autogas market, South Korea.

Base demand in North America was 50.9 million tonnes in 2010, with North Asian demand close behind at 47.3 million tonnes. Europe and the Commonwealth Independent States are the 3rd largest consumers at 39.2 million tonnes in 2010.

Where does it come from?

Global LPG production reached 241 million tonnes in 2010, with 41% of supply produced as a by-product of the crude oil refining process. Roughly 24% of global LPG is extracted from ‘wet’ natural gas associated with traditional crude oil production.

The North American region (USA and Canada) is the world’s largest producers of LPG accounting for 23% of total global production in 2010, with a combined production of 55 million tonnes. The Middle East, which is the largest LPG exporting region in the globe, produced a total of 51.9 million tonnes in the same year. Africa, the 2nd largest LPG exporting region, produced 16 million tonnes.

Interesting Facts:

  • Global demand for LPG reached a total of 240 million tonnes in 2010
  • The pungent odour added to LPG is “ethanethiol” is commonly known as “onion gas”, and was to be considered the world’s worst smelling chemical according to the 2000 edition of the Guinness World Records.

Visit our Oil, Gas, and Energy section for more information about fuel sources.
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