Propane Is Not A Greenhouse Gas But Creates Emissions

propane tank

If you are wondering if propane is a greenhouse gas or not, you’re in the right place. 

The short and simple answer is no, propane is not a greenhouse gas. If you want to learn more about why propane is not a greenhouse gas, keep reading the article below. 

This article will cover:

  • What Is a Greenhouse Gas?
  • What Is Propane?
  • What Are Carbon Emissions?
  • Is Propane a Greenhouse Gas?
  • Does Propane Cause Climate Change?

To understand why propane is not a greenhouse gas, let’s first explain what a greenhouse gas is.

What Is A Greenhouse Gas?

A greenhouse gas is essentially a gas that traps heat. These gases are called greenhouse gases because they trap heat, just like in a greenhouse.

The science is a bit complicated, but not all gasses are capable of trapping heat.

For example, oxygen is usually found in the environment as O2, or two oxygen atoms bonded together.  If you were able to look at O2 under a microscope, it would look like a symmetrical molecule.

An illustration of an oxygen molecule
Oxygen Molecule - Credit: Xolopiks

On the other hand, gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides are more complex, which allows them to trap heat.

an illustration of a carbon dioxide molecule
Carbon Dioxide Molecule
nitrogen oxide molecule
Nitrogen Oxide Molecule

Each greenhouse gas has a different ability to trap heat. Some are very good at trapping heat for long periods, while others aren’t. This makes it tricky to figure out the total impact of each greenhouse gas.

As a side note, global warming potentials are a value assigned to each greenhouse gas for this exact reason. Global warming potentials (GWP) indicate how well a gas traps heat compared to carbon dioxide. 

For example, nitrous oxide has a GWP of 265, which means it is 265 better at trapping heat than an equal amount of carbon dioxide.


Next, it would be helpful to fully understand what propane is.

What Is Propane?

Propane is a fuel that comes in liquid form. Propane is created in natural gas processing and crude oil refining but does not exist naturally.

Propane can be created from renewable resources, although usually not in reliable or high quantities.

Propane has many different uses. According to the DOE, Its main uses include home heating systems, water heating, cooking and refrigerating food, clothes drying, and powering farm and industrial equipment.

You may have a propane tank at your home being used for a BBQ or to power an outdoor patio heater. Propane can also be used in electricity generation and some cases, vehicle fuel (also known as propane autogas).

When any fuel is used, it must be combusted. When fuels are combusted they can create several different kinds of emissions, including carbon emissions, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide to name a few.

Last, let’s understand what emissions and carbon emissions are.

What Are Carbon Emissions?

Carbon emissions are carbon-based molecules released into the atmosphere after activities such as combusting fuel or gas leaks. There are different kinds of carbon emissions such as methane and carbon dioxide.

There are also other types of non-carbon emissions, such as particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide. Again, not all gasses or emissions trap heat, so not all emissions are greenhouse gases.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, propane emits about 12.68 pounds of carbon dioxide per gallon. Compared to diesel, which emits 22.45 pounds of carbon dioxide per gallon, propane emits about 50% fewer emissions.

Also, each gallon of fuel has a certain amount of energy, measured in BTUs or british thermal units. A gallon of propane has fewer BTU’s and therefore less energy than a gallon of diesel.

Many view propane as a green fuel since it produces fewer emissions however, due to its lower carbon content, its environmental impact isn’t significantly better than diesel. Propane is one of the cleanest burning fossil fuels, but it is not a clean energy source.

Accounting for this fact, propane emits about 138.63 pounds of carbon dioxide per million BTUs of fuel, whereas diesel emits 163.45. This is only a 15% reduction in carbon emissions.

Propane emits slightly fewer emissions than conventional vehicles that use conventional fuels such as gasoline.

One study in the United States found that propane emissions in medium and heavy-duty vehicles would be lower than that of electric vehicles in 38 states. Propane is a cleaner fuel source than the average of all the fuels and energy sources used in the electric grid of those 38 states.

In other words, the carbon footprint of propane is lower than other fuels because emits less carbon dioxide. However, despite its clean burning or “cleaner” burning properties, it doesn’t produce significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Finally, we can put it all together to answer our main question.

Is Propane a Greenhouse Gas?

Propane is not a greenhouse gas itself because it does not trap heat. Propane is a type of liquified petroleum gas or fuel that must be combusted to be used. 

The combustion of propane does create emissions, some of which are greenhouse gases.

It should be noted that it does not matter if propane comes from renewable sources or not. Either way propane is not considered a greenhouse gas, even under the clean air act. 

There is also no such thing as clean-burning propane since all propane fuel produces emissions when is used.

Similarly, diesel fuel is also not a greenhouse gas because it doesn’t trap heat. Diesel fuel also releases greenhouse gasses when combusted.

Does propane cause climate change?

Even though one of the main benefits of propane is the creation of fewer greenhouse gases, its use contributes to climate change. Again, even renewable propane contributes to climate change because it emits greenhouse gasses.

Putting it all together, when we use fuels such as propane, they are combusted. Greenhouse gases are produced as a result of combustion and each gas has a different ability to trap heat. The newly trapped heat from these gasses contributes to climate change.

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