Liquefied Petroleum/Natural Gas (LPG/LNG)

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Infobox on Liquefied Petroleum/Natural Gas (LPG/LNG)
Example of Liquefied Petroleum/Natural Gas (LPG/LNG)
Origin -
Stowage factor (in m3/t) -
Humidity / moisture -
Ventilation -
Risk factors See text

Liquefied Petroleum/Natural Gas (LPG/LNG)


Liquefied petroleum gas, also called LPG, GPL, LP Gas, liquid petroleum gas or simply propane or butane, is a flammable mixture of hydrocarbon gases used as a fuel in heating appliances and vehicles. It is increasingly used as an aerosol propellant and a refrigerant, replacing chlorofluorocarbons in an effort to reduce damage to the ozone layer. When specifically used as a vehicle fuel it is often referred to as autogas.

Varieties of LPG bought and sold include mixes that are primarily propane (C3H8), primarily butane (C4H10) and, most commonly, mixes including both propane and butane, depending on the season — in winter more propane, in summer more butane. In the United States, primarily only two grades of LPG are sold, commercial propane and HD-5. These specifications are published by the Gas Processors Association (GPA) and the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM). Propane/butane blends are also listed in these specifications. Propylene, butylenes and various other hydrocarbons are usually also present in small concentrations. HD-5 limits the amount of propylene that can be placed in LPG, and is utilized as an autogas specification. A powerful odorant, ethanethiol, is added so that leaks can be detected easily. The international standard is EN 589. In the United States, tetrahydrothiophene (thiophane) or amyl mercaptan are also approved odorants, although neither is currently being utilized.

LPG is prepared by refining petroleum or "wet" natural gas, and is almost entirely derived from fossil fuel sources, being manufactured during the refining of petroleum (crude oil), or extracted from petroleum or natural gas streams as they emerge from the ground.

As its boiling point is below room temperature, LPG will evaporate quickly at normal temperatures and pressures and is usually supplied in pressurised steel vessels. They are typically filled to between 80% and 85% of their capacity to allow for thermal expansion of the contained liquid. The ratio between the volumes of the vaporized gas and the liquefied gas varies depending on composition, pressure, and temperature, but is typically around 250:1. The pressure at which LPG becomes liquid, called its vapour pressure, likewise varies depending on composition and temperature; for example, it is approximately 220 kilopascals (32 psi) for pure butane at 20°C (68°F), and approximately 2.2 megapascals (320 psi) for pure propane at 55°C. LPG is heavier than air, unlike natural gas, and thus will flow along floors and tend to settle in low spots, such as basements. There are two main dangers from this. The first is a possible explosion if the mixture of LPG and air is within the explosive limits and there is an ignition source. The second is suffocation due to LPG displacing air, causing a decrease in oxygen concentration. In addition, an odorant is mixed with LPG used for fuel purposes so that leaks can be detected more easily.

Large amounts of LPG can be stored in bulk cylinders and can be buried underground.

LPG is composed primarily of propane and butane, while natural gas is composed of the lighter methane and ethane. LPG, vaporised and at atmospheric pressure, has a higher calorific value (94 MJ/m3 equivalent to 26.1kWh/m3) than natural gas (methane) (38 MJ/m3 equivalent to 10.6 kWh/m3), which means that LPG cannot simply be substituted for natural gas. In order to allow the use of the same burner controls and to provide for similar combustion characteristics, LPG can be mixed with air to produce a synthetic natural gas (SNG) that can be easily substituted. LPG/air mixing ratios average 60/40, though this is widely variable based on the gases making up the LPG. The method for determining the mixing ratios is by calculating the Wobbe index of the mix. Gases having the same Wobbe index are held to be interchangeable.

Liquefied natural gas or LNG is natural gas (predominantly methane, CH4) that has been converted to liquid form for ease of storage or transport.

Liquefied natural gas takes up about 1/600th the volume of natural gas in the gaseous state. It is odorless, colorless, non-toxic and non-corrosive. Hazards include flammability after vaporization into a gaseous state, freezing and asphyxia.

A typical LNG process. The gas is first extracted and transported to a processing plant where it is purified by removing any condensates such as water, oil, mud, as well as other gases such as CO2 and H2S. An LNG process train will also typically be designed to remove trace amounts of mercury from the gas stream to prevent mercury amalgamizing with aluminium in the cryogenic heat exchangers. The gas is then cooled down in stages until it is liquefied. LNG is finally stored in storage tanks and can be loaded and shipped.

The liquefaction process involves removal of certain components, such as dust, acid gases, helium, water, and heavy hydrocarbons, which could cause difficulty downstream. The natural gas is then condensed into a liquid at close to atmospheric pressure (maximum transport pressure set at around 25 kPa (4 psi)) by cooling it to approximately −162°C.

LNG achieves a higher reduction in volume than compressed natural gas (CNG) so that the energy density of LNG is 2.4 times greater than that of CNG or 60 percent of that of diesel fuel.[1] This makes LNG cost efficient to transport over long distances where pipelines do not exist. Specially designed cryogenic sea vessels (LNG carriers) or cryogenic road tankers are used for its transport.

LNG is principally used for transporting natural gas to markets, where it is regasified and distributed as pipeline natural gas. It can be used in natural gas vehicles, although it is more common to design vehicles to use compressed natural gas. Its relatively high cost of production and the need to store it in expensive cryogenic tanks have hindered widespread commercial use.

The natural gas fed into the LNG plant will be treated to remove water, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide and other components that will freeze (e.g., benzene) under the low temperatures needed for storage or be destructive to the liquefaction facility. LNG typically contains more than 90 percent methane. It also contains small amounts of ethane, propane, butane, some heavier alkanes, and Nitrogen. The purification process can be designed to give almost 100 percent methane. One of the risks of LNG is a rapid phase transition explosion (RPT), which occurs when cold LNG comes into contact with water.

The most important infrastructure needed for LNG production and transportation is an LNG plant consisting of one or more LNG trains, each of which is an independent unit for gas liquefaction. The largest LNG train now in operation is in Qatar. Until recently it was the Train 4 of Atlantic LNG in Trinidad and Tobago with a production capacity of 5.2 million metric ton per annum (mmtpa), followed by the SEGAS LNG plant in Egypt with a capacity of 5 mmtpa. The Qatargas II plant has a production capacity of 7.8 mmtpa for each of its two trains. LNG is loaded onto ships and delivered to a regasification terminal, where the LNG is allowed to expand and reconvert into gas. Regasification terminals are usually connected to a storage and pipeline distribution network to distribute natural gas to local distribution companies (LDCs) or independent power plants (IPPs).


Domestic and industrial fuel, automotive fuel, welding, brazing, and metal-cutting.

Shipment / Storage / Risk factors

LPG is a compressed or liquefied gas, being colourless, non-corrosive, highly flammable, dangerous fire and explosion risk. TLC: 1000 ppm in air.

  • Flash point -74ºC
  • Auto ignition temp. 426-537ºC

In a refinery or gas plant, LPG must be stored in pressure vessels. These containers are either cylindrical and horizontal or spherical. Typically, these vessels are designed and manufactured according to some code. In the United States, this code is governed by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

LPG containers have pressure relief valves, such that when subjected to exterior heating sources, they will vent LPGs to the atmosphere. If a tank is subjected to a fire of sufficient duration and intensity, it can undergo a boiling liquid expanding vapour explosion (BLEVE). This is typically a concern for large refineries and petrochemical plants that maintain very large containers. In general, tanks are designed that the product will vent faster than pressure can build to dangerous levels.

One remedy, that is utilized in industrial settings, is to equip such containers with a measure to provide a fire-resistance rating. Large, spherical LPG containers may have up to a 15 cm steel wall thickness. They are equipped with an approved pressure relief valve. A large fire in the vicinity of the vessel will increase its temperature and pressure, following the basic gas laws. The relief valve on the top is designed to vent off excess pressure in order to prevent the rupture of the container itself. Given a fire of sufficient duration and intensity, the pressure being generated by the boiling and expanding gas can exceed the ability of the valve to vent the excess. If that occurs, an overexposed container may rupture violently, launching pieces at high velocity, while the released products can ignite as well, potentially causing catastrophic damage to anything nearby, including other containers.

Flashpoint and liquefied gases

All liquefied gases carried in gas carriers – with the exception of chlorine - are flammable. However, these gases possess a wide range of flammability, depending on the concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere (see below Table). As a consequence, the key to controlling flammability is the exclusion of oxygen. The flashpoint of a liquefied gas is, therefore, the lowest temperature at which the liquid will maker sufficient vapour to produce a flammable mixture with air. High vapour pressure liquids have extremely low flashpoints.

Liquefied gas
Flash point (°C)
Flammable range (%) by vol. in air
Auto-ignition temperature (°C)
Ethylene oxide
Propylene oxide
Chlorine Non-flammable

Risk factors

For overseas carriage aspects of Chemicals, the readers are recommended to acquire or have access to a good chemical dictionary, and a copy of the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code, issued by the International Maritime Organisation. Also consult the applicable MSDS sheet.

See also: