Natural gas vs. propane | Living the Country Life

Natural gas vs. propane

Choosing between natural gas and propane

Interview source: Norm Olson, Biomass Program Manager, Iowa Energy Center













Listen to the radio story mp3

Propane and natural gas are fossil fuels that are taken from the ground. Norm Olson is a biomass program manager for the Iowa Energy Center. He says natural gas is truly a gas, delivered through a pipeline. Propane is extracted from unrefined natural gas, and stored under pressure in a tank as liquefied propane gas. It's most commonly used for portable appliances such as grills, but many people in remote areas use it for heating.  

Olson says there's little difference in how the fuels perform for heating, cooking, or drying. Deciding which to use may depend on what you have access to.

"In most cases where you have a choice to use natural gas, you'll use it because it's usually a little cheaper than propane," says Olson. "In places where you can't get natural gas, then generally that's when you go with propane. The propane can be delivered by a truck so there's no pipeline involved. That's the major difference in the delivery of the two. It's going to be a little more expensive to deliver by truck, whereas a pipeline's a pretty cheap way to deliver fuel."

When comparing prices, you have to compare BTUs – or British Thermal Units. Natural gas is priced per therm. One therm equals 100,000 BTU.  Take your cost times ten, and you will get your cost per-million BTU. Propane is priced per-gallon, so use a calculator to help you figure the same cost per-million BTU.

"What you do with that is you take your cost per-gallon, and divide it by 90,000, and then take that times one-million," says Olson. "So let's say your cost is $1.40, you divide that by 90,000, and take it times a-million, and you'll get a cost of about $15.55 per-million BTU."

Propane 101 Learn more about the differences between propane and natural gas

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