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Despite Hydrogen’s Potential, LPG Use Will Continue

By César Vera - Naviera Integral
Chief Commercial Officer


By César Vera Méndez | Chief Commercial Officer - Tue, 07/25/2023 - 10:00

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Liquid Petroleum Gas, or LPG, is a flammable gas that is commonly used for heating, cooking and hot water systems, although it is also used in cars as fuel and in industrial, agricultural, and manufacturing activities. This gas is mostly made from propane, although in some areas it is a mixture of propane and butane. This is largely dependent on effectiveness due to climate conditions. LPG is manufactured during the refining process of crude oil, or it can be extracted from natural gas underground streams. It is called liquified because to be transported, it is placed under pressure inside gas cylinders. It returns to its gas state once it is released from the tank and subjected to atmospheric pressure conditions.

Why is it such a good option for home use? It is efficient, due to its caloric value compared to natural gas, which means it burns better and is more economical than other energy sources. Also, it is portable: the tanks can be transported to both residential and rural areas and it can easily be moved around if basic safety practices are followed. Finally, it is cleaner than most fossil fuels, as it has low sulfur content, low emissions of black carbon and does not spill.

Among its uses in industry are as gas for welding, commercial heaters, forklifts and, of course, food preparation.

As with every fuel, LPG has its own challenges, starting with the constant search for a cleaner production of the gas itself. This is due to emission of butane and propane into the atmosphere, not because of the use of LPG but due to venting during the production process that requires preventing such leakage and/or capturing the vented gas. Gas distributors are constantly finding ways to carry out their activities safely and being environmentally responsible; however, the production part is not entirely in their control. Hence, collaboration across the value chain is the way forward.

Mexico has a growing demand for LPG estimated in 2021 at a 0.8% annual rate. Demand can also be affected but the use of solar heaters to heat water for home and industrial consumption. The LPG market availability (offer), however, has remained almost the same for the past 15 years. What has changed is the composition of the source. Since 2014, there has been an increase in importations and a decline in national production. Security is another challenge for distributors due to illegally sourced LPG. There is also a need here for collaboration, with the authorities in this case.

Eight of every 10 homes in Mexico use LPG, yet regulations have not been clear or timely, while increasing costs, making it more difficult for this industry to maximize the use of new technologies, improve client service and continue the efforts toward  sustainability. Let us keep in mind that natural gas was expected to replace LPG;, however, that is not entirely accurate. Natural gas requires underground infrastructure that involves civil public works, which has its own  known issues. That being said, reaching a 50/50 supply of LPG and natural gas might take up to 30 years, according to some analysts.

Hydrogen Homes

The UK is already doing some trials using hydrogen for heating and electricity amid  the current trend of seeing hydrogen as the ideal answer to greenhouse gas emissions, regardless of whether blue or green hydrogen is used. Let us remember that green hydrogen is made without greenhouse gas emissions.

The use of H2 for heating depends on the heating system installed. With current traditional gas boilers, for instance, it is possible to combine hydrogen fuel and natural gas. To date, fully H2 boilers are not quite commercially available. Cooking with hydrogen and even hydrogen-fueled fire is an objective, at least toward the 2050 renewable energy target.

What is the current showstopper? Availability of equipment and inputs, such as fuel cells and H2 itself. Plus, the associated cost as of the time of this article is way more expensive than any other methods, even with carbon capture.

Hydrogen energy is the future of fueling vehicles, as per Toyota for instance. While others continue betting on EVs despite electricity still being produced mainly from carbon-emitting sources and not considering that charging infrastructure is scarce, creating uncertainty for  long commutes, in addition to the charging time. 

Have I shared my quest to do a road trip in the US with an EV SUV? To sum it up, a 300-mile range is relative to driving conditions (wind, speed, use of AC, charging your phone, among others) and in this developed country, a three-hour trip turned out to be four hours with one charging station midway on my 197-mile trip. Imagine the extra time needed if another EV had been charging at the time I made it to this station. But that is a topic for another article.

For the next three decades at least, LPG will remain the main home energy source for cooking and heating. At least in Mexico, unlike the UK and other nations like Japan that are already testing hydrogen..

Photo by:   César Vera

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