Propane is a type of Liquid Petroleum Gas, or LPG. It’s famed for being a versatile substance, with a varied range of uses. For example, it’s an economical and low-maintenance option for many small industrial vehicles, such as forklifts. It’s clean-burning and gives off fewer harmful emissions than many traditional fuels, making it (marginally) safer for those working in enclosed spaces, such as warehouses. It’s also used for metallurgy, and frequently used for standby backup generators too.
However, propane has a very low “flash point”, which means it ignites easily – so any spillage or leak makes it a potent explosive hazard.
Just like propane, butane is another LPG, and has a similarly versatile range of uses. It’s often used as a fuel for stoves and a propellant in aerosols, and it’s frequently used as a heating fuel and refrigerant too. However, it’s also highly flammable, and can be easily ignited through static electricity or open flames.
Its flash point is pretty low, too – concentrations anywhere between 1.6% and 8.4% can end up forming an explosive mixture in air. It’s normally compressed into canisters, so it’s imperative that these are stored safely – upright with the lid securely on – and ideally out of sunlight, in a cool area.
As a major constituent of natural gas, methane is commonly used for cooking and heating in households, but on an industrial scale it’s more frequently used to refine petrochemicals, as well as producing plastics, fertilisers and anti-freeze and fabrics. Various countries around the world are also ramping up their efforts to capture methane from animal waste and landfill waste, which can be used to generate heat and electricity on an industrial scale.
The ill-effects of inhaling methane are well-known – on the milder end of the scale it can caused tiredness and mood changes, whereas on the progressively more serious scale it can cause vomiting, changes in breathing and heart rate, balance problems, and eventually unconsciousness and even death. In addition to all this, of course, there’s also the explosive risk – it becomes an explosive hazard at concentrations of between 5% to 15% by volume in air, which once again makes it imperative to store safely.
Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical element, estimated to contribute to 75% of the mass of the universe. Notably cleaner than methane, it’s used for manufacturing and metallurgy, and producing hydrochloric acid. It’s also a useful ingredient in the production of ammonia and methanol, and a key staple of oil refineries. (Of course, it’s often used for even more niche uses, like filling balloons). Scientists are even looking at its potential for one day powering everyday consumer cars.
However, the main obstacle to its widespread use is that it’s inherently less safe than natural gas – it has a broader explosive range, and it can be worryingly prone to leaking at a much lower energy level. In scientific terms, it can produce “higher over-pressures” on ignition – in other words, the explosions are bigger, louder, and more forceful. At the moment, that rules out a lot of its more common uses outside of specialised commercial or industrial settings – for example, a government-backed study found that using it to heat houses could cause four times as many explosions as natural gas.
All these potent dangers just serve to underline the fact that if you or your team are working with toxic or explosive gases on a daily basis, you need proper gas alarms to help keep you safe. And that’s exactly where we can help. We provide an extensive range of fixed gas detection systems or portable gas detection monitors, including carbon monoxide systems and carbon dioxide systems.
And of course, if you have any questions or need any advice, by all means call us on 01423 862240, and we’ll be happy to provide answers.