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Spangler Salutes AmeriGas

Learning about the science of propane

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This edition of Mad About Science™ at 9News salutes the propane scientists at AmeriGas, the nation's largest supplier of propane tanks and cylinders. During the news segment, Steve Spangler interviewed Greg Rice and Chris Selepec from the AmeriGas facility in Commerce City, Colorado to learn more about the science and safety of propane.

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Propane Facts - Propane, (chemical formula: C3H8), is one of the nation's most versatile sources of energy and supplies about 4 percent of our total energy needs. Propane exists as a liquid and a gas. At atmospheric pressure and temperatures above –44°F, it is a non-toxic, colorless and odorless gas. Just as with natural gas, an identifying odor is added so it can be readily detected. When contained in an approved cylinder or tank, propane exists as a liquid and vapor. The vapor is released from the container as a clean-burning fuel gas. Propane is 270 times more compact as a liquid than as a gas, making it economical to store and transport as a liquid.

In the first demonstration, Greg used a special piece of training equipment to show that propane is actually a liquid that quickly boils off and turns into a gas. The large flame-thrower device grabbed everyone's attention early in the morning, but the important part was seeing the liquid propane boil and turn into a gas.

Chris showed a cut-away view of a propane cylinder like the kind we would use on our grills. It was easy to see the over-fill protection valve and the pressure release valve in this training model.

Greg and Chris wrapped up the segment talking about the importance of checking for leaks on your propane cylinders at home. A recent house fire in Parker, Colorado was partially due to an improperly connected propane cylinder to a barbecue grill that was up next to the house. Here's how to check for a leak...

HOW TO TEST FOR PROPANE LEAKS

It is important to inspect your cylinder and outdoor gas appliances for leaks. Do this before using them for the first time each season, as well as on a regular basis. This can be accomplished with a simple "bubble" test:

  1. Apply leak detector solution or thick soapy water to the connection(s) between the cylinder valve and the regulator outlet. These connections are marked with an "x" on the diagram below. 
  2. Slowly open the cylinder valve and watch for bubbles. 
  3. If bubbles appear, close the cylinder valve, tighten the connection, and repeat the process. If bubbles still appear, call your propane retailer immediately. 
Propane, the most common liquefied petroleum gas (LP-gas), is one of the nation's most versatile sources of energy and supplies about 4 percent of our total energy needs. Propane exists as a liquid and a gas. At atmospheric pressure and temperatures above –44 F, it is a non-toxic, colorless and odorless gas. Just as with natural gas, an identifying odor is added so it can be readily detected. When contained in an approved cylinder or tank, propane exists as a liquid and vapor. The vapor is
released from the container as a clean-burning fuel gas. Propane is 270 times more compact as a liquid than as a gas, making it economical to store and transport as a liquid.

Here is some additional information about propane safety from the experts at AmeriGas.

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I SMELL GAS?

  1. Immediately put out all smoking materials and other open flames. 
  2. If you are able to, safely turn off the cylinder valve. To close the valve, turn it to the right (clockwise). 
  3. Immediately leave the area and call 911 or your local fire department. 
  4. Before you restart the appliance, have a qualified service technician inspect your cylinder and appliance. 

Some people may have difficulty smelling propane due to their age (older people may have a less sensitive sense of smell); a medical condition; or the effects of medication, alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. Consider purchasing a propane gas detector as an additional measure of security.

Odor fade is an unintentional reduction in the concentration of the odor of propane, making it more difficult to smell. Although rare, this can be caused by the presence of air, water, or rust in the cylinder. New and reconditioned small cylinders that sit too long before being filled are prone to internal rust when moisture and air get inside.

HOW SHOULD I STORE SMALL CYLINDERS?

  • NEVER store or place a propane cylinder indoors or in an enclosed area such as a basement, garage, shed, or tent.  
  • NEVER store or place a propane cylinder in an area of excessive heat (120 degrees or higher) or near a stove, fireplace, or other heat source. The heat builds up pressure inside the cylinder, which may cause the pressure relief valve to release propane. Flash fires or explosions can result from exposing cylinders to heat. 
  • NEVER store or place a spare cylinder under or near a barbecue grill. 
  • DO NOT smoke or have any ignition sources such as flames or spark-producing electrical tools in the area while handling or transporting cylinders. 

HOW SHOULD I TRANSPORT SMALL CYLINDERS?

  • ALWAYS transport and store a cylinder in a secure and upright position so it will not fall, shift, or roll. 
  • ALWAYS close the cylinder valve and, if required, seal with a plug, even if the cylinder is empty. Ask your propane retailer if a plug is required. 
  • NEVER keep a filled cylinder inside a hot vehicle or transport it inside a closed trunk. 
  • ALWAYS place the cylinder in a well-ventilated area of the vehicle. 
  • ALWAYS proceed directly to your destination and immediately remove the cylinder from your vehicle. 
  • The law places limits on the number of cylinders and the amount of propane that can be transported in closed-bodied vehicles such as passenger cars and vans. Ask your propane retailer for more information on state and local codes that apply to you.     

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH MY CYLINDERS OR OUTDOOR APPLIANCES?

DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES TRY TO MODIFY OR REPAIR VALVES, REGULATORS, OR OTHER CYLINDER OR APPLIANCE PARTS. Propane cylinders incorporate special components such as valves, connectors, and other parts to keep them safe for use with grills and other propane appliances. Damage to any component can cause a gas leak.

DON'T RISK IT! Call your propane retailer or a qualified service technician for assistance.

WHAT IS AN OVERFILL PREVENTION DEVICE (OPD)?

MAKE SURE YOUR CYLINDER IS EQUIPPED WITH AN OVERFILL PREVENTION DEVICE (OPD). An OPD is a safety feature that helps prevent small propane cylinders from being overfilled. An overfilled cylinder doesn't have enough space left if the liquid expands when exposed to warmer temperatures. This can cause an increase in cylinder pressure and create potentially hazardous conditions.

Most cylinders with OPDs have special triangular handwheels with the letters "OPD" on them. In many states, cylinders without OPDs cannot be refilled. If you are uncertain as to whether your cylinder has an OPD valve on it, ask your propane retailer.  

WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH MY OLD OR DAMAGED CYLINDERS?

NEVER use a damaged cylinder or a cylinder that has been in a fire. All cylinders must be inspected before they are refilled. The law requires periodic inspection of cylinders, and it is against the law to refill out-of-date cylinders. The last inspection date is stamped on the cylinder.

HOW SHOULD I DISPOSE OF CYLINDERS?

NEVER dispose of your propane cylinder by throwing it in the trash. Check to see if there are municipal programs for collection in your area, or contact your propane retailer for guidance on disposal of the cylinder.

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