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Can Propane Tanks Explode - Can Gas Cylinders Explode - Propane Tank Explosion - Is Propane Explosive

Can propane tanks explode (can gas cylinders explode)? Propane is explosive and propane can explode but a propane-LPG tank explosion is actually very rare. Propane tanks (gas cylinders) can explode but not easily or often. It is actually really hard to have a propane tank explode.

LPG cylinders can explode if the LPG cylinders are exposed to intense heat that overcomes the Pressure Relief Valves (PRV). This intense heat may create high vapour pressure within the LPG cylinder causing it to burst or explode.

A BLEVE - Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapour Explosion – which is an LPG gas tank explosion, can occur if it heats up and the pressure builds at a rate that overcomes the pressure relief valve.

Propane explosions are almost always caused by a leaking gas accumulating in an enclosed space, combined with an ignition source, often not even close to the cylinder, not an LPG tank explosion.

However, if you listen to the news, you would think that propane-LPG tank explosion (gas cylinder explosion) or propane-LPG explosions are happening all the time.

How could they get it so wrong?

Reason for Gas Cylinder Blast

The typical reason for a gas cylinder blast is a gas leak from the cylinder, regulator or fittings. The gas leak mixes with air at proportions within the limits of flammability. Add an ignition source to this and you have a gas cylinder blast or explosion.

However, what is described above is a gas leak explosion and not really a gas cylinder blast.

Can Propane Tanks Explode - Can Gas Cylinders Explode - Facts on Propane-LPG Tank Explosion

An propane gas leak explosion is almost always caused by the accumulation of leaking gas in an enclosed space, not an propane-LPG tank explosion (gas cylinder explosion). The propane gas leak explosion can be from the gas appliance or other source not involving the gas cylinder. In many cases, when an propane gas leak explosion-blast occurs, the gas cylinders are not even involved.

The propane-LPG tank explosions almost never happen because of the built in Pressure Relief Valve.

Many gas leak explosions-blast are caused by natural gas (piped gas), not bottled gas.

The gas cylinder involved in an gas leak explosion may also be welding gas or other non-propane gas cylinder.

There must be an ignition source for a gas leak explosion to occur.

Propane-LPG Tank Explosion is Uncommon - Can Propane Tanks Explode - Can Gas Cylinders Explode

A propane-LPG tank explosion or propane gas cylinder explosion is a rare event.  The gas leak is rarely from the gas cylinder itself and an actual propane gas cylinder blast (gas cylinder explosion) or propane-LPG tank explosion, resulting from a BBQ fire, would be very unusual.

Faulty barbecues can cause gas fires. Gas leaks are typically caused by worn or damaged gas regulators or hoses. 

The fire will self-extinguish, without an propane gas cylinder blast (gas cylinder explosion) when the gas cylinder runs dry, as barbecues should always be placed safely away from other flammable materials.

James Bond Got It Wrong -- Bullets Don't Do It

MythBusters, the popular TV series that tests urban myths, once tried to make a propane-LPG tank explosion with a 9mm handgun. 

They were trying to replicate a stunt seen in the James Bond movie Casino Royale

The 9mm bullet wouldn’t even pierce the LPG gas bottle. It just bounced off.

They then resorted to an armour piercing rifle bullet and managed to make the gas bottle leak but still no propane-LPG tank explosion (gas cylinder explosion).  

Next, they shot it repeatedly with armour piercing tracer rounds, which are essentially bullets on fire.  They still couldn't make the propane tank explode.  

Finally, they resort to using actual explosives and they finally made the propane tank explode (gas cylinders explode).

Enjoy the videos...

Then, in a subsequent video, they use a Gatling gun (mini gun) with incendiary bullets. 

The Media Just Loves to Report a Propane-LPG Tank Explosion

It should come as no surprise that the media is fond of reporting “propane-LPG tank explosions”, even if it did not actually occur. The reality is that propane gas cylinders or propane tanks hardly ever explode.

A good example of this is a front page story about a tragic house fire where supposedly there was a propane-LPG gas tank explosion (gas cylinder explosion) but the accompanying post-fire picture showed both gas bottles upright and intact.

Most of us have heard the news media expression: “If it bleeds, it leads!” 

And it would not be an exaggeration to say that the media likes to sensationalise the news. 

After all, that’s one way they keep their audience interested.

In fact, it would be quite challenging to cause a propane-LPG tank explosion, as the MythBusters discovered.

Welding Gas Cylinders Explode, Not Propane-LPG Tank Explosions

Gas leak explosions involving tradespeople are almost always when an acetylene gas cylinder explodes, not a propane gas cylinder blasts.  In reality, most accidents when a gas cylinder explodes involving tradespeople are welding gas cylinder explosions and not propane-LPG tank explosions.

The problem is that there is also frequently a lack of detail in what is reported regarding the gas blast.

Pressure Relief Valve Prevents Propane-LPG Tank Explosions

Pressure Relief Valve for LPG Propane Tanks & Cylinders Arguably, the single most important safety feature of a gas bottle or propane tank is the Pressure Relief Valve. It’s actually a propane safety valve within a valve. The Pressure Relief Valve is incorporated into the main gas valve on the propane tank, as shown in the accompanying picture. 

If the pressure of the gas inside the tank increases, as the result of a fire or other heat source, the pressure relief valve releases some of the gas from the propane tank to relieve the pressure. 

No pressure build up means no risk of an propane-LPG tank explosion or BLEVE. 

Gas bottles have been around for about 100 years.

Over that time, the gas industry has had a lot of time to perfect the safety features of gas bottles and valves.

In yet another episode of MythBusters, they tried to see if a BBQ gas bottle would turn into an exploding rocket when placed in a fire.  

They placed the bottle in the middle of a raging fire, burned down the demonstration building. 

After it was over, there was no propane-LPG tank explosion (gas cylinder explosion). The gas bottle was still sitting there, looking almost brand new. 

It only proved that the Pressure Relief Valve worked perfectly.

BLEVE - Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapour Explosion (Gas Blast)

A boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion – BLEVE (blĕ-vē)- is an explosion initiated by the breach of a vessel containing a pressurised liquid that has reached a temperature above its boiling point.

A gas cylinder explosion-blast is sometimes referred to as a BLEVE (blĕ-vē). BLEVE is the acronym abbreviation for Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapour Explosion. The contents can be any boiling liquid, including water.

If a pressurised gas bottle or vessel ruptures when the contents are above their boiling point, it is referred to as a BLEVE.  A BLEVE does not necessarily involve fire. A prime example of this is a steam boiler explosion.

Propane tanks rarely BLEVE (propane-LPG tank explosion) because of the Pressure Relief Valve that releases the excess pressure, preventing a rupture or propane gas blast.

Why Does Gas Cylinder Burst

A gas cylinder would burst if the internal pressure exceeded the strength of the cylinder walls. Assuming no defects, this would only happen with a rapid and huge increase in pressure, as caused by being engulfed in a fire, overcoming the pressure relief valve and causing it to burst.

Shaking Gas Cylinder - Does Shaking Propane Gas Cylinder Cause it to Explode

Shaking a propane gas cylinder does not cause an propane-LPG tank explosion (gas cylinder explosion). The only result from shaking a gas cylinder is tired arms but no propane-LPG tank explosion-blast.

Evidently there is a hoax video online showing shaking a gas cylinder causing an propane-LPG tank explosion, but it is just not true.

What Causes Cooking Gas Explosion

A cooking gas explosion occurs when there is a gas leak and an accumulated mix of gas and air (within its flammability limits) combined with a source of ignition. The cooking gas leak explosion could be a natural gas (methane), an LPG - propane or butane - or a CNG (methane) gas explosion.

Cooking gas explosion are avoidable. The important thing is to make sure the flame is lit, so that there is no accumulation of gas.

There are built in safety devices, such as a flame failure device, which is designed to stop gas going to the burner of a gas appliance if the flame is extinguished. These safety devices helps prevent a dangerous buildup of gas within the stove and a cooking gas explosion.

Some stoves also have auto re-ignition, that can relight the burner if it goes out, helping prevent a cooking gas explosion.

There are also timers built into some of the starters, that cut-off the gas if it doesn’t ignite within a very few seconds, preventing the accumulation of gas and any possible cooking gas explosion.

A cooking gas explosion only happens if the safety devices fail and the stove is unattended, as you would smell the gas.

No gas accumulation equals cooking gas explosion.

Then what events are the media actually reporting? 

In many cases, the gas bottle itself is not involved in the propane-LPG tank explosion, as gas bottles are always stored outdoors. It is actually much more likely to be a natural gas explosion versus an propane-LPG tank explosion (gas cylinder explosion).

Many times it’s a fire or gas leak explosion that may have been caused by leaking gas that has escaped from a faulty appliance or pipework. 

The gas collects in a room or section of a structure before a gas leak explosion. 

This is no more likely with bottled gas than with piped in natural gas. 

A Raging Inferno

Even under very extreme conditions, gas bottles perform well. 

A few years ago, a truck fire caused a major fire at a BBQ gas bottle filling plant. 

A storage area with thousands of gas bottles was involved in the fire, in what can be described as nothing short of a major inferno. 

Even with this extreme heat and rapid temperature build up, only a handful of propane tank exploded. 

The Pressure Relief Valves did their job.

Propane-LPG tank explosions are the exception. Propane gas bottles are very safe and we hope you agree… MYTH BUSTED!

 
 

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The information in this article is derived from various sources and is believed to be correct at the time of publication. However, the information may not be error free and may not be applicable in all circumstances.