Elgas LPG Gas Blog

History of Propane - LPG Gas

Who Discovered - Invented Gas & When

LPG cylinders are a common site, whether it be on a BBQ or the side of a house. 

But who discovered LPG (Propane) and how did it happen?

The Father of LPG: Dr. Walter O. Snelling

Dr. Walter O. SnellingLPG was first identified as a significant component of petroleum in 1910. 
The story goes that a Ford Model T owner asked Dr. Walter O. Snelling, a chemist and explosives expert with the U.S. Bureau of Mines, why the gasoline he had purchased was half gone by the time he got home. 
The car owner thought the government should investigate because consumers were being defrauded, with the gasoline evaporating at a rapid rate. 
Who said consumer activism is a new idea?

It All Started with a Glass Jug

So, Snelling filled a glass jug with the gasoline from the car and discovered, on his way back to the lab, that vapours were forming in the jug causing the cork to keep popping out.

In addition, the gasoline he had purchased was half gone by the time he got home.

Using an old hot water heater and other miscellaneous pieces of laboratory equipment, Snelling built a contraption that could separate the gasoline into its liquid and gaseous components.  

Snelling discovered a large part of liquid gasoline was actually composed of LPG, including propane, butane, and other hydrocarbons and are also referred to as natural gas liquids – NGL.

He began experimenting with these gases to find ways to control and capture them.

Early Commercialisation

American Gasol CompanySnelling soon realised that the LPG could be used for lighting, metal cutting, and cooking.  
That discovery marked the origin of the LPG industry.
Snelling, in cooperation with others, created ways to liquefy the LPG during the refining of natural gasoline.  
Together they established the American Gasol Company, the first commercial marketer of LPG.
Snelling managed to produce relatively pure propane by 1911 and, in 1913, his LPG technology was awarded a U.S. patent.  
Other methods and advances in technology followed.   
See History of LPG - the first 100 years for a much more detailed chronology.  
GAS PLANT IN STEEL BOTTLE, the 1912 New York Times article about Snelling’s work, is also worth a quick read.

The Origin of LPG - Propane

LPG processing involves separation and collection of the gas from its petroleum base.  
LPG is isolated from the petrochemical mixtures in one of two ways -- by separation from natural gas or by the refining of crude oil.
Both processes begin by drilling oil wells.  
The gas/oil mixture is piped out of the well and into a gas trap, which separates the stream into crude oil and "wet" gas, which contains natural gasoline, LPG and natural gas.LPG processing involves separation
The heavier crude oil sinks to the bottom of the trap and is then pumped into an oil storage tank for refining.  
Crude oil undergoes a variety of refining processes, including catalytic cracking, crude distillation, and others.  One of the refined products is LPG.
The "wet" gas, off the top of the gas trap, is processed to separate the gasoline (petrol) from the natural gas and LPG.
The natural gas, which is mostly methane, is piped to towns and cities for distribution by gas utility companies.  
The petrol is shipped to service stations.
The LPG also enters the distribution pipeline, where it eventually finds its way to end users, including for Home LPG and Commercial LPG users all around Australia and the world.
Some people still think that LPG is a by-product.  This is simply not the case. 
LPG is actually an extremely versatile and valuable co-product, just like the gasoline and natural gas produced in the same process stream.
This LPG component, which is about 10% of total gas mixture, can be used as a mixture or further separated into its three primary parts: propane, butane and isobutane
Propane (LPG in Australia) is about 5% of the total gas mixture. 
Best of all, it can be compressed into a liquid for transport virtually anywhere.  
Please see The Properties of LPG for information about the physical attributes of LPG.
Learn more about LPG facts & technology
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