One of the advantages of having a tailgate, trailer or RV camper is that a lot of gear can be brought to the campsite, including gear that no backpacker would even consider hauling around. An example is a generator, which can prove handy for providing electrical power beyond the means of a mere vehicle battery or engine generator. The two most popular fuel options for portable generators are propane and gasoline, each with its own set of pros and cons.
Gasoline generators are typically more portable. A propane unit must be powered by piping propane in from an exterior tank, while gasoline generators all have on-board tanks. The larger propane generators require a semi-permanent pad to use properly, although there are plenty of examples in the 3 to 5 KW range that do not. Propane units also tend to be a bit bigger than comparable gasoline-fired units.
The cost of propane and gasoline can vary wildly depending on the region in question. For example, in April 2009, a gallon of propane in New York state cost $2.46 and a gallon of gasoline was $2.18. At the same time in California, they were nearly equal in both Northern and Southern parts of the state. What is stable is the relative heat output of the two fuels. A gallon of gasoline puts out 125,000 BTUs. A gallon of propane puts out about 91,500. That means propane would need to be about 30 percent cheaper to deliver the same bang for the buck as gasoline does.
Propane, like most compressed and liquefied gasses that are stored in canisters, have a very long shelf life. It is unlikely that a canister of propane will degrade after being hooked up to a generator, even if the generator is used only once or twice per year. On the other hand, gasoline left in a generator tank will degrade.
Pollution and Handling
As a derivative of natural gas, propane burns much cleaner than natural gas. Carbon monoxide emissions range between 20 and 40 percent lower than with the same amount of gasoline, with particular matter being reduced by 80 percent. Against this it must be said that burning propane puts 10 percent more methane into the atmosphere, but the result is still a net decrease in effective greenhouse gases. Also, bottled propane is non-toxic and not liable to harmful spills, neither of which can be said of gasoline.
Those who have owned both propane and gasoline powered generators indicate they are equally noisy. The differences in noise seem to be more about the manufacturer than the choice of fuel.
Article Written By Edwin Thomas
Edwin Thomas has been writing since 1997. His work has appeared in various online publications, including The Black Table, Proboxing-Fans and others. A travel blogger, editor and writer, Thomas has traveled from Argentina to Vietnam in pursuit of stories. He holds a Master of Arts in international affairs from American University.