propane generator conversion kit

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Monday August 09, 2010

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Here we explain propane consumption, cylinder vaporization, and the size cylinder required to run a certain horsepower generator.

Propane Consumption Rate  

Using some basic factors, round numbers and some good estimates, this is how run time values of propane cylinders can be worked out:  



It requires 2 horsepower to produce 1000 watts of energy per hour


Under load, each horsepower consumes 10,000 BTU per hour


Propane contains 92,000 BTU per gallon


Propane weighs 4.2 pounds per gallon 


Cylinders are rated by their weight capacity of propane


Cylinder Capacities in Gallons and BTU's 

Size Gallon Capacity Total BTU Capacity


4.8 441,600
30# 7.1 653,200
40# 9.5 874,000
60# 14.3 1,315,600
100# 23.8 2,189,600
200# 47.2 4,342,400
420# 99.1 9,117,200

Using these factors we can arrive at run times based on average load for any generator.  

For instance:

How long would a 5000 Watt Generator with a 10 HP engine at 50% load run on a 20# propane cylinder?

10hp at 50% load would be using 5 horse power to generate 2500 watts of energy.

5hp x 10,000 btu would consume 50,000 btu per hour.  

Using a 20# cylinder that produces 441,600 total btu, the engine consuming 50,000 btu per hour would run for about 8.8 hours.

BTU consumption chart based on generator/engine size and load

Generator Wattage Engine Horsepower Full Load 75% Load 50% Load
1850 3.5 35,000 26,250 17,500
4000 8 80,000 60,000 40,000
5000 10 100,000 75,000 50,000
7500 15.5 155,000 116,250 77,500
8000 16 160,000 120,000 80,000
10,000 20 200,000 150,000 100,000
12,000 24 240,000 180,000 120,000

Many people want to know what size cylinders they need based on their engine size.  Here are some real conservative estimates of the vaporization rate of various size cylinders based on the outside temperature. 

Vaporization Rates of Cylinders  

Output in BTU's per hour - Vertical Cylinder 25% full - Minimum Cylinder Pressure 10 PSI

                                                          Cylinder Size

Outside Temperature 20 30 40 100 200 420
+60F 24,000 32,000 40,100 79,700 125,900 185,500
+50F 21,200 28,300 35,500 70,600 111,500 164,300
+40F 18,450 24,700 31,000 61,500 97,200 143,100
+30F 15,700 21,000 26,400 52,400 82,800 122,000
+20F 13,000 17,300 21,800 43,300 68,400 100,700
+10F 10,250 13,700 17,200 34,200 54,000 79,500
0 7,500 10,000 12,600 25,000 39,500 58,300
-10F 4,780 6,400 8,000 16,000 25,300 37,100
-20F 2,050 2,700 3,400 6,800 10,700 15,900

For the physical properties of each cylinder, click on the "Cylinder Size" above.

What does all this mean?

Well, if you went exactly by the chart, you would need a 420# cylinder to run a 14hp engine if it was 25% full and 40 degrees outside and keep a minimum of 10 psi in the cylinder.  This is a worse case scenario.  For instance, when a 20# cylinder is full it can run a 16hp engine for quite some time in 40 degree weather before there will be any freezing problem. But if you wanted to use up all the gas in a cylinder, it would have to be sized according to the chart.


Here is why.   Propane is stored as a liquid under pressure and boils to produce a vapor that is drawn off at the top for the engine to use as the fuel.  Because propane boils at -44 (below zero), the gas will freeze if it can not absorb enough ambient heat to compensate for the boiling process.  The bigger the cylinder is compared to the amount of load, the warmer it is outside, the warmer the cylinder is kept, all are a determining factor in the likelihood of a cylinder freezing up. 

If a sweat or frost line forms around the cylinder at the level of the fuel, this is a telltale sign that the cylinder over worked and is in the process of freeze up.  If the gas does freeze, it will stop producing vapor and the pressure inside the cylinder will drop to as low as zero psi which will cause the engine to stop running. 

To compensate for an undersize cylinder, two cylinders can be tied together using a tee check and pigtails.  Some customers set the cylinder near the exhaust of the engine to help keep the cylinder warm and have no problem using smaller tanks on bigger engines. This practice needs to be carefully monitored so that the cylinder does not overheat and cause the relief valve to check off. 


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