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Thread: Generators: Hello Propane, Goodbye Gasoline

  1. #1
    Spyderco Forum Registered User JNewell's Avatar
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    Generators: Hello Propane, Goodbye Gasoline

    We've had a portable generator and a transfer switch in our house since we moved in here in 1989. It isn't a very elaborate arrangement. The goal was principally to run the heat (in the winter) and the refrigerators and freezer. We are still running the same Coleman 3750W portable we started with, although a few years ago we added a Honda EU2000i to provide safe power for electronics.

    The weak link has always been gasoline. Storing any reasonable amount of it presents a significant fire hazard for us. Even with stabilizer, it doesn't stay fresh forever. Worse, ethanol has proven to be a potential problem when stored.

    With these things in mind, I decided to convert our generators to a propane/gasoline dual-fuel setup this fall. I did a lot of research and reading, and talked to a few people who have done the same. Although I thought about replacing the generators with a single, larger unit, in the end I decided to convert the two generators to run on propane. I purchased a kit for one of the generators, figuring that I'd see how it went before buying a kit for the other one.

    The first one (the Honda) went so well that I converted the Coleman and we've had a few chances to test them under real life conditions. I am totally satisfied by both how the conversion process went and how the generators perform on propane. And, in the event that I ever run out of propane and can't find some place to fill some bottles, the generators continue to be gasoline-capable.

    I did have the one-time conversion costs of buying the two kits (roughly $225 each) and buying and filling a number of 20# "barbecue" propane bottles, but considering the advantages, I am completely comfortable with the overall costs and benefits. The benefits are really persuasive for me:

    1. No more storing highly flammable gasoline
    2. No more gasoline going stale/no more filling our vehicles from 5-gallon cans with the associated bother and spills
    3. No more ethanol issues
    4. Faster starts in cold weather
    5. Cleaner exhaust emissions
    6. Cleaner oil/longer oil service intervals


    Installation of these things was a snap, although I've been fiddling with large and small engines for 45 years. The instructions were somewhat opaque, especially about tuning the regulators for optimal performance, but it's not rocket science and is pretty straightforward, though you should have a multimeter that includes an accurate Hz meter.

    I included a few pics below showing the converted generators. Not everyone needs a generator and propane won't be the solution for everyone, but I think it's worth consideration.

    Stay safe (and stay warm)
    John Newell


    The Coleman generator showing the regulator mounted on the frame.


    Another picture of the Coleman generator.


    The propane adapter is the bright aluminum part between the carburetor (RH) and the air cleaner (LH).


    Another picture of the adapter, from the other side.


    The Honda with the propane adapter installed. Note that it still closes up.


    Interior picture of the Honda showing the adapter and hose routing.


    One of the things I particularly liked about this particular conversion kit was the bracket for the propane regulator.
    Last edited by JNewell; 12-31-2013 at 08:06 AM.

  2. #2
    Spyderco Forum Registered User Blerv's Avatar
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    Very cool John . Propane definitely seems the way to go compared to gas. In fact, there are a number of folks who have done propane conversions for trail rigs so it's definitely a viable and stable fuel source.

    I've been doing a little theory-crafting for a small RV/camper/off-the-grid machine. I might pick your brain one of these days .
    Blake

  3. #3
    Spyderco Forum Registered User JNewell's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blerv View Post
    Very cool John . Propane definitely seems the way to go compared to gas. In fact, there are a number of folks who have done propane conversions for trail rigs so it's definitely a viable and stable fuel source.

    I've been doing a little theory-crafting for a small RV/camper/off-the-grid machine. I might pick your brain one of these days .
    The funniest and most sensible and most unacceptable conversion I saw was a snowblower, where the owner mounted the bottle between the wheel-barrow handlebars. He must be a better man than I am, or maybe just a lot younger than I am. It was brilliant, but I don't need the extra weight on the snowblower. It's already more exercise than shoveling.

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    Spyderco Forum Registered User Pinetreebbs's Avatar
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    I think the gen-set engine will last longer running propane.

    One caution about storing propane, it's heavier than air and will accumulate in low areas like basements with explosive results when it finds an ignition source.
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    Spyderco Forum Registered User Blerv's Avatar
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    Yea, it runs way cleaner. Less carbon in the oil and on the drivetrain.

    Besides safety concerns, the only flaw (I guess) is gas, while more volatile, is easier to acquire in large amounts. You can non-chalantly pump a hundred gallons of gas while acquiring a similar amount of propane power would be difficult. Really though, in that case redefining emergency power probably would be wiser than chugging through diesel or something.
    Blake

  6. #6
    Spyderco Forum Registered User JNewell's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blerv View Post
    Yea, it runs way cleaner. Less carbon in the oil and on the drivetrain.

    Besides safety concerns, the only flaw (I guess) is gas, while more volatile, is easier to acquire in large amounts. You can non-chalantly pump a hundred gallons of gas while acquiring a similar amount of propane power would be difficult. Really though, in that case redefining emergency power probably would be wiser than chugging through diesel or something.
    That's the benefit of having them dual-fuel capable (because you're right, propane is not generally as widely available as gasoline). If your propane stock runs out, you can simply dump gasoline into the tank and run it on gasoline.

  7. #7
    Spyderco Forum Registered User Blerv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JNewell View Post
    That's the benefit of having them dual-fuel capable (because you're right, propane is not generally as widely available as gasoline). If your propane stock runs out, you can simply dump gasoline into the tank and run it on gasoline.
    Yep. That's a VERY cool perk
    Blake

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    Spyderco Forum Registered User Donut's Avatar
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    From what I've read about LP gas and generators, there may be concerns with low temperature and the "runtime" from a tank.

    At the time, I was reading about 500 and 1,000 gallon LP tanks and I believe there were less issues with smaller tanks. I'm not sure if the small tanks like the one you're using would have the same issues.


    Do you know how long the generator will run from one tank?
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    Spyderco Forum Registered User
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    Nice post!

    I'm interested in tip-toeing into this rabbit hole a bit...

    if you have some links you would particularly recommend, sharing them would be appreciated!

    Thanks!

  10. #10
    Spyderco Forum Registered User JNewell's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Donut View Post
    From what I've read about LP gas and generators, there may be concerns with low temperature and the "runtime" from a tank.

    At the time, I was reading about 500 and 1,000 gallon LP tanks and I believe there were less issues with smaller tanks. I'm not sure if the small tanks like the one you're using would have the same issues.


    Do you know how long the generator will run from one tank?
    Pure propane boils at -44 degrees F, but pressure will fall off as it gets colder and there probably is no such thing as pure propane in normal use. It should be fine to at least 0 degrees F and -20 degrees F is probably not unrealistic. Bigger tanks would maintain pressure longer but big tanks would have to be installed and refilled from a truck. (We had a propane swimming pool heater 20 years ago - I wish I still had that tank!)

    The BTUs in a gallon of propane are a little less than a gallon of gas. My runtime on a 20# bottle has been about the same as a 5 gallon can of gasoline. Actual runtime varies a lot depending on the size of the engine and generator set and the actual electrical load on the generator.

  11. #11
    Spyderco Forum Registered User JNewell's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mattman View Post
    Nice post!

    I'm interested in tip-toeing into this rabbit hole a bit...

    if you have some links you would particularly recommend, sharing them would be appreciated!

    Thanks!
    There is a good deal of technical info on this website and this website.

  12. #12
    Spyderco Forum Registered User JNewell's Avatar
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    It's probably worth clarifying that our original decisions were made when we moved in here 25 years ago. We just wanted basic survival - keep the pipes from freezing, keep the food from spoiling. The 3.75kW Coleman did (and still does) that. The Honda was a concession to the fact that in the last few years we have had extended losses of power (and we live in eastern MA, not in the Northeast Kingdom of VT. ) The Coleman puts out pretty dirty power. In contrast, the Honda puts out better power than I get from our electrical utility, and with the extended power losses, these days, we need the ability to at least power and recharge the plethora of cellular devices that we use and in some cases really rely upon.

    But...if I were starting over today, I'm not sure I wouldn't just install a 10-12kW standby generator and two or three 100# tanks. With a setup like that you could probably power most of our houses in a way that would let you pretend that there hadn't been any power loss. I didn't think I needed that 25 years ago and I'm still not sure I do. In fact, I sort of feel like not losing touch with the rest of the world around me is a good thing? YMMV. Also, I should point out that some people have medical needs that would take your decision-making straight to a high-Watt standby system. Fortunately, my wife and I do not (yet) have such needs.

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