While not common, the short answer is, yes, a propane tank can explode. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates roughly 600 propane tank explosions occur each year. Yet, according to a study from the Department of Energy, the risk of a person dying from a propane explosion is about one in 37 million.
But propane tanks do not explode, nor do they rupture or come apart on their own. A propane tank operating under normal circumstances is extremely safe. In fact, bringing a propane tank to the point of “explosion” is a very difficult task.
Safety devices and mechanisms are in place to prevent explosions, accidents and propane tank ruptures or breaches. But just like with any other hazardous material, accidents can happen if you don’t follow appropriate guidelines.
What Causes Propane Tank Explosions?
Propane is a combustible material created from natural gas processing and oil refining. The combustibility of propane makes it a very versatile product. A growing number of homes and commercial properties use propane as a primary heating fuel. Propane is also a popular secondary fuel for many households, used to power cooking appliances, fireplaces, generators, grills, swimming pool heaters and more.
Unfortunately, propane’s combustibility is also the reason it can be dangerous and, in rare instances, cause an explosion. There are two main causes of propane explosions. The first has very little to do with the propane tank itself. Instead, the explosion results when the propane leaks because a tank was left open, and the gas supply is ignited from exposure to flames or high temperatures. This is usually the cause of most gas grill tank explosions.
BLEVE – Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion
On rare occasions, propane tank explosions occur when the pressure of the propane tank reaches higher than the pressure that the tank can safely vent. When the pressure builds up it causes the tank to burst open. This kind of explosion is a Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion (BLEVE).
A propane tank BLEVE will occur when the container is subject to extreme heat, such as in a fire. When the tank gets hot, the liquid propane inside is being heated as well, causing it to expand. The safety relief valve will open allowing pressure to vent to the outside atmosphere. If the pressure level inside the tank level exceeds that at which the safety relief valve can expel it, the propane tank will rupture. If flames or a source of ignition is present, the propane will ignite resulting in an explosion. It’s important to know that a BLEVE will occur only if the conditions are right, such as being subject to continuous flame. Therefore, the possibility of a propane tank explosion (BLEVE) is extremely remote.
Can Propane Tanks Explode in The Sun?
Yes, they can, but this is usually the case with the portable 20-lb tanks used for grilling, not the larger tanks. On a warm summer day, temperatures can rise quickly. As the portable propane tank gets hotter, the pressure inside the tank will increase. But tank temperatures would need to reach higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit or 40 degrees Celsius to cause a rupture. The safest place to store a propane tank is outdoors and in the shade.
Key Propane Tank Safety Features
There are several required safety measures for propane tanks that make explosions rare, and make propane extremely safe to use.
- Built-in Relief Valves – Most propane tanks come with a relief valve. If the tank’s pressure reaches higher than a specific point, the relief valve will open automatically. This lets the gas vent and reduces the pressure.
- The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) – Rulings for safe storage of propane prevent filling tanks more than 80% to allow room for expansion.
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines require that a chemical to be mixed with propane (propane has no odor) so that users will smell a scent that resembles a “rotten egg” in the event of a leak.
Steps You Can Take to Further Minimize the Risk of an Explosion
There are things you can do to increase the safety of your propane tank and propane usage. The U.S. Department of Consumer Protection recommends the following:
- When not in use, make sure the propane tank valve is closed.
- Routinely check the connections and hoses for any leaks.
- Do not store propane tanks near open flames.
- Always keep containers upright.
- Do not store an extra LP gas container under the grill.
- Never store or use flammable liquids like gasoline near the grill.
- Don’t store propane tanks indoors. It’s unsafe and its illegal!
- Never keep a filled container in a hot car or car trunk for any length of time.
- Don’t try to modify or repair valves, regulators, or other appliance parts. Only use licensed, certified technicians.
Trust Levco For All Your Propane Questions and Uses!
Propane is not only one of the safest fuels available, it is also clean, powerful, and reliable. In 2019, Connecticut homes and businesses used more than 132 million gallons of propane. The residential sector accounts for 67 % of the state’s propane usage, with the commercial market following at 24 percent.
Levco is a leader in helping customers understand and adhere to industry standards for the safe LP-Gas storage, handling, transportation, and use of propane. We can provide new 20lb. propane tanks for all your outdoor festivities as well as install new 120-gallon propane tanks for larger uses! Additionally, Levco prides itself on being a competitively priced propane delivery company! Give us a call at (203) 533-8249 or contact us today!
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