Propane generators on the Playa

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dj_john69
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Propane generators on the Playa

Post by dj_john69 » Wed Jul 03, 2013 7:26 pm

Hi, i wanted to see how a propane generator would be on the Playa. I just bought a 3500w propane generator today to run my travel trailer.

Have you brought a propane generator to BRC before ?? If so, how did it work out there ?? Any issues i should worry about ?? Will dust mess with it ??

Any advice is appreciated. Thanks.
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GreyCoyote
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Re: Propane generators on the Playa

Post by GreyCoyote » Thu Jul 04, 2013 4:39 am

Propane is nice if you have a big tank, want basically odorless exhaust, and are not concerned about refueling on the playa. Propane has a native motor octane rating around 100, so if you design an engine from scratch to optimize output, you can stuff a lot of compression into it and get good results. And since propane burns so clean and relatively cool, you change the sparkplugs and oil when you lose your nerve, and even then they were likely fine. Finally, propane boils at -44F, so you will rarely have a problem getting a genny to start on the first or second pull even in freezing temps.

That's the good news. Now for the bad news and the reasons I am not a big fan of propane personally.

The first reason is energy density of the fuel. Propane is ~70,000 btu/gal whereas gasoline is about ~105,000 btu/gal, and diesel is ~130,000 btu/gal. Compared to diesel you need almost twice as much propane by volume to make the same power. So you just increased the amount of space required for fuel considerably. Gallon for gallon, propane weighs about half that of diesel (~4.2 lbs/gal compared to ~7 lbs/gal)

The second reason is altitude performance. Because propane is always inducted as a vapor, and it takes a lot of propane by volume to make power, you start "crowding-out" some of the air you could have used for combustion under heavy load. This means a reduction in power potential over the same engine on gasoline. And it means the engine may tend to be peaky at the density altitudes encountered on the playa.

The third reason is refilling ability. You basically will need to either get a single big tank, or use a bunch of 20-lb cylinders and swap them out as needed. Either way, it's a hassle, and the rate of fuel consumption will surprise you. More fuel is not necessarily as close as the burners next door.

Given my choice, I'd be bringing a diesel every time, but you likely don't need the noise, odor, or sheer power (and drama), so my second choice would be a little gas-burner. It's what most bring, and what I bring every year.

Having said all this, there are personal preferences and there is real life. I don't know of any solid reason you couldn't bring a propane genset to the playa and have it work just fine. All of this theory and bench racing goes right out the window when the margarita machine starts cranking-out mugs of icy goodness. Nobody cares what fuel you used or the name/brand on the genset. But of course, if you start have problems and it's not a gas-powered name-brand unit, there will be no end of experts explaining why you are a natural-born idiot. You probably won't find spares on the playa either, meaning a trip to Reno.

I'd try it! But I would have a fall-back plan if power is precious to you. Maybe camp near someone with a bigger gas or diesel set just in case. Think about how much power you need, and for how long. Test the genset under playa loads so you can see how long a tank will last you.
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Re: Propane generators on the Playa

Post by GreyCoyote » Thu Jul 04, 2013 4:47 am

Something else, but it's not BM related.

Many of the propane-powered units can be converted to run on natural gas either by the purchase of a conversion kit or just flipping a lever. If yours is one of these, you might look into tapping into your NG line at the house (via a BBQ outlet, popcock near the meter, or similar).

If you ever lose grid power to your home long-term, that little 3500 watt genny may be a real asset. The ability to draw fuel from the natural gas system means it will run essentially forever and there won't be any fuel storage hassles for as long as the gas mains keep delivering.
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A-RockLeFrench
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Re: Propane generators on the Playa

Post by A-RockLeFrench » Wed Jun 08, 2016 8:46 pm

Old thread new question:


Anyone ever run a Honda EU on propane? They sell conversion kits. I'm interested in running propane generator(s) on the art car I'm building.

Reasons: not having jerry cans of gasoline in the vehicle, not dealing with liquid fuel hazards and refueling generators.

We will have big flame effects so we are already planning on having at least two 100 lb cylinders on board, maybe three, with reserves in camp so refilling shouldn't be an issue.

I know that propane has less BTUs than gasoline, does this translate to generators producing less electricity or just burning more fuel to achieve a comparable power output?



Thoughts? Comments? Insults?

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Captain Goddammit
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Re: Propane generators on the Playa

Post by Captain Goddammit » Wed Jun 08, 2016 8:58 pm

It's a gas bus, right? If so, I'd think it'd be easier to just plumb a fuel line from the bus tank.
Otherwise, I'd suggest not having jerry cans lying around the bus but instead use a nice tidy 5-gallon outboard boat motor tank plumbed to your Honda through the gas cap, either by your own fabrication or with one of the commercially available caps designed for that purpose. It's probably cheaper and less hassle than a propane conversion.
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Jackass
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Re: Propane generators on the Playa

Post by Jackass » Wed Jun 08, 2016 9:16 pm

The Captain has an excellent point. You'll lose some output capacity with propane. If the propane system gets finicky, you'll have no juice. Lights out, party's over...

They're well proven on gas, don't mess with a good thing.

Outboard tanks are sturdy, and can be mounted remotely at your convenience.
Last edited by Jackass on Wed Jun 08, 2016 9:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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A-RockLeFrench
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Re: Propane generators on the Playa

Post by A-RockLeFrench » Wed Jun 08, 2016 9:27 pm

I hadn't thought of using a boat tank...

You guys are so smart.

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Captain Goddammit
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Re: Propane generators on the Playa

Post by Captain Goddammit » Thu Jun 09, 2016 4:57 am

The boat tank does several things for you: of course more capacity, you don't spill fuel on the genny when refilling, you can see your fuel level, and you can put a generic inline fuel filter in the hose. I like clear ones so you can see if you have fuel flow.

The whole gas cap/fuel line setup has to be air-tight. The aluminum gas caps that are commercially available have a threaded hole for a fuel hose fitting to screw in and are really great, but most come with a gasket inside the cap that dissolves in gasoline!! So plan on getting or making your own gasket to seal the cap when you screw it on.

The vacuum created when the generator sucks fuel from its tank as it runs is supposed to draw fuel from the external boat tank, but I find that if you help it out my having the tank at least as high as the generator or slightly higher it works better.
The thing to be very aware of is if the fuel tank is higher than the generator and you have a leak, all the gas will siphon out.

Remember to open the gas cap vent on the boat tank when using it.
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Token
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Re: Propane generators on the Playa

Post by Token » Thu Jun 09, 2016 7:41 pm

The stock Honda gas cap, if you just pop out the breather valve, can thread a fitting right into it.

Just pick up a spare off the internet and screw in a 1/4 " nipple.

It is sooooo nice not having to refuel at crazy hours and do it when you want, not when you run out.

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