How Propane is Made for Heating Purposes: A Comprehensive Guide

Propane is a versatile hydrocarbon gas that is widely used for heating purposes in residential, commercial, and industrial settings. It is a byproduct of natural gas processing and crude oil refining, and its production process involves several critical steps to ensure its efficient and safe use. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the intricate details of how propane is made for heating purposes, providing you with a thorough understanding of this essential fuel source.

Natural Gas Processing: Extracting Propane

The production of propane for heating purposes begins with the processing of natural gas. During the natural gas processing stage, propane is extracted from the liquid components of the natural gas stream. This extraction process is crucial to prevent the condensation of these liquid components, which could otherwise lead to issues in the natural gas pipelines.

The natural gas processing plant employs a series of steps to separate the various hydrocarbon components, including methane, ethane, propane, and heavier hydrocarbons. These steps typically involve:

  1. Acid Gas Removal: The natural gas stream is first treated to remove any acid gases, such as carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, which can be corrosive and harmful to the processing equipment.
  2. Dehydration: The natural gas is then dehydrated to remove any water vapor, as the presence of water can lead to the formation of hydrates, which can clog the equipment.
  3. Fractionation: The dehydrated natural gas is then sent to a fractionation unit, where the different hydrocarbon components are separated based on their boiling points. Propane, being a lighter hydrocarbon, is extracted during this stage.

The extracted propane is then liquefied and stored for transportation and distribution to various end-users, including those who use it for heating purposes.

Crude Oil Refining: Producing Propane

how is propane made for heating purposes

In addition to natural gas processing, propane is also produced as a byproduct of crude oil refining. During the crude oil refining process, propane is generated during the fractional distillation or stabilization stage.

The fractional distillation process involves heating the crude oil and separating its various components based on their boiling points. The lighter hydrocarbons, such as propane, rise to the top of the distillation column, while the heavier hydrocarbons, such as gasoline and diesel, sink to the bottom.

The stabilization stage, on the other hand, involves the removal of lighter hydrocarbons, including propane, from the crude oil stream. This is done to ensure the stability and safety of the refined products, as the presence of these lighter hydrocarbons can increase the volatility of the fuel.

The actual percentage of propane extracted from crude oil can vary depending on the specific refinery process and the type of crude oil being processed. Generally, propane accounts for around 1-4% of the total volume of processed crude oil.

Liquefaction and Storage of Propane

Liquefying propane is a critical step in the production process, as it allows for the efficient storage and transportation of this fuel. Propane is stored and transported as a pressurized liquid at a pressure of 177 PSI (pounds per square inch).

The liquefaction process involves compressing the propane gas and cooling it to a temperature of around -44°C (-47°F). At this temperature and pressure, propane transitions from a gas to a liquid state, significantly reducing its volume and making it easier to handle and transport.

The liquefied propane is then stored in specialized tanks or cylinders, which are designed to withstand the high pressure and prevent the propane from vaporizing. These storage tanks are typically made of steel and are equipped with safety features, such as pressure relief valves, to ensure the safe handling and storage of the propane.

Propane Production and Distribution in Canada

Canada is a significant producer of propane, ranking as the seventh-largest producer in the world. Interestingly, nearly 100% of the propane used in Canada is also produced within the country, with the remaining portion being exported, primarily to the United States.

Propane production in Canada is concentrated in the western provinces, with Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan accounting for approximately 80% of the country’s total propane output. The remaining provinces, except for Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, also contribute to the production of this essential fuel.

The propane market in Canada is unique, as the production and distribution of this fuel differ from other energy sources. Propane is transported and distributed through a network of pipelines, rail, and trucks, ensuring its availability across the country.

Factors Affecting Propane Production and Pricing

The production and pricing of propane for heating purposes are influenced by several factors, including:

  1. Natural Gas and Crude Oil Prices: As propane is a byproduct of natural gas processing and crude oil refining, its price is closely tied to the fluctuations in the prices of these primary energy sources.
  2. Seasonal Demand: Propane demand typically peaks during the winter months, as it is widely used for heating purposes in residential and commercial settings. This seasonal variation can impact the supply and pricing of propane.
  3. Storage and Transportation Capacity: The availability of storage facilities and the efficiency of the transportation infrastructure can affect the distribution and pricing of propane.
  4. Regulatory Environment: Government policies, environmental regulations, and safety standards can also influence the production, distribution, and pricing of propane.

Understanding these factors is crucial for consumers, businesses, and policymakers to make informed decisions regarding the use and management of propane for heating purposes.


Propane is a versatile and essential fuel source for heating purposes, and its production process involves a complex series of steps, from natural gas processing to crude oil refining. By understanding the intricacies of how propane is made, we can better appreciate the importance of this fuel and the factors that shape its availability and pricing. This comprehensive guide has provided you with a detailed overview of the propane production process, equipping you with the knowledge to make informed decisions about the use of this valuable energy resource.