Propane (/ˈproʊpeɪn/) is a three-carbon alkane with the molecular formula C3H8, normally a gas, but compressible to a transportable liquid. A by-product of natural gas processing and petroleum refining, it is commonly used as a fuel for engines, oxy-gas torches, portable stoves, and residential central heating. Propane is one of a group of liquefied petroleum gases (LP gases). The others include butane, propylene, butadiene, butylene, isobutylene and mixtures thereof.
Propane containing too much propene (also called propylene) is not suited for most vehicle fuels. HD-5 is a specification that establishes a maximum concentration of 5% propene in propane. Propane and other LP gas specifications are established in ASTM D-1835. All propane fuels include an odorant, almost always ethanethiol, so that people can easily smell the gas in case of a leak. Propane as HD-5 was originally intended for use as vehicle fuel. HD-5 is currently being used in all propane applications.
Propane was first identified as a volatile component in gasoline by Walter O. Snelling of the U.S. Bureau of Mines in 1910. The volatility of these lighter hydrocarbons caused them to be known as "wild" because of the high vapor pressures of unrefined gasoline. On March 31, the New York Times reported on Snelling's work with liquefied gas and that "a steel bottle will carry enough gas to light an ordinary home for three weeks."
It was during this time that Snelling, in cooperation with Frank P. Peterson, Chester Kerr, and Arthur Kerr, created ways to liquefy the LP gases during the refining of natural gasoline. Together they established American Gasol Co., the first commercial marketer of propane. Snelling had produced relatively pure propane by 1911, and on March 25, 1913, his method of processing and producing LP gases was issued patent #1,056,845. A separate method of producing LP gas through compression was created by Frank Peterson and patented in 1912.
The 1920s saw increased production of LP gas, with the first year of recorded production totaling 223,000 US gallons (840 m3) in 1922. In 1927, annual marketed LP gas production reached 1 million US gallons (3,800 m3), and by 1935, the annual sales of LP gas had reached 56 million US gallons (210,000 m3). Major industry developments in the 1930s included the introduction of railroad tank car transport, gas odorization, and the construction of local bottle-filling plants. The year 1945 marked the first year that annual LP gas sales reached a billion gallons. By 1947, 62% of all U.S. homes had been equipped with either natural gas or propane for cooking.
In 1950, 1,000 propane-fueled buses were ordered by the Chicago Transit Authority, and by 1958, sales in the U.S. had reached 7 billion US gallons (26,000,000 m3) annually. In 2004 it was reported to be a growing $8-billion to $10-billion industry with over 15 billion US gallons (57,000,000 m3) of propane being used annually in the U.S.
The "prop-" root found in "propane" and names of other compounds with three-carbon chains was derived from "propionic acid".