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Author Topic: How are propane boilers supposedly so efficient?  (Read 4785 times)
belfert
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« on: January 03, 2010, 08:12:18 PM »

Clifford says his propane boiler takes far less fuel than a diesel boiler to produce the same amount of heat.  Considering physics, how is this possible?  Diesel has more BTUs per gallon than propane.  Are diesel boilers that inefficient?

It may be a moot point as I can't find anyone selling a propane boiler for an RV.  The Primus system seems to be mostly sold in Europe.
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« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2010, 08:22:32 PM »

Hi Brian,

You are correct, diesel has more btu's then LP but,, Diesel fuel takes more energy to ignite and

diesel boilers are less efficient then LP because you are trying to transfer heat to a liquid substance

rather then air to air. So, it takes more BTU's to heat a pound of water then a cubic ft of air.

But, water will hold longer tempatures then air.. This will take more calculating to better answer

your question! I will work on it!

Nick-
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« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2010, 09:02:15 PM »

Brian,

I know you said "propane boiler" and Nick seems to be talking about a forced air furnace.  But I think they very well may be more efficient and efficiency trumps BTU content if you are spilling those BTU's out in the outside air.

Unless I am mistaken, and just figure the odds of that ever happening, the D is a true boiler in that the flame is directed to the inside of a cast iron pot...boiler while the propane unit I saw was using a formed corrugated sheet metal like chamber to get the heat transferred to the coolant.  The ex temp was way cooler than the 600 degree plus for that Webasto.  Working with a cooler flame maybe there is a better chance to get more efficiency.  There is a water heater that is also a boiler that has a corkscrew 2 inch pipe running up through the tank and that exhaust is ambient and they vent through a PVC pipe.  98 or 99% efficient and there was a guy on the board that used to install them with great success  and profit.

Nick!  Time for you to open the envelope and read the answer. Grin

John
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« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2010, 09:25:33 PM »

Primus propane boilers were sold here for RV's, if they no longer are.  I am looking at a coach that has a Primus propane hydronic system.  I do not know much about them, but the seller says they had a lot of maintenance issues.  The seller believed the diesel boilers like Webasto and Aquahot were better.  I saw a thread on a Wanderlodge board about changing over, but I think that was due to a lack of parts rather than dependability.  One thing that could be thought to play a part in the heating costs is the fact that you are paying road tax and the diesel but not on propane.
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« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2010, 10:14:15 PM »

.... clip .... It may be a moot point as I can't find anyone selling a propane boiler for an RV. 


http://precisiontemp.com/pt_rvmd_twintemp2.html

OK, now all you gotta do is find a money tree.  But, if you decide that this unit is cost effective for you, the Precision Temp folks are great to work with.

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« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2010, 11:05:20 PM »

That $120 unit was specked at 80,000 BTU.  My conventional HW heater costs almost $400 and that ticks me off cause I know that wages are not the factor that is driving the costs up faster than the cost of living index.  Political?    Mebee.  But it is at least very very personal and relevant.

I think gas is more reliable and  more efficient that oil.....not true.

John

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« Reply #6 on: January 04, 2010, 12:14:50 AM »

According to Precisiontemps claims, their product is a lot more efficient than the diesel boilers they reference-- 82% verses 70%.

http://precisiontemp.com/images/twin_comparison.gif

However, Webasto's seem to be available rebuilt at significant savings

http://cgi.ebay.ca/Webasto-DBW-2010-24v-Coolant-Heater-Reconditioned_W0QQitemZ160388583978QQcmdZViewItemQQptZMotors_RV_Trailer_Camper_Parts_Accessories?hash=item2557e7922a

Webasto says that unit uses 60 watts@24 volts.  I assume that's the pump talking.  I've heard one complaint about them is the diesel smell.  Is it really prevalent?
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« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2010, 01:30:50 AM »

Lin,
I have a 5C with a Webasto in the engine compartment curbside, and I get no diesel smells inside. Since it is hydronic, not sure how I would.
I would think that since propane is a cleaner fuel than diesel, the conversion rate of the available btu's would be better, but only slightly, than diesel fuel.

Enjoy,

Gary
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« Reply #8 on: January 04, 2010, 03:13:42 AM »

Hi John,

I was falling asleep last night while replying... Shocked Lol

Nick-
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« Reply #9 on: January 04, 2010, 04:44:19 AM »

Propane  has more BTU's per pound per gal than diesel,several people are making the propane unit now including Aqua-Hot.  

Lin there are 2 major suppliers of parts for the Primus System in the USA I'll post them for you sometime today the are just about trouble free I had to replace a circulating pump on mine this year and that has been the only problem I have ever had and the pump was a off the self pump nothing special 140 bucks.  


good luck
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« Reply #10 on: January 04, 2010, 05:51:25 AM »

Propane dose give more heat per lb. than diesel but it is only half the weight per gal of diesel.  Here is a good link to check out the cost.
http://www.energykinetics.com/savingsHeatingFuelComparisons.shtml
Jack
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« Reply #11 on: January 04, 2010, 06:07:52 AM »

I'm comparing diesel hydronic system versus propane hydronic system, not forced air.  I have no intention personally of going to propane hydronic since I already have a Proheat and I only use the heat maybe a week a year.  If I was full time in a cold climate it might make sense.

I'm just trying to figure out why propane uses so much less fuel than diesel.  It seems to me that a BTU is a BTU.  Clifford made a comment yesterday about not buying a fuel sucking diesel boiler.  He has mentioned in the past that his Primus uses a lot less fuel than a diesel boiler.

Weight of the fuel is really a non issue.  Everybody measures BTUs per gallon as that is how propane and diesel are generally sold.
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« Reply #12 on: January 04, 2010, 06:08:36 AM »

Clifford says his propane boiler takes far less fuel than a diesel boiler to produce the same amount of heat.  Considering physics, how is this possible? ...


That depends on what you mean by "less."

I notice Clifford mentions above that propane has more BTU per pound than diesel, which is true.  However, it has less BTU per gallon, as you have already noted.  The two substances have very different densities, so a gallon of propane weighs just a little more than half what a gallon of diesel does.

So, yes, it takes "less fuel" measured by weight.  It takes more fuel measured by volume.

I don't know about you, but virtually every place I have ever purchased either diesel or propane, it has been sold by the gallon, not the pound.  So I find it more convenient to compare fuels by volume.

Right at this moment, the average nationwide prices of the two fuels are virtually equivalent on a per-BTU basis, but that's comparing road diesel to off-road LPG, and average retail price for diesel vs. bulk delivery price for LPG.  In practice, we have found that LPG runs us around $3 per gallon on the road, which makes diesel, even with the road tax, the clear winner at the moment.  Since we have cylinders rather than a tank, we often get gouged for LPG even more, since many outlets have a $20 minimum for cylinders (we usually talk them into filling both our diminutive 11-pound bottles for that price), which puts the price closer to $5 per gallon.

If you compare off-road diesel pricing to LPG, the numbers get even better.  Red diesel is probably as easy to find as true bulk-priced LPG.  We can't use it (no separate tank), but we at least get all the federal road tax (26 cents a gallon) back at the end of each year for our heater usage.  That makes diesel's advantage even more clear cut.

If you are trying to save money on heating fuel over the life of the coach, diesel is a better choice (at this writing).  If you are trying to save weight on heating fuel, LPG is a better choice above a certain amount (below that amount, the extra weight of the tanks negates the savings -- I'd have to do more research to know where the crossing point is).

As far as "efficiency" is concerned, this term relates strictly to how much of each BTU in the base fuel is translated to usable BTU of heating in whatever you are trying to heat (inside of the coach, water, soup, whatever).  Generally, it is easier to extract more of each BTU of LPG than diesel at the burner.  However, more of each BTU of LPG is lost "up the flue" than for diesel due to the nature of the fuel and safety considerations.  For this reason, it is usually more efficient to use propane for something like a cooktop (and diesel cooktops are notoriously finicky anyway), whereas it is usually more efficient to use diesel for something like a boiler (hydronic or otherwise).  Direct forced-air furnaces fall in the middle and are something of a wash; you need to compare them model by model.

None of which means anything without taking into consideration the totality of the system.  Efficiency is lost in every step of the process, not just at the burner.  So it's not possible to make sweeping statements like "diesel is more efficient than propane" or "gasoline is less efficient than natural gas."  So much depends on the design of the rest of the system.  For example, resistive electric heat is the most "efficient" of all (every kWh consumed is turned directly into heat), but it is still likely the most expensive option and of limited practicality in most circumstances, so the 100% efficiency is meaningless.

FWIW.

-Sean
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« Reply #13 on: January 04, 2010, 06:19:20 AM »

Propane dose give more heat per lb. than diesel but it is only half the weight per gal of diesel.  Here is a good link to check out the cost.
http://www.energykinetics.com/savingsHeatingFuelComparisons.shtml


Take that page with a grain of salt.  Those guys sell oil heaters -- they have an axe to grind.

I usually base my comparisons on fuel cost data from the DoE and efficiency data gleaned from specifications pages or aggregated by independent research labs.  That still shows an advantage for oil over LPG, but it is not as clear-cut as the page above would seem to indicate.

-Sean
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« Reply #14 on: January 04, 2010, 06:25:25 AM »

Regardless of how many BTUs are in a pound or gallon of diesel or propane, Clifford has indicated he is using a lot less total BTUs of fuel to heat his bus with a propane boiler versus a diesel boiler.

Are diesel boilers terribly inefficient compared to a propane boiler?  I know propane seems to burn with a nice blume flame compared to diesel.  There has to be some reason a propane boiler can heat with fewer BTUs of fuel.
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« Reply #15 on: January 04, 2010, 06:57:37 AM »

Regardless of how many BTUs are in a pound or gallon of diesel or propane, Clifford has indicated he is using a lot less total BTUs of fuel to heat his bus with a propane boiler versus a diesel boiler.

Are diesel boilers terribly inefficient compared to a propane boiler?  I know propane seems to burn with a nice blume flame compared to diesel.  There has to be some reason a propane boiler can heat with fewer BTUs of fuel.


Please re-read my post -- I already answered this.

With all respect to my friend Clifford, he can only be extracting at most 4-5% more of each BTU with LPG than with diesel.  Boiler systems for both fuels fall into the ~85% efficiency range, plus or minus a few percent.

FWIW, my Webasto burns with a blue flame, too.  So do jet engines, which operate on even denser fuel oil.  Appearances are deceiving; because LP is a gas at room temperature, it can easily be burned with a simple air-mixing nozzle; heavier fuels like diesel, jet fuel, bunker oil, etc. need to be heated and atomized first, then fed more air under higher pressure.  This is why the Webasto has a high-volume blower, atomizing nozzle, and fuel pre-heater.  Once all these things are done, nearly as much energy can be extracted from the fuel as from simpler fuels like methane, butane, propane, pentane, etc.

-Sean
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« Reply #16 on: January 04, 2010, 07:04:26 AM »

All I know is I heat my 40 foot bus with diesel hot air and it has more windows than the 32 foot allegro MH I used to have but takes less gallons of diesel than the other did of propane. Jerry
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« Reply #17 on: January 04, 2010, 07:20:04 AM »

Yep Jerry and your Allegro had a forced air RV furnace also they do burn propane. 
Sean does have a clean burning unit a lot better than most I parked beside him at the last Caverns rally but it still had a smell with smoke and the train sound when it fired that cold morning .
I filled with propane a month ago 40 gal tank for a 1.85 per gal it is 2.15 today it always goes up in the winter here for the snowbirds.
I have owned both the Webasto and Aqua Hot my Primus unit will burn about 1 gal per day and I love it but it is different strokes for different folks



good luck
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« Reply #18 on: January 04, 2010, 07:53:51 AM »

I filled with propane a month ago 40 gal tank for a 1.85 per gal it is 2.15 today it always goes up in the winter here for the snowbirds.


Clifford, where do you get your LP? I want to put it on my list... most of the places we've filled, they're charging way above market.

As far as comparing systems across widely different types of rigs with different heating methodologies, it's really not possible to draw far-reaching conclusions.  As I wrote in an earlier post, you have to consider the totality of the system -- good insulation and window coverings will go a lot further to reduce fuel consumption than a few percentage points on burner efficiency.  And, as with anything, there are crappy diesel furnaces just as there are crappy LP ones.  Lastly, maintenance is a factor -- the diesel systems, in particular, require careful attention to nozzles and airways; LP is more forgiving in this regard (although a single mud dauber can screw up either system in a flash).

-Sean
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p.s. With regard to noise, you are absolutely correct.  One of the significant drawbacks of a Webasto, Espar, or any other good diesel unit is that the blower-burner combination has that, umm, jet-engine sound to it, which can be quite loud.  Exhaust mufflers can be added to help with this a little, but, of course, at the expense of efficiency.  We opted to do without, so my apologies to anyone parked directly behind us when it's running.  (It doesn't bother us inside the bus; we hear it, but it is just low-level white noise.)
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« Reply #19 on: January 04, 2010, 08:24:11 AM »

Propane here in Yuma is $1.99 if you go to the plant but delivered it runs around $3. Jerry
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« Reply #20 on: January 04, 2010, 08:40:30 AM »

As pointed out by Sean, propane price gouging is quite common.  If you go to Walmart to exchange a BBQ tank, they will charge around $20. last time I checked.  If you go to the Amerigas depot, it's just a low per gallon price.  They are actually filling those bottles for Walmart.  Obviously one must watch where they buy diesel also, but the price variation is not quite so outrageous.
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« Reply #21 on: January 04, 2010, 10:16:48 AM »

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« Reply #22 on: January 04, 2010, 11:06:05 AM »

I get about the same deal as Dallas, and my LP is delivered on a bobtail by the local distributor.

I get my gas for around $2 per gallon, but have to be home when the truck shows up to get that deal.

If I run out, it's better for me to drive over to the LP shop for the good pricing...they don't like making deliverie$ when it'$ not $cheduled.

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« Reply #23 on: January 04, 2010, 11:31:57 AM »

N.J. Dallas,

I did not mean that every place that charges more than the bulk dealer is gouging.  As you point out, there can be other costs involved.  You charge by gallon which includes the cost of product, fees, and services.  I would not expect a restaurant to charge merely the price of the groceries.  However, places that charge a $20. flat fee per 20# tank and generally only put about 4 gallons in them are certainly doing well on the convenience factor.   I have also seen fill stations within a mile or 2 of each other with a $2./ gallon difference in price.  I use the term "gouging" to classify the extreme.  I apologize for any misunderstanding.
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« Reply #24 on: January 04, 2010, 11:53:10 AM »

Dallas,

Great post!  Great arguments and detail.  You left out the loaded labor charges and that has to be the least resented of them all.  There is a data element called the "Break Even Point" and I think all can intuit that definition.  What is your Break Even Point in terms of "gallons sold" and how many gallons do you typically sell in a month(on average)?  Some parks sell Propane as a service to it's customers and I know of one that said it actually cost him a few bucks a month to do that.  Hope he is rare in that regard.  BEP, profit margins and cost analysis are all closely guarded secrets in industry and business....no question about that.  Yours is not a competitive cost structure cause your overhead seems to be regulatory fees and associated charges.  All of those are documented and in the public domain and can't be a secret.  Your having already compiled those numbers I wonder that you might want to share them?  I know that different agencies appear to have redundant charges, such as a fee charged for the same service by a Local, state and Fed agency.  You mentioned those in one breath and I assume you are referring to those repeat charges.  Tell me what those type charges are called and I will research it, superficially, on my end as those type charges seem to be the same all over the country.

Interesting topic Dallas and thanks for your contributions,

John Smiley Smiley Smiley
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« Reply #25 on: January 04, 2010, 11:56:19 AM »

Nick....Nick??....NICK!!

You awake yet?  LOL.  Wheres the beef, Nick?LOL  Weigh in on this, will ya?

John Grin Grin Grin
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« Reply #26 on: January 04, 2010, 12:10:02 PM »

Lin,

I don't see where you owe any apology to any here.  Dallas was referring to charges his employer, as the owner, uses to compile costs that he uses to set sale price.  Gouging has two aspects that clear it up....UNWARRANTED and UNEARNED or OPPORTUNISTIC.  Please don't start walking on eggs , Lin, as your questions and info are of interest to many and support the policy of this place(our place).

Thanks for all your contributions,

John

Dallas too, understand

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« Reply #27 on: January 04, 2010, 01:28:26 PM »

Thanks John,

It is my feeling that, since misunderstandings are so possible in this media, I wish to make sure to clarify anything I write that might have offended someone unintentionally.  Apologies are free but can be of amazing value.  In the Off Topic section, on the other hand, being provocative is just part of the fun.  The kitchen is supposed to be hot; other places may require climate control (I guess this is Nick's territory both literally and metaphorically).
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« Reply #28 on: January 04, 2010, 01:55:58 PM »

The $20 at wal mart is for tank exchange. Buried in that price is the cost of new cylinders when someone swaps in a dud that is past it's prime. Don't forget the repair costs they incur for the duds people exchanged because that was cheaper than fixing what they had. . . .
There is also the cost for the propane that leaked out past a faulty valve.

Then there in the convenience of not having to go out of the way to get 'em filled. . . .

So, it ain't exactly apples to apples . . . .


As for propane being more efficient than Diesel -
Propane has a theoretical flame temp of 3660F
Diesel is above 3860F

The temp difference isn't enough to make much difference. Especially when the state of tune can cause the flame temp to change.

As has already been said - the design of the heater has more bearing on efficiency than the fuel used. What works well for one may not do so well for someone else especially when the situation isn't exactly the same.

Not all heaters are the same, so before buying one, one needs to do some homework to determine which fits their needs best.

If you find you already own one - doing a little homework will enable you to make the best use of what is available - sometimes that means using it at diminished performance, sometimes it means selling it & buying something else. . . .

YMMV
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« Reply #29 on: January 04, 2010, 03:26:34 PM »

Bitte, Lin.
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« Reply #30 on: January 04, 2010, 04:33:22 PM »

Nick....Nick??....NICK!!

You awake yet?  LOL.  Wheres the beef, Nick?LOL  Weigh in on this, will ya?

John Grin Grin Grin

Hi John,
I started having some serious issues with our foster daughter over the weekend and
I am very sorry for not having the right mind frame to properly answer your questions..
I think I need a good nights sleep soon....
Sean has answered just about all I would be able to supply you guy's...
Thanks
Nick-
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Lee Bradley
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« Reply #31 on: January 04, 2010, 05:54:11 PM »

Clifford says his propane boiler takes far less fuel than a diesel boiler to produce the same amount of heat.  Considering physics, how is this possible?  Diesel has more BTUs per gallon than propane.  Are diesel boilers that inefficient?

It may be a moot point as I can't find anyone selling a propane boiler for an RV.  The Primus system seems to be mostly sold in Europe.

The modern gas systems are running exhaust temps so low that they can be connected to the plastic drain vent pipes in houses. This low temp means that more BTUs are going into the medium to be heated be it water or air therefore higher efficiency. Diesel systems can't match this because they must keep the exhaust temp high enough to keep the particulate matter from sticking to the exhaust surface which would plug the exhaust in short order.
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Brassman
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« Reply #32 on: January 04, 2010, 10:16:36 PM »

In my experience with oil-fired boilers, the exhaust temp. was kept above 240 degrees F because of water condensation. Not that water is bad, but sulfur and water are. It seems that with ULSD exaust temps could go down on a diesel fired unit (& efficeincy would go up). 
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niles500
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« Reply #33 on: January 05, 2010, 02:12:28 AM »

Nick - Not piling on - but now is the time you need to avail yourself of some "family" counseling - remember it wasn't 'if' but 'when' you would need it - just part of the transition - don't get weak - hopefully she's just testing you - if you were in her shoes you'd probably want to know who's on your side - we all know YOU ARE - just make sure SHE KNOWS - Got my fingers crossed and my money is on you - Pulling for you and yours -
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