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Why Convert to Propane or Natural Gas

There are several factors to consider when selecting the fuel for use with engine generator sets.  Use the comparison chart and information below for a rough guide.

ENGINE COST EXCELLENT (many low-cost gensets on market) VARIES (low cost in small sizes) VARIES low cost in small sizes) VARIES (low cost in small sizes)
FUEL SYSTEM INSTALLATION & STORAGE COST VARIES (low cost in small sizes) EXCELLENT (if gas service already available at site) MEDIUM (if adequately sized tank already at site) MEDIUM (if adequately sized tank already at site)
FIRE & PERSONNEL SAFETY POOR (highly flammable, vapors poisonous) MEDIUM (rare leak risk) MEDIUM (rare leak or tank explosion risk) MEDIUM (rare leak or tank explosion risk)
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS POOR (spill risk, exhaust not clean) EXCELLENT (clean burning) EXCELLENT (clean burning) EXCELLENT (clean burning)
FUEL AVAILABILITY MEDIUM (easy to purchase) EXCELLENT (storage not req'd, supply rarely lost) MEDIUM (must be delivered & stored MEDIUM (must be delivered & stored
COLD STARTING & OPERATION POOR (forms gum deposits) EXCELLENT MEDIUM (tank must be large and full for vaporization) EXCELLENT (no tank vaporization issue)

Gaseous Fuels

Gaseous fuels such as natural gas, vapor propane and liquid propane are the most common choice for small automatic standby generators.  This is because the engines are economical to build, these fuels provide good starting reliability and they are in common use and available everywhere.  When purchasing a gaseous fueled genset you must remember the following:

  • Specify which kind of fuel you will be using when placing the order. If there is a mistake it may NOT be possible to convert a genset in the field between natural gas/vapor propane and liquid propane. It usually IS possible to convert between natural gas and vapor propane however.

  • If you order a genset for vapor propane it is usually set up at the factory for natural gas and MUST be converted in the field to vapor propane.  The installation manual will describe the steps for this simple conversion which usually involves connecting a fuel line to another port or changing an orifice and a mixture setting.  If you fail to make this conversion the genset will not run properly and may not start at all.

  • A vapor propane system draws the fuel from the TOP of the tank usually through a pressure regulator at the tank.  The liquid in the lower part of the tank must be able to absorb sufficient heat from the tank surroundings for vaporization to take place.  Therefore, it is important that the tank has enough exposed surface area for this heat transfer.  There can be a problem of insufficient fuel flow in very cold weather or if the tank is less than half full or is too small. In practice this only is an issue in the far northern areas of the USA.

  • A liquid withdrawal propane system draws the liquid from the BOTTOM of the tank and small high pressure tubing is used to carry it to the genset.  The genset is then equipped with a special device to vaporize the fuel before combustion.  This eliminates the low temperature vaporization concerns at the tank in cold climates.  However it may complicate using propane for other appliances since it is being supplied in liquid form to the point of use.


  • 1 gallon = 91,500 BTU
  • 1 cubic foot = 2,500 BTU
  • 1 pound = 21,500 BTU
  • 4.24 lbs = 1 gallon
  • 36.39 cubic feet = 1 gallon

Natural Gas

  • 1 cubic foot = 1,050 BTU


The gum deposits that gasoline forms when it is stored can cause problems in fuel filters and carburetors, especially in cold weather and when the engine is not operated often enough.  There are gasoline additives that can reduce this problem, such as Stabil.


  • 1 pound = 19,000 BTU
  • 1 gallon = 125,000 BTU
  • 1 gallon = 6.1 lbs