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Jun 7, 2013

Facts About Propane

Everyone knows propane. We use it to power everything from barbecues to fleets of forklifts. There’s a lot more to propane than a tank and a hose, though.

Do you know how to tell if a propane tank is leaking? What’s an Overfilling Prevention Device (OPD) for? The answers to these and more questions are right here, straight from the Forklift Boss. Strap in—it’s a long list!

What is propane?

Propane is a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), used for cooking, heating, manufacturing, agriculture, propellants…and powering LPG forklifts. It’s a clean-burning fuel, made from crude oil or natural gas. Almost 87% of the propane used in the U.S. is made here. Most forklift manufacturers make forklifts that run on propane, including our Caterpillar, Doosan and Clark forklift trucks.

Is all propane the same?

No. Propane fuel quality does vary. There are several degrees of blends for Liquefied Petroleum Gas. The most common blends are commercial grade propane, commercial grade butane, HD5 and HD10 grade of propane, and butane/propane blends.

Cromer uses HD10 specification or better for our LPG forklifts, because it’s the industry’s recognized standard for motor fuel. There are many propane service companies that will deliver propane tanks to your company.

Why does propane smell so bad?

Propane in its natural state is odorless. After it’s processed, an odorant (ethyl mercaptan) is added to the fuel. This way you can detect a leak by smell, before gas concentrations reach hazardous levels.

How can you tell if a propane tank is leaking?

If you think a propane tank or cylinder is leaking, check the following:

  • Smell. If you can smell the odor, there could be a leak or open fitting. (That’s why we add the odorant!)
  • Oily film around the valve or fitting connections. Small leaks often leave an oily residue at the leak point.
  • Sound. A severe leak will sometimes emit a sound, from a low “psssss” to a high-pitched squeal.
  • If you’re running out of propane fast, it’s possible that a leak exists on the container or its lines. Park the forklift and call for assistance.
  • Check for a frosting or freezing spot on the container surface.

What do you do if you have a leaking propane tank?

Get it outside and away from any source of ignition, right away! If the tank is attached to a forklift, DO NOT continue to drive the forklift. If the leak is on the fuel line (vapor or liquid), shut off the flow of fuel by closing the service valve. Once you’ve found the leak (or even if you suspect one), call your propane supplier (or us!) for help.

Why does the forklift tank freeze up or sweat while on the forklift?

A propane tank/cylinder will sweat or freeze if the forklift is drawing fuel from the vapor space of the forklift container. This can happen if:

  • The tank/cylinder is placed on the forklift incorrectly. (On a DOT cylinder, the two holes on the neck ring need to be on the bottom, so when the tank is in the horizontal position, the bracket peg will fit in one of the holes.)
  • The liquid tube is broken inside the container.
  • You are low enough on fuel that the liquid level is below the liquid withdraw tube opening.
  • A vapor withdraw tank/cylinder is being used on a liquid withdraw system.

Where should I store propane tanks?

Small cylinders up to 420 lbs. (100-gallons) should be outside and at least 15 feet from a building opening (windows, doors, vents). Most small multiple cylinders/tanks must be stored outside in a rack or secured area. A larger tank, 100-499 gallons, must be 10 feet away from the building or property line. Tanks from 500 – 2000 gallons are set 25 feet away from a building or property line. 2000+ gallon tanks are 50 feet away from a building or property line.

Protective barriers or concrete foundations may be needed. Local fire departments and city regulators may be involved in the installation process. If you’re in a city with a Cromer facility, call us and we’ll advise you.

Do we have to certify our propane tanks?

Yes. If you have a DOT cylinder propane container, it must be recertified 12 years from the manufacturing date. Then it must be recertified again either 5, 7, or 12 years after (depending on your certifying method). The cylinder will be tested to confirm that it’s still safe to use.

If you have an ASME tank, it does not get recertified. Instead, you should replace the relief valve every 10 years, per Dept. of Transportation standards.

Cromer forklifts are sold with certified propane tanks only. Our repair technicians will verify tank safety in Planned Maintenance checks.

What is an OPD?

OPD stands for Overfilling Prevention Device. It’s a safety device incorporated into the filling valve of a propane cylinder. The OPD shuts off the flow of gas to a cylinder after 80% capacity has been reached. This limits the potential for release of gas when the cylinder heats, averting a fire or possible injury.

Industrial trucks have 10% valves that are the gauge in filling up a Horizontal Propane tank. This valve is opened during filling. When gas escapes, the tank is full.

If you use propane in your material handling equipment, now’s a good time to do a quick check of your tanks. If it’s a Cromer tank, it’s probably fine. But make sure!

--Marshall Cromer, The Forklift Boss


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