Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, was interviewed by Business Insider today, and he made an interesting claim: “If you stop refining gasoline, you’ll have enough electricity to power all the automobiles in the country,” he claims. “When you refine gasoline, it takes an average of 5 kilowatt hours; a car like the Model S can run 20 miles on 5 kilowatt hours.”
It’s a remark I’ve seen a lot in recent weeks, usually packaged as a claim that electric cars use less electricity than regular cars. The only problem is that it isn’t true.
The claim’s math is straightforward. The energy content of a gallon of gasoline is around 132,000 Btu, and refinery efficiency is around 90%. When you add it all up, you get around 13,000 Btu of energy cost every gallon of gasoline generated, which is about 4 kilowatt hours in energy terms. (The claim of 6 kilowatt hours is based on old efficiency estimates.)
However, there are two major flaws with this. The first is that refineries do not utilize much power; just approximately 15% of their energy comes from it. This reduces the amount of electricity used to around 0.6 kilowatt hours. The second issue is that fuel to power conversion is inefficient. A process loss of 0.6 kilowatt hours translates to a real-world electricity loss of roughly 0.2 kilowatt hours.
This is supported by refinery data. Refineries consumed 47 TWh of power in 2001 to make refined goods from 5.3 billion barrels of oil, according to the Department of Energy. Based on the assumption that each barrel of oil yields 42 gallons of refined products, each gallon of gasoline produced consumes around 0.2 kilowatt hours of energy.
How many BTUs are in a gallon of gasoline?
Alternative fuels have various energy densities and are measured in a variety of units, making comparisons difficult. The gasoline gallon equivalent (GGE) measure allows drivers to compare a particular amount of energy from alternative fuels on an apples-to-apples basis and determine which fuel best meets their needs. Understanding the energy composition of fuels can help with fuel price and driving range comparisons.
What is a GGE? How about a DGE?
A standardized unit for comparing the energy content of all fuels is the GGE. The amount of alternative fuel that has the same energy content as one gallon of conventional gasoline is measured in this unit. Diesel gallon equivalent (DGE) is commonly utilized in medium- and heavy-duty vehicle fuel applications.
How are GGE and DGE values determined?
The energy content of a fuel is measured in British thermal units (Btus) per gallon and is sometimes referred to as the fuel’s lower heating value. The energy content of one gallon of gasoline or diesel is divided by the energy content of the comparison fuel to calculate GGE and DGE. Conventional gasoline, for example, has a Btus level of 116,090 per gallon, while propane has a Btus content of 84,250 per gallon. As a result, 1.38 gallons of propane equals one gallon of conventional gasoline in terms of energy.
The energy content, GGE, and DGE values of conventional and alternative fuels are shown in the table below.
* Heating value is lower. Transportation Energy Data Book, Edition 35, is the source for CNG and hydrogen (Btu/ft3). Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC) Fuel Properties is the source for the remaining values.
** E85 sold in the United States currently has roughly 70% ethanol on average. As a result, the energy content of E85 was determined as+
*** When calculating and comparing miles per GGE, keep in mind that electric vehicles are more efficient (on a Btu basis) than combustion engines (see below).
The figures in the table above can be used to normalize fuel levels so that comparisons can be made. If you have 10,000 ft3 of CNG, divide by 125.77 ft3 to get 79.5 GGE. Similarly, divide 139.21 ft3 by 71.83 DGE to find the number of DGEs.
How are GGE and DGE used to compare fuel prices?
To ensure consistency in pricing, fuel prices might be expressed in dollars per GGE or DGE. As a result, the Clean Cities Alternative Fuel Price Report displays prices in terms of energy equivalent (Table 3 in recent reports). If you don’t have access to pricing per GGE or DGE, you can calculate it yourself. For example, if one gallon of E85 costs $2.04, you’d multiply that by 1.32 (see table above) to get $2.69 per GGE after accounting for energy content.
What are the factors that impact how far I can drive between fill ups?
One aspect that influences driving range is the energy content of fuels. When you fill up with a less energy-dense fuel, you won’t be able to travel as far. Tank capacity and vehicle economy, on the other hand, are important considerations.
Some alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) have tank sizes that are comparable to conventional vehicles, while others have larger fuel tanks to compensate for the energy content differential. Vehicles that run on propane and biodiesel, for example, have fuel tanks that are similar in size to those that run on conventional fuel. Both of these fuels have lower energy densities than their traditional fuel counterparts, as seen in the table above, which can result in lower fuel economy and shorter range per tank. In the case of propane, there are bi-fuel vehicles that can run on both conventional and propane fuel for a longer driving range. In addition, propane and biodiesel have a slew of other advantages that can help to make up for the difference.
CNG and hydrogen vehicles, on the other hand, frequently have larger tanks to compensate for their lower energy densities. When acquiring a CNG vehicle, fleets and drivers may have the option of adding an additional CNG storage tank to the vehicle. Bi-fuel CNG vehicles, on the other hand, are available to enhance the range. In terms of hydrogen, these vehicles often have larger fuel tanks.
The size of the tank isn’t the only aspect that influences range; vehicle efficiency also matters. All-electric cars (EVs), for example, are far more efficient than traditional fuel automobiles. According to FuelEconomy.gov, electric vehicles use between 59 and 62 percent of the electricity generated by the grid to power the vehicle, but traditional gasoline vehicles can only convert 17 to 21 percent of the energy produced by gasoline to power the vehicle. This is one of the reasons why electric vehicles outperform conventional vehicles in terms of fuel efficiency, even when comparing fuels on an energy-equivalent basis.
Which fuel produces the most BTUs per unit of volume?
British Thermal Units, or BTUs for short, are used by scientists to measure heat value. The amount of energy required to raise one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit is measured in BTUs. It’s the same temperature as a birthday candle flame.
- Each cubic foot of natural gas contains 1,030 BTUs. One gallon of oil has a heat content of 135 cubic feet.
- Each gallon of kerosene contains 131,890 BTUs. One gallon of oil has a heat content of 1.05 gallons.
- Propane has a BTU content of 91,500 per gallon. One gallon of oil produces 1.52 gallons of heat.
- A kilowatt hour of electricity contains 3,413 BTUs (kwh). One gallon of oil has a heat content of 40.6kwh.
- Anthracite coal has a BTU content of 12,000 per pound. One gallon of oil has a heat content of about 12 pounds.
Remember to include any taxes, meter or service charges that the gas or electric companies apply to the bill when comparing unit costs for the various fuels.
Knowing the Cost to Convert from Oil to Gas
Consider the expense of switching from oil to gas before making your selection! There are a number of factors that influence the cost of a conversion, including:
Additionally, here are some things we want our customers to know before making the move from oil to gas:
- According to the US Department of Energy, the US has only 4% of the world’s natural gas reserves, with the remaining 73% concentrated in Russia, Eurasia, and the Middle East.
- According to the international group Methane to Markets, natural gas system losses account for 18 percent of total global methane emissions.
- Fuel conversion, according to the Consumer Energy Council of America, is a “expensive gamble,” and instead of switching fuels, households should modify their oil equipment to accomplish conservation. Conversion is more expensive than updating, and the chances of significant savings are slim.
- Natural gas is highly flammable, and leaks can be quite dangerous. Natural gas heating systems are also the major source of carbon monoxide deaths that are not caused by fire.
- In most cases, neither preventive maintenance nor emergency service are provided by gas utilities. As a result, gas users may be squandering fuel by using improperly tuned equipment, and they may be without aid in the event of a power outage.
Propane or oil has more BTUs.
One of the most important considerations I had to make when building our new home was what sort of heating fuel to utilize. Should we rely on the traditional oil heat that over 90% of New Englanders rely on? Should we use propane instead? (natural gas is not available here in this part of NH).
Pros and Cons
When you sit down and think about it, the answer to that question is somewhat hard. For us, I knew we’d have propane in the house, both for cooking and for our direct vent fireplace. One of my major concerns about oil was having an oil tank in my basement that might spill at any time.
Another important factor to consider was venting the two types of fuel. A direct vent out the side of the house (which is unsightly, stains the house, and gets rather hot) or a regular chimney would be required for an oil-fired boiler. Modern gas boilers allow you to vent the furnace up through the roof or wall using normal PVC piping. I chose the gas heater to shorten a long narrative. The lack of an oil tank, the roof venting, and the opportunity to have a high efficiency boiler were the main factors in my decision.
A cost analysis of the two fuels was something I didn’t look into very much. So, after last winter’s quite hefty fuel expenditures, I did some study on fuel cost comparisons. It’s not as simple as comparing the cost of the two fuels per gallon. A gallon of fuel oil costs $2.69 where I reside right now (2007), whereas a gallon of propane costs $1.93. On the surface, gas appears to be a fantastic deal for the average person. The actual issue, though, is how much energy each fuel can create in a gallon. Fuel oil produces around 130,000 BTUs, while propane produces around 95,000 BTUs. Most oil boilers, on the other hand, have an efficiency of around 85% at most, but gas boilers have an efficiency of up to 95%.
Using this information, I calculated the cost per BTU for both types of fuel using the assumptions listed above.
As a result, propane is slightly more cost-effective in this case. Let me start with a large disclaimer. If you ask a group of heating experts, they’ll tell you that oil is usually a better deal. It is dependent on a number of factors, including the equipment used. What that tells me is that the two fuels are very close in terms of cost per BTU.
For me, the fact that I’m burning a cleaner fuel, my boiler requires almost no maintenance, I don’t have an oil tank to leak, I only have water vapor and carbon monoxide exiting my vent, and I required propane to cook with and heat my home still seems like the right decision for us. I recommend that you consider these points the next time you shop for a new heating system for your home.
Another advantage of propane over oil that is frequently neglected is tank size. Propane users typically have a larger tank than oil users. Most propane tanks are 500 to 1,000 gallons, while most conventional oil tanks are 275 to 400 gallons. This may not appear to make a difference at first glance, yet it can have a significant impact.
In the summer, when fuel prices are typically lower than in the winter, I choose to fill up my propane tank. I can buy more propane at a lesser price with the larger tank than I could with the smaller oil tank throughout the summer. If you have a 1,000 gallon propane tank, this can add up over the course of the year.
Would you want a spreadsheet with a propane vs. oil calculator? If that’s the case, check out our Fuel Calculator for Oil vs Propane.
What is the Btu (British Thermal Unit) of propane?
Each gallon of liquid propane (LP) contains 91,500 British thermal units (BTUs). The BTUs per kilowatt hour (kWh) or 1,000 watts per hour for electric heat are 3,413 BTUs.
To refine a gallon of gasoline, how much power is required?
The quantity of electricity required to dig, transport, and refine a gallon of gasoline is unknown, however it is estimated to be roughly 8 kWh. So, with 8 kWh, you may travel around 22 miles ( using the U.S. average; we know you can go over twice that if you drive a Toyota Prius).
How much fuel is required to produce electricity?
In 2021, the yearly average amounts of coal, natural gas, and petroleum fuels used by US electric utilities and independent power providers to create a kilowatthour (kWh) of electricity were:1
Electric utilities and independent power producers in the United States generated the following yearly average number of kWh per amount of coal, natural gas, and petroleum fuels utilized for electricity generation in 2021:1
The figures above are based on preliminary data from the Electric Power Monthly for 2021, which was published in April 2022, as well as simple averages of national-level annual statistics for electric utilities and independent power providers. They are the annual average amounts for the majority of the electricity generated for sale in the United States, but they do not include power generated in the commercial and industrial sectors. Fuel use for useable thermal output in combined heat and power plants is not included in the fuel consumption data used for the above quantities.
Actual numbers for a particular generator or power plant may differ significantly from those listed above. The amount of fuel consumed to create electricity is determined by the generator’s efficiency (or heat rate) and the heat content of the fuel. The types of generators (primary movers), the type and heat content of fuels, power plant emission controls, and other factors all affect power plant efficiencies (heat rates).
The amount of fuel consumed to generate a kilowatthour (kWh) of electricity can be calculated using two formulas:
- Heat rate (in British thermal units per kWh) divided by Fuel heat content = Amount of fuel used per kWh (in Btu per physical unit)
- Fuel heat content (in Btu per physical unit) divided by Heat rate = Kilowatthour created per unit of fuel used (in Btu per kWh)
The following are some of the data sources available from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) for those calculations:
- The average quality of fossil fuel receipts for the electric power industry is shown in Table 7.3. ( xls )
Appendices providing fuel heat contents, electricity heat rates, and conversion factors are included in the Monthly Energy Review.
On a national and state level, as well as at individual power plants, the EIA releases monthly and annual data on the quantity of electricity generated and associated fuel consumption by electricity producers. This information can also be used to compute fuel use per kWh of electricity generated, as well as kWh generation per unit of fuel consumption.
- Data on total power generation in the United States (Table(s) 7.2) and electricity generation fuel consumption (Table(s) 7.3).
- Historical power data files at the state level, including annual and monthly electricity generation and fuel usage.
- Data on fuel consumption and electricity generation at individual power plants in the United States, broken down by fuel/energy source.
1 In combined heat and power plants, fuel is not used for usable thermal output.
Other FAQs about Oil/Petroleum
- Is there information from the EIA on the rail movement (transport) of crude oil, petroleum products, gasoline ethanol, and biodiesel?
- A kilowatthour of electricity is generated using how much coal, natural gas, or petroleum?
- Does the EIA provide state-by-state estimates or projections for energy output, consumption, and prices?
- Is the EIA aware of any unplanned disruptions or shutdowns of energy infrastructure in the United States?
- What percentage of the crude oil produced in the United States is used in the country?
Is diesel fuel evaporating at a faster rate than gasoline?
Petroleum fuel begins as crude oil, which is found naturally in the earth. When crude oil is refined, it can be split into a variety of various fuels, including gasoline, jet fuel, kerosene, and, of course, diesel.
If you’ve ever compared diesel and gasoline, you’ll notice that they’re not the same. They definitely have a distinct aroma. Diesel fuel is thicker and oilier than gasoline. It takes significantly longer to evaporate than gasoline, and its boiling point is actually higher than that of water.
Propane or natural gas has more BTUs.
A cubic foot of propane has 2,516 BTUs, whereas a cubic foot of natural gas contains 1,030 BTUs. Propane has double the energy content of natural gas. A 100,000 BTU natural gas furnace burns roughly 97 cubic feet per hour, whereas a propane furnace only burns 40 cubic feet per hour.
What is the BTU value of jet fuel?
Electricity is equal to 3,412 Btu per kWh, hence there are no losses in the electrical system. Multiply this conversion factor by 3 to account for approximate electrical system losses.