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How propane powers refrigeration


It might seem somewhat counter-intuitive that a flame fueled by propane could generate enough cooling power for a refrigerator, but that propane flame is the catalyst for refrigeration technology that has been in use since the 1800s. 

How does a propane-powered refrigerator work?

The propane refrigeration process first developed by Micheal Faraday in 1824 is known as “absorption cooling” or “absorption refrigeration.” While it’s been retooled and revamped over the years, the underlying theory remains the same - and why a propane unit is sometimes called an absorption refrigerator. Sealed tubes and canisters containing liquids and gases experience a chemical reaction under heat and pressure, which, with help from condensers and compressors, creates a drastic cooling process.

In the 1930s, the first propane powered refrigerators hit the market, under the name SERVEL. Refrigeration was relatively new to the mass consumer market, and these refrigerators became popular in a time when many of the homes lacked electricity. 

What's the science behind a propane fridge?

The sealed system of a propane-powered fridge holds water, liquid ammonia, and hydrogen gas. A propane flame heats the water and ammonia to its boiling point in what is called the generator. The now-gaseous material then rises into a condensing chamber where it cools and returns to a liquid state. This fluid then flows into another chamber - the evaporator - where it mixes with hydrogen gas. It’s here that a chemical reaction occurs that pulls, or absorbs, heat from inside the refrigerator. Once the solution absorbs enough heat, the ammonia returns to a gaseous state, starting the process over again. This self-contained system doesn’t rely on mechanical, or moving parts, meaning these units remain reliable for years.

Where are propane refrigerators most commonly used?

Today, propane refrigerators are popular options for recreational vehicles, cabins, lake houses, or any place that doesn’t have ready access to electricity. These units are economical and don’t require an outside power source. So how long can a propane refrigerator run? Most can run nonstop for 11 days on a standard 20 pound propane tank. Oftentimes users report longer run times - depending on outside temperature, how often the refrigerator is accessed, and materials inside the refrigerator. Under a worst-case scenario, a propane refrigerator could run constantly for a year with approximately 33 needed refills of a standard propane tank. 

A propane fridge is an ideal option for travelers, or in areas that lack electricity or suffer frequent power outages. RV owners rely on propane to keep their refrigerators running on the road, and more reliable and effective than refrigerators running on battery power. Likewise anyone who lives “off-grid” or in extremely remote areas will find propane preferable to solar panel electricity to meet the demands of ongoing refrigeration.  

Contact Ferrellgas for your propane needs

Whether you’re ready to pack up the RV for your next camping trip, or need the tank topped off at home, make Ferrellgas your first choice for fuel. Get in touch with your local Ferrellgas office to find great propane rates and excellent service from our team of propane experts.