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In contrast to an electric refrigerator, which depends on a coolant to keep the inside cool, a propane refrigerator relies on basic chemical processes to keep the interior cool.

The procedure begins with a flame that is powered by a propane tank, which is why this device is referred to as a propane refrigerator.

The fact that a flame fuelled by propane can produce enough chilling power to operate a refrigerator may seem counter-intuitive at first, yet the propane flame is the catalyst for refrigeration technology, which has been in use since the 1800s.

How Does A Propane Refrigerator Work?
How Does A Propane Refrigerator Work?

Fuel for a Propane Fire

A propane refrigerator is comprised of a sealed network of tubes and chambers that may store water, ammonia, and hydrogen gas, among other things. In a chamber containing a solution of water and ammonia, a propane flame is used to heat the liquid until it boils. 

The ammonia gas rises to a second chamber, the condenser, where it is cooled to the point of becoming a liquid again. In the evaporator, it is mixed with hydrogen gas, and the process is repeated.

Action to Reduce Temperature

When ammonia comes into contact with hydrogen gas, the chemical reaction between the two takes heat from the environment. That is how the propane refrigerator generates its cooling action: by drawing heat from the refrigerator’s interior into the ammonia-hydrogen mixture, which cools the refrigerator.

As it absorbs heat, the ammonia returns to its gaseous state. The ammonia and hydrogen gases subsequently mix with water to form ammonium nitrate.

The ammonia and water combine to create a solution once again, allowing the hydrogen gas to escape and ascend back to the evaporator. The procedure is then repeated from the beginning.

What is the operation of a refrigerator fueled by propane?

“Absorption cooling” or “absorption refrigeration” refers to the propane refrigeration method that was invented by Micheal Faraday in 1824 and initially used in a refrigerator.

In spite of many revisions and upgrades, the basic principle remains unchanged, which is one of the reasons why an absorption refrigerator is often used to refer to a propane-powered device.

Under the conditions of high heat and pressure, sealed tubes and canisters containing liquids and gases undergo a chemical reaction, which, with the assistance of condensers and compressors, results in a rapid cooling process.

The first propane-powered refrigerators, marketed under the brand name SERVER, entered the market in the 1930s. Refrigeration was a relatively new concept to the general consumer market at the time, and these refrigerators gained popularity during a period when many households lacked access to power.

Alternative Video: How Does A Propane Refrigerator Work?

How Does A Propane Refrigerator Work?

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What exactly is the science behind a propane refrigerator?

Water, liquid ammonia, and hydrogen gas are all stored in the sealed system of a propane-powered refrigerator. An open flame of propane warms water and ammonia to the boiling point in what is known as the generator (or boiler).

The now-gaseous substance then rises into a condensing chamber, where it cools and condenses, restoring it to its liquid form. This fluid then goes into a second chamber, known as the evaporator, where it is mixed with hydrogen gas to produce water.

It is at this point that a chemical process takes place that draws, or absorbs, heat from the refrigerator’s interior.

As soon as the ammonia solution has absorbed sufficient heat, it returns to a gaseous form, effectively restarting the process. Unlike mechanical or moving components, this self-contained system is very dependable and may be used for many years without the need to be replaced.

Where do propane refrigerators find the most widespread application?

Where do propane refrigerators find the most widespread application?

Propane refrigerators are becoming more popular as a backup alternative for recreational vehicles, cabins, lake homes, and any other location where power is not readily available. These devices are cost-effective, and they do not need an external power source.

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So, how long is a propane refrigerator capable of operating?

On a normal 20-pound propane tank, most can operate continuously for 11 days or more. The outside temperature, how often the refrigerator is opened, and the contents contained inside the refrigerator are all factors that contribute to lengthier run durations, according to users.

In the worst-case scenario, a propane refrigerator might operate continuously for an entire year with just about 33 refills of a typical propane tank required in the process.

A propane refrigerator is an excellent choice for tourists, as well as for those who live in remote regions without electricity or who experience regular power outages.

RV owners depend on propane to keep their refrigerators operating while on the road since it is more reliable and efficient than refrigerators powered by batteries. Additionally, anybody who lives “off-grid” or in very distant locations will find propane to be superior to solar panel power when it comes to meeting the needs of continuous refrigeration.

So, how energy-efficient are propane refrigerators in general?

Refrigerators powered by propane are very energy efficient. While the efficiency varies from fridge to fridge, the majority of them can operate non-stop for more than 11 days on a normal 20-pound propane tank. 

You may improve your efficiency by following the suggestions listed below. Nonetheless, while power is available, take advantage of it since it is less expensive and does not need replenishing.

Notes about the General

Did you know that the first absorption refrigerator (of the propane kind) was developed in 1858? Carré, a French physicist who worked at the Swedish Institute of Technology, was the first to create the term “cryogenics.”

‘The Einstein refrigerator’ was the name Einstein came up with for his own invention – he was a little overconfident with the moniker, wasn’t he? Since then, technology has progressed via advancements and improvements, culminating in the contemporary kinds of propane refrigerators that are now accessible.

How Efficient Are Propane Refrigerators?
How Efficient Are Propane Refrigerators?

What Factors Influence the Efficiency of a Propane Refrigerator?

Because of these factors, the actual efficiency of a propane refrigerator will vary somewhat depending on the circumstances, including:

  • The temperature of the air is measured in degrees Celsius.
  • What kind of airflow is there around the refrigerator?
  • Anything that is kept in the refrigerator (ice packs vs. warm food)
  • The refrigerator’s configuration (for example, is it entirely level?)

Chemical reactions are driven by an external heat source. It is either an electric heater or a propane burner that is being used.

Improve the Efficiency of a Propane Fridge by Using These Tips

It should be turned on the night before. Because of the lower beginning temperature, it will take less time to cool down and will be ready for use the following day. Make it a little easier on itself if you can’t put it on the night before by placing a tiny bag of ice in it before you turn on the oven the next morning.

Check to see that it is absolutely level. Because the whole system is reliant on gravity, any misalignments will have an adverse effect on the cooling efficiency. There is nothing in these refrigerators that encourages ventilation. Investing in a couple of small tiny fans may assist in getting the cold air circulating and rapidly chilling the refrigerator.

Don’t overfill the container! Make sure there’s adequate room for proper ventilation to occur. This is especially true when initially bringing it down to room temperature.

Before you depart on your vacation, use energy to power the refrigerator. Then you may use propane instead. Hodor! Keep your hand on the door and keep it closed. Open it only when you really need to.

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What is the process through which propane cools a refrigerator?

In order for a propane refrigerator to function, a sequence of chemical reactions involving ammonia, hydrogen, and water must take place. In a nutshell, they are: A ‘generator’ is a device that is powered by the combustion of propane (or an electric heating element)

Ammonia and water are combined in the generator, which causes the ammonia to separate and form a gas. The ammonia gas is then sent through a set of cooling fins, which reduces the temperature of the gas to that of a liquid.

In the evaporator coils, this liquid is mixed with liquid hydrogen to form a gas. When they come together, the result is a significant amount of cooling produced. This takes place inside the refrigerator itself.

As soon as the reaction is complete, the ammonia and hydrogen are separated and stored in an ‘absorber.” The ammonia reacts with the water to form urea. The ammonia and water are re-injected into the generator system. The procedure is repeated again!

Using Propane Rather Than Electricity to Power a Fridge

Because of the overwhelming abundance of electricity, it is always preferable to power a propane refrigerator with electricity — when it is available. This is owing to the fact that utilizing propane means you’ll have to replenish or replace the propane tank on a regular basis.

In most cases, the difference in energy costs is little when compared to the time and trouble you save by not having to fill propane tanks. Because there are so many factors, it is impossible to draw a direct comparison between the prices of the two fuel sources.

Not just in terms of their real expenses, but also in terms of the efficiency with which we use them. We can, however, make some broad comparisons.

It is stated in one source that if you pay the usual $0.12 per kWh of power, and one gallon of propane equals 27 kWh of electricity, then 27*0.12 = $3.24 is the break-even threshold for the system. That is to say, if you can buy propane for less than $3.24 a gallon, you’ll save money when compared to utilizing electricity, which costs $0.12 per kilowatt-hour.

Also worth noting is that propane burns cleanly, while our power is usually produced using fossil fuels, propane is arguably better for the environment (unless we’re talking about electricity made using renewable energy sources).

Using Propane Rather Than Electricity to Power a Fridge
Using Propane Rather Than Electricity to Power a Fridge

Is it necessary to have electricity to run a propane refrigerator?

No. A propane refrigerator may operate completely without the need for electricity. This is one of the reasons why they are so popular with outdoor and wilderness lovers, as well as RV aficionados.

For how long will a propane refrigerator operate on a single propane tank of fuel?

Working with a typical 20lb propane tank as an example, let’s try to figure it out together.

  1. A gallon of Propane generates about 91,000 BTUs of energy.
  2. A 20lb propane tank holds 4.7 liters of propane, which translates to 4.7*91000 = 427,000 BTU of accessible energy.
  3. To run, the typical propane refrigerator consumes 1,500BTU per hour.

Three thousand five hundred BTU per day multiplied by twenty-four. 4 days of fuel = BTUAvailable / BTUPerDay = 11.8 days of fuel

That’s all there is to it. For a typical 20-pound propane tank, you can anticipate it to last about 11 days (nonstop) before having to be replaced or refilled with new propane. Please keep in mind that the figures above are just a ballpark approximation.

In fact, many propane fridge owners report that their tanks survive for weeks and weeks on their appliances. It’s especially important when they aren’t in continuous usage. In most instances, you will be unable to detect a reduction in the amount of gas remaining in the tank after a full day of driving. As a result, I would consider these estimates to be a “worst-case” scenario.

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In summary, we acquired the following information:

  • It is possible that ammonia will cycle between the phases of gas and liquid, causing cooling effects.
  • The boiling water produces hydrogen vapor, which is also known as hydrogen gas.
  • The density and weight of distilled water are greater in comparison to those of ammonia. First, give enough time for the ammonia to boil and steam.
  • Natural gas (propane) is utilized as a fuel source in order to produce enough heat to start the cycle and boil the water and liquid ammonia, among other things.
  • The ammonia gas is produced by a generator.
  • Ammonia separator – this device removes ammonia from the water.
  • Condenser – This is the location where the hot ammonia gas cools before being condensed again to produce the liquid ammonium.

The evaporator is responsible for converting the liquid ammonia into a gas, which results in the cooling effect. This tank, also known as the absorber tank or the mixing tank, is where ammonia gas is absorbed by the water.

An ammonia absorption cooling system is a one-of-a-kind design that is intended to allow a person to operate independently by heating the ammonia solution with either propane, natural gas, or butane burner, resulting in the creation of an ammonia refrigerator, rather than a conventional refrigerator.

At one point in time, there were also a large number of cooling units that heated their solutions using a kerosene fire. This kind of kerosene-fueled refrigerator is still available on the market, but its supply is restricted due to the high demand for these appliances.

The findings of Michael Faraday and those early refrigeration mechanics would not have made it feasible for us to have current-day propane refrigerator technology.

Our propane refrigerators of today are much better in terms of efficiency, capacity, fuel economy, and usefulness, but we owe a debt of gratitude to these early innovators for the magnificent propane refrigerators of the contemporary age that we have today.

Our propane refrigerators offer choices for hunters, homesteaders, and other outdoor enthusiasts by providing cost-effective solutions for off-grid refrigeration and food storage needs. Take a look at some of our most popular propane refrigerators for your personal off-grid food preservation requirements.

Propane Refrigerator
Propane Refrigerator


Propane refrigerators are a fantastic tool for getting the benefits of civilization while being completely off the grid.

They do have certain drawbacks (such as a high initial cost and a lengthy cooling period), but they are completely quiet and can be used anywhere. These are incomparably valuable benefits.

Frequently Ask Questions

For how long can a propane refrigerator operate on battery power?

 The amount of energy required to completely run a propane fridge on batteries may rapidly deplete the battery of an RV (or similar). It is not expected to last more than 3 hours. However, if the power is not turned on and the energy is just being used for the control panel, this is a negligible quantity of electricity that may last for many weeks.

How Long Will A Propane Refrigerator Run On Battery?

As previously said, the answer to this issue is dependent on a large number of factors. The power of the refrigerator, as well as the temperature of the air, were particularly important. The cooling down of a propane refrigerator will take several hours in most cases.

What is the operation of a propane refrigeration system?

Water, liquid ammonia, and hydrogen gas are all stored in the sealed system of a propane-powered refrigerator. An open flame of propane warms water and ammonia to the boiling point in what is known as the generator (or boiler). The now-gaseous substance then rises into a condensing chamber, where it cools and condenses, restoring it to its liquid form.

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