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Butane Transloading: A Safe Natural Gas Transport Solution

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Butane Transloading: A Safe Natural Gas Transport Solution
When pressurized chemicals need transferring, finding properly equipped facilities can be challenging. As with any chemical transfer, the potential for major issues is present, and selecting the proper facilities is essential.
By Natalie Kienzle
 | November 3, 2022
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Last Modified: June 1, 2023

Butane transloading requires the use of specialized pumps that can adjust to how this chemical behaves at different temperatures. Butane has many commercial applications which makes it a high-demand chemical product. Industries that rely on butane can speed up delivery through the use of improved transloading services. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets regulations for the natural gas industry, which includes butane. The Federal Register has standards to ensure quality butane is used in blended fuel applications. Transload facilities with blending services must have the equipment to ensure certified butane standards are met. 

See how the latest technology in transloading has allowed this important chemical to travel efficiently throughout the United States.

Transloading Butane Safely
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Butane Transloading: Fueling Endless Possibilities

As a product, butane is used in everything from lighter fluid to cooking sprays. Transloading any kind of natural gas comes with unique challenges and requires special equipment. Production facilities all around the U.S. rely on butane so there is already a vast network of pipelines in place. 

As the natural gas industry expands, so do production centers, which can’t all be built around pipelines. Transloading butane allows it to transfer from pipes to truck and rail tankers that can directly deliver the product. Shorter travel times mean businesses can get busy manufacturing all types of goods for all kinds of markets. 

What is Butane?

We’ve mentioned that butane is used in many industries, but what exactly is it? Butane is a hydrocarbon gas liquid that can be used as an additive blended in with other natural gas products or by itself

There is no one perfect way to extract and produce butane. Methods change depending on what the end result will be used for. Nearly all butane is produced in some kind of refinery. 

Common applications for butane include: 

  • Gasoline additive
  • Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) additive 
  • Home heating fuel
  • Cigarette lighter fluid
  • Refrigerant gas
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Chemical production

Depending on end use, production facilities extract the butane in different ways and from different sources. In places where butane is collected as a by-product of crude oil distillation, there is likely to be a pipeline to make transfers to storage units or nearby production facilities easier. 

The process of making butane also results in other chemicals that will need transfer and storage, such as propane. After extracting butane, condensate crude is produced too. Although not as valued as crude oil, it still has many useful applications. 

Applications that use large amounts of butane and other resulting chemicals are often nearby, which makes custody transfers easier. Facilities that use butane in smaller amounts can be almost anywhere. These are the locations that need a smooth and efficient transloading process to make every drop count. 

As the petrochemical industry in the U.S. continues to grow, it’s likely the need for transloading facilities will grow too

butane transloading hand holding a lit food torch

What is the Difference Between Butane and N Butane?

Butane is known by a few different names. This can make things confusing if you’re in the logistics industry and wondering if you need different types of equipment. In the case of butane and n-butane, there is no difference - both are chemically identical.

The term n-butane is the more scientific of the two terms and may appear on the paperwork that comes directly from a chemical refinery. 

Other common names for butane include:

  • C4
  • Commercial butane
  • Normal butane
  • nC4

These terms are used to describe the different end results of butane processing methods. There are very slight chemical differences between these, but not enough to change the methods needed to transload them.  

You may also see certified butane being specified on orders. For transloading purposes, it has the same properties as any other. In terms of purity, certified butane must meet specific per-gallon standards

To be considered a certified butane, the following is required per gallon:

  • 85% minimum of pure butane
  • 0.03% maximum of benzene
  • 10 parts per million (ppm) maximum of sulfur
  • No chemicals other than carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur

These standards create a high quality butane that is used for blended fuel applications requiring precise chemical makeups. 

What is a Butane Transloader?

Transloading itself is the practice of transferring a product from one type of transportation system to another. Sometimes this means moving the product itself from one kind of container to another. Other times it means transferring the container itself - such as moving a shipping container from a vessel to a railcar. 

Both types of services fall within the definition of transloading. The term transloader is used to refer to a piece of equipment used specifically in the transfer of a product from one kind of container to another. 

A butane transloader is a specific type of transfer system that has been designed to handle the transition of liquified gas. Butane and other gases, such as propane and ethylene, are not transported as vapors, but in a super condensed liquid form. 

A normal pump, like one used for crude oil or even gasoline, isn’t capable of safely transferring pressurized liquid gas. 

Hazards associated with butane include:

  • Frostbite if liquid form sprays outward
  • Highly flammable vapors
  • Heavy vapors that persist along the ground (spark risk)
  • Related to ‘sudden sniffing death’ due to the effect vapors can have on the heart

To minimize these dangers, transloaders need to be able to add or reduce pressure and add and track leaks. A safe transfer requires both the loading container and the receiving container remain at a similar pressure. 

Butane transloaders can be purpose-built facilities, sometimes constructed along pipelines. These facilities are capable of transloading butane into tankers for wider distribution by truck or rail car. In some cases, they also provide mixing services and will transload the result into smaller individually pressurized tanks. 

natural gas storage facility with tanks by a port

Mobile Butane Transloader

Transloading facilities that provide multiple types of services are less likely to have a purpose-built butane transloader. To provide as many different transloading services as possible, some facilities will invest in transfer skids, mobile units capable of safely transferring butane from rail tanks to those used by trucks or shipping containers, and vice versa.  

The benefit here is that a facility doesn’t need to fully dedicate itself to one type of transloading service. Many units are customized to provide different services. It’s also possible that other liquefied gases, besides butane, can be transloaded using the same transfer skid.    

Customizable features on a mobile butane transloader may include:

  • Ability to move to different sites
  • Top or bottom unloading setup
  • Connections for different types of tanks
  • Temperature adjustments
  • Loading arms

Some mobile transloaders are wheeled to permit them to be easily towed to different parts of a facility. If a facility is large enough a unit can be placed on a skid. These skids don’t have wheels but can be moved with the right equipment. 

Facilities that want the benefit of a fixed transloading unit without the construction hassle can use these systems. 

Is there a special benefit to any of these solutions for a shipper? Would a fixed facility be better for transloading butane versus a mobile unit? 

The reality is that the same EPA and Hazardous Material (HAZMAT) regulations govern both types. At the end of the day, regardless of the type of transload unit, you want a facility with a good safety record that provides high-quality services. 

lit gas burner on a stove closeup

Propane Vs Butane: Are They The Same?

The same extraction process that produces butane can also produce propane. They are both a type of LPG. The close relationship between the chemicals could have you asking if propane and butane are the same, at least in regard to transloading needs. 

The simple answer is that butane and propane have different chemical structures which result in each having a different boiling point and pressure limits

While propane and butane can be used in the same devices, such as a grill or a transloader, different regulators are necessary. These differences also affect the chemical’s performance in certain types of weather. 

Differences Between Propane and Butane

Chemical PropertiesButanePropane
Flash Point-76॰F-155॰F
Boiling Point30.2॰F-43.6॰F
Source: Pediaa

Low and high temperatures have the biggest effect on these gases. Temperature affects pressure and pressure affects transfer times. 

In the cold, propane is easier because its flashpoint is so low - it stays at a gas through colder temperature ranges. Butane is more easily transferred in warmer temperatures where it’s guaranteed to remain a gas. Both are still highly flammable, but the risk is greater with butane since it will ignite a little below freezing point. 

Can the Same Transloader Transfer Propane and Butane? 

When it comes to transloading, the same machines can be used for both chemicals. They are both LPGs and they both need pressure monitored systems. 

In fact, many transloading facilities don’t even feel the need to flush out one chemical before starting the process with the second. While this isn’t a best practice technique, it can be done safely. 

There are other precautions that transloading facilities can take to ensure a butane or propane transloader is safe to use with either chemical. 

  • Use of ‘drive’ gasses like nitrogen to sweep out or just pressurize a tank
  • Pumping with a compressor to overcome temperature challenges
  • Use of butane vaporizers in larger facilities 
  • Pipes that allow for thermal expansion
  • Ultraviolet and infrared sensors that detect hydrocarbon gas

Butane, and other chemicals with highly flammable and explosive risks, should always be handled with caution. Choosing a butane transloading facility that takes extra precautions means you’re choosing a location that worries about your product as well as the safety of everyone involved. 

What Industries Need Butane Transloading?

Butane can be sold and used as its own end product. Manufacturers or sellers of bottled butane for heating and cooking applications may use transloading facilities to transfer bulk amounts of butane into individual containers and bottles. 

Bulk amounts of butane are used in the petrochemical industry. Here, certified butane is mixed with other substances to create different gasoline blends. If refineries and blending locations are far apart, a transload facility near one of the locations is needed to move products from a rail tanker to a truck that can deliver them directly to the facility. 

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Transload Services USA Can Take the Pressure Off Transfers

Arranging the transfer and transport of dangerous gasses is stressful. How will you know you’ve chosen the right facility? You trust the dedicated staff at Transload Services USA to guide you down the right path. 

We have years of experience in the transportation and logistics industry. We’ve grown our partnership of transloading facilities with the industry and we know who you can trust to move your products safely. 

Besides transloading assistance, we can help you with additional shipping needs. Our facilities have expanded to include:

From butane to blueberries - if you need it shipped, trust the experts at Transload Services USA. 

Call us today at (866) 757-1109 to speak with a representative about your transload needs. If you need immediate services, request an online quote now. 

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