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Old 11-01-2012, 23:14   #1
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Propane vs. Alcohol Stove - Fuel / Cooking / Cost Efficiency ?

so a 20lb propane tank costs $20-30 to refill and will cook quite a bit of food...

that $20-30 will buy 2-3 gallon of denatured alcohol for a non pressurized stove....

soo... will 30 dollars of alcohol cook as much stuff as 30 dollar of propane? intuition tells me the answer is no, how much less is the question i suppose?
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Old 11-01-2012, 23:43   #2
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Re: propane v.s. alcohol stove fuel/cooking/cost effiency?

Alcohol has way way less btu's per measure of fuel than propane. Alcohol is more expensive to buy than Propane. There is no way alcohol makes it on a cost basis. If you are really spooked by the explosive nature of propane, then alcohol has a place. If you like to cook, then alcohol is next to worthless. Just doesn't produce enough heat.

If you want a reasonably 'safe' fuel that produces decent heat, go with kerosene. Unfortunately it's nearly impossible to find a new kerosene stove and replacement burners for older stoves are getting very scarce. Another option is the diesel stoves used on the fishing fleet. They put out plenty of heat for cooking and heat in general so are great if you are going to be sailing on cool waters. Since they are designed to be turned on and left on they put out too much heat to use in the tropics.
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Old 11-01-2012, 23:49   #3
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Re: propane v.s. alcohol stove fuel/cooking/cost effiency?

Checking Wikipedia you can see that the energy density of ethanol
is 24 MJ/L and the specific energy of propane is 49.6
MJ/kg (Energy density - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).

20 lbs is 9.08 kg, so burning 20 lbs of propane releases 450 MJ
of heat. One gallon is 3.79 liters, so burning 2-3 gallons of
alcohol releases between 180 and 270 MJ of heat.

So assuming that the heat is used equally efficient, you get
about twice as much cooking when buying propane compared to
alcohol at those rates.
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Old 12-01-2012, 00:53   #4
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Re: propane v.s. alcohol stove fuel/cooking/cost effiency?

If you want anyone onboard to live with you happily, especially a woman, go with propane.
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Old 12-01-2012, 02:33   #5
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Re: propane v.s. alcohol stove fuel/cooking/cost effiency?

Anyone who's ever had to live with an alchohol stove can tell you how much it sucks. It takes just about forever to boil a decent sized pot of water. Stove alcohol burns at 500-700 degrees F., propane at right around 2000, which is really hot. Boils a pot in no time, much faster than most household stoves.
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Old 12-01-2012, 04:03   #6
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Re: propane v.s. alcohol stove fuel/cooking/cost effiency?

I spent five months last year living aboard and cooking with my non-pressurized alcohol stove. I loved the simplicity of it. No worries about leaking valves, regulators, or hoses snaking through my cabinets. Boiling a quart of water took a few minutes longer than with propane but so what?

No, alcohol is not as cost effective as propane but I can buy a years supply of alcohol for the cost of the equipment needed for propane and I don't need specialized compartments for fuel storage. I know propane explosions are rare, but with alcohol, I never, not even once, worried that leaking fuel was collecting in my bilge and plotting to blow my ass to smithereens.
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Old 12-01-2012, 04:49   #7
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Re: propane v.s. alcohol stove fuel/cooking/cost effiency?

We just spent 12 days aboard, the Admiral cooked breakfast everyday (7 days it was for 4 people) and dinner all but 3 nights. Plus coffee,,, lots of coffee. We barely put a dent in our smaller 10 lb propane tank.
Also I have heard an alcohol fire if you spill and it ignites is colorless. isnt that kind of dangerous?
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Old 12-01-2012, 05:05   #8
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Re: propane v.s. alcohol stove fuel/cooking/cost effiency?

We live aboard with an Origo 6000 on a small 35' s/v. The stove is very simple and I don't worry about the thing at all. It boils water just fine and the oven is amazing IMHO. If it's just about the $/BTU then alcohol is clearly not the most economical. If there are other factors like ease, safety, simplicity, size of installation, potential failure points then I think alcohol is well worth considering.
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Old 12-01-2012, 05:09   #9
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Re: propane v.s. alcohol stove fuel/cooking/cost effiency?

I have a non-pressurized alcohol stove and also a propane stove that is semi-portable. The alcohol stove works OK, but when I tried to warm up a very large stew kettle, the air vents of the stove were blocked and a fire started inside the stove. It was easily put out. It is hard to regulate the alcohol burner with its mechanical blocking plate. The propane stove works just like any gas stove and can be fine tuned to simmer or run full blast to get a pot of spaghetti boiling. I like having both in case I run out of either fuel. We lost power at the cottage during a recent hurricane and used the propane stove from the boat. Of course there is always the danger of propane of blowing up.
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Old 12-01-2012, 05:10   #10
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Re: propane v.s. alcohol stove fuel/cooking/cost effiency?

I didn't mind my old alcohol stove. But it was a bit of a trick to light. I used a squeeze bottle to prime it with the right amount of fuel. I found it as quick to boil as the propane. But I switched to propane (LPG actually). Much cheaper. Lasts much longer: a year per 20 pound bottle. And far easier to refill in odd places. Kerosene would be a trick to find in many ports. Just keep that LPG solenoid working properly...not a big deal.
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Old 12-01-2012, 05:29   #11
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Re: propane v.s. alcohol stove fuel/cooking/cost effiency?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dulcesuenos View Post
We just spent 12 days aboard, the Admiral cooked breakfast everyday (7 days it was for 4 people) and dinner all but 3 nights. Plus coffee,,, lots of coffee. We barely put a dent in our smaller 10 lb propane tank.
Also I have heard an alcohol fire if you spill and it ignites is colorless. isnt that kind of dangerous?
Alcohol does burn mostly clear, but adding a bit of borax will give it color. If alcohol spills it evaporates almost immediately, and if spilled while burning, can be extinguished with water.

Though short of a knockdown, I don't see how it could spill while cooking.

I'm not bashing propane, it is a better fuel for cooking, but for my boat I wanted systems that would not require maintenance and alcohol is zero maintenance. If a leak occurs with propane, the presses stop rolling, West marine makes some money, and everyone gets to have canned spaghettios and sandwiches for dinner.
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Old 12-01-2012, 05:55   #12
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Re: propane v.s. alcohol stove fuel/cooking/cost effiency?

We sailed for years with an older pressure alcohol stove. We cook all the time, and never eat ashore when we're out cruising (typically for 30 days at a time). With two on board we typically went through a gallon of alcohol per week. My biggest beef with the stove was that it was noisy.

We have had a propane stove (newer boat, new stove) for the past two seasons now. Works great. The convenience of immediate-on is nice and it is definitely hotter, but aside from boiling water, I don't notice a big improvement in cooking time. We carry a primary 25 lb tank and a backup 7 lb. So far we have never come close to needing the backup. I don't know how much we use in a season, but the primary still has plenty of heft after 40+ days cruising. And the stove is very quiet -- so quiet I have to keep checking to make sure it is still running!

People often complain about pressure alcohol's need for priming. It's a skill to master to be sure, but it's really no big deal. As for the lower BTUs, that is definitely true, but again, in real life cooking we found little practical difference outside of boiling a big pot of water. And seriously, if you are that worried about your morning coffee taking an extra 10 minutes to get ready on the alcohol stove, then you need to cut back on the caffein .

The right answer depends on how/where you are cruising, and what you already have. If you're only going out for smaller chunks of time (say up to 4 months), then I would say alcohol is fine. If you're living aboard for serious time, then propane is probably the better answer (or kerosene).
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Old 12-01-2012, 06:37   #13
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Re: propane v.s. alcohol stove fuel/cooking/cost effiency?

For me, there's enough real and imagined things to worry about without the (real or imagined) thoughts of a colorless, odorless, heavier than air highly explosive gas floating around my bilge coming from a leak on any one of what seems to be a bunch of potential leak points in or behind various mouse-chewed or chafed hoses or bulkheads......non-pressurized alcohol in the boat, propane on the rail it is on 'Zerk.
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Old 12-01-2012, 06:49   #14
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Re: propane v.s. alcohol stove fuel/cooking/cost effiency?

ah the myths... Alcohol does not burn mostly clear. I use my origo non-pressurized stove twice a day. Been using it for 6 months now. The flame is bright blue and yellow, everytime... I've bought 3 gallons lf alcohol in the last 6 months.

Alcohol is easily the safest fuel. But obviously you don't follow instructions well, it can cause a fire just like any other stove or open flame.

I'm not trying to say its better than propane. If I had a propane stove, I'm sure I'd be happy with it. But its a good fuel an a good stove, no doubt about it. If I had the money for a propane stove and everything needed to install one and a bottle, and a place to store an extra bottle, I'd would certainly go that route. But thats a very expensive route (for me) so it's not gonna happen.

They say alcohol is difficult to find in most places, thats not true. But it may difficult to find in SOME places. for that reason, I have two other cooking fuels aboard. A small portable butane stove, and gas bottle grill. I'll also be getting a gas bottle sea-swing type of stove for use at sea. if I can't find alcohol, I can still eat...

I considered kerosene, but the cost of acquiring and replacing spare burners, and parts, often, offsets the cost of cheaper fuel. And its definitely not safer than alcohol or propane considering it's an oil based fuel, dispensed under pressure.
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Old 12-01-2012, 07:06   #15
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Re: propane v.s. alcohol stove fuel/cooking/cost effiency?

Quote:
Originally Posted by callmecrazy View Post
ah the myths... Alcohol does not burn mostly clear. I use my origo non-pressurized stove twice a day. Been using it for 6 months now. The flame is bright blue and yellow, everytime... I've bought 3 gallons lf alcohol in the last 6 months.
I also have a non-pressurized stove but my flame is "mostly" clear when I have no cook pot over it. Once the flame strikes the pot it becomes visible. I'd like to have a flame that is more visible, what brand do you use? I buy my denatured alcohol from Home Depot.
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