A better alternative fuel to Butane gas for camping and backpacking

I have been using butane gas stoves for many years but recently I started looking for a better alternative for camping and traveling which meets 3 requirements – safe, cheap and easily available.

Butane gas canister is not exactly cheap – 230g of gas cost Rs 450. Plus they are hard to find in cities and buying online it costs Rs 600. But it is the cleanest fuel available today in the market and can be used safely in a tent or in a hotel room.

Petrol, Diesel, Kerosene

I looked at multifuel stoves which can burn petrol, diesel or kerosene. All of these fuels are very cheap compared to butane canisters and widely available in cities and in mountains. The stoves are about 400-600 grams and cost about Rs 4000 – Rs 10000.

I was willing to invest in multifuel stove to save on fuel cost and to be able to find fuel easily. When I did more research on the fuel chemistry of petrol, diesel and kerosene, I found that the heavier fuel molecules in petrol, kerosene, and diesel need more oxygen and take longer to burn; inadequate fuel/air mixing may also make longer flames.

They also have nasty additives in them. Tests show that they emit unsafe amount of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. This fact made me consider not to use Multifuel stoves inside tent or hotel room despite the benefit of cheap, plentiful fuel and reliable cold weather / high altitude performance.

Alcohol

I also looked at alcohol stoves which burn denatured alcohol found in hardware stores (solvents). This product has methanol added to it which is very toxic and I am not willing to put my health at risk.

99.5% pure ethanol is hard to find in cities but can be bought on Amazon.in for Rs 405 per liter (790 grams). This is cheaper than butane canister. The stoves are about 20 -200 grams and cost about 1100 – Rs 3000. Alcohol stove seemed to me a cheap and safe alternative.

When I did more research on the fuel chemistry of ethyl alcohol, I found that the molecules have half the energy density of Butane and thus requires twice the amount of fuel compared to butane. In tests, daily consumption is 80-100 grams compared to 30 grams for gas. If I use only pure ethanol for health reason, then this option is 30% cheaper than butane.

Are the savings significant enough to compensate for the drawback of slow boiling times, poor performance in wind, cold and high altitude and lack of simmering ability?

Long butane tanks

Then I found long butane tanks on Amazon for Rs 150 for 230g. That’s a third of the price of butane canisters and is cheaper option compared to 99.5% pure ethanol. They are designed for large stoves and don’t work with backpacking stoves.

But I found 2 work arounds.

  1. Use it to refill butane canisters
  2. Use with an adapter with remote style gas stoves

After studying all the alternative fuels – petrol, kerosene, diesel and alcohol, I have settled on the option of using the cheap long butane tanks as the only option which meets all 3 of my requirements – safe, cheap and easily available.


References:

  1. https://bushwalkingnsw.org.au/clubsites/FAQ/FAQ_Stoves.htm
  2. https://www.inditramp.com/magazine/a-trekking-stove-primer-for-the-indian-himalayas-part-3-choosing-the-right-stove

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