IEA: Liquified Petroleum Gas Drives Socioeconomic Development and Improves Indoor Air Quality

Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG), commonly known as propane, plays a key role in decarbonizing households in rural communities across the world. During the International Energy Agency’s inaugural Clean Cooking Summit last week, global energy leaders gathered to discuss tactics to increase awareness around LPG and develop action plans to help communities transition to clean cooking practices.

Propane, a byproduct of natural gas processing, is commonly used for space heating and cooking and has multiple industrial applications. It is also a petrochemical feedstock used in packaging, cars, and protective equipment.

Strong U.S. natural gas production has allowed for LPG to flourish in the country, helping position the United States as the global leader in propane production and a top exporter worldwide. U.S. LPG exports reached a record 1.9 million barrels per day in December 2023, the highest ever recorded, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Growing LPG exports translate to significant advancements for energy insecure communities, providing access to clean cooking facilities – one in three people globally lacks access per the IEA. Currently, in areas with limited or no access to energy, 90 percent of a household’s energy consumption is often derived from burning firewood, charcoal, agricultural waste and animal dung to cook.

Using propane for cooking also enhances air quality, as traditional methods in rural communities were responsible for roughly 600,000 deaths in children under the age of five in 2012, mostly in developing countries, from air-related illnesses.

In a 2016 report, UNICEF stressed this point:

“Households using wood, dung or straw for cooking were more than twice as likely to have suffered from [acute lower respiratory infections] than children from households using Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), natural gas or electricity.”

Deploying propone as a healthier, low-carbon solution is critical, particularly in Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa still lags other impacted regions where access to clean cooking facilities is concerned, at an estimated cost of $330 billion annually because of the impact on health and the climate.

Addressing IEA attendees, H.E. Samia Suluhu Hassan, President of the United Republic of Tanzania, said this issue “should be a priority for Africa.”

During the Summit, panelists stressed the critical role LPG will play in addressing the clean cooking divide in Africa and bringing affordable, safe, and lower-emission solutions to almost 1 billion people across the continent.

James Rockall, CEO and Managing Director of the World Liquid Gas Association said during one discussion:

“Given suitable enabling environments, the issue of provision of clean cooking in Africa can be largely solved with LPG, now.”

Efforts Already Underway

The energy industry is already investing in and helping deploy LPG worldwide. Praveen Mal Khanooja, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, shared insights on India’s highly successful Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) program. The program has provided clean cooking access to more than 100 million families by offering free LPG cylinders and connections.

Praveen Mal Khanooja stressed that PMUY has been “hugely successful” and has had a transformative impact for communities across India, saying:

“We have reached near saturation as far as LPG access is concerned […] 80 percent of these connections are in rural areas.”

At the Summit, governments and private companies pledged more than $2.2 billion to promote clean cooking in Africa.

For example, TotalEnergies said it will invest more than $400 million in the development of LPG for cooking. Meanwhile Vitol and its daughter company, Vivo Energy, announced their intention to invest $550+ million by 2030 in the infrastructure required to facilitate cleaner cooking solutions in Africa.

To drive further collaboration, WLGA also announced the Cooking For Life Africa Task Force (CFLA). The industry-led initiative will promote increased access to affordable and sustainable LPG for cooking across Africa, and currently comprises five permanent members (Equinor, Petredec, Oryx Energies, S&P Global, TotalEnergies).

Bottom line: Propane plays a significant and growing role in meeting demand in energy-scarce countries where access is limited and the health burden from traditional fuels is significant. Increasingly, U.S. LGP exports can contribute to decarbonizing goals while providing greater energy security and access, and a healthier environment in rural households globally.

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