If you are a prepper, there’s a high likelihood you’ll be relying on various tools and devices that require liquid fuel to function.
It could be a vehicle, a generator, a chainsaw, a lantern, anything- no fuel, no go, it is just that simple.
That means that accumulating, properly storing, and rotating your fuel supplies is just one more thing on your weekly and monthly readiness checklist.
Unfortunately, most of us won’t be able to get by with just one kind of fuel. It might be the simple mandate of owning multiple vehicles or tools that use different types of fuel, or it might be diversification as a hedge against loss of capability.
The reality is that logistically your job will probably be a little more complicated than you think when it comes to fuels.
But fear not. As always, we here at Modern Survival Online are standing by to provide you with the information you need to help steer your acquisitions and keep you from making mistakes that will result in wasted effort and time.
Below is a guide all about nine of the most common and important fuels for preppers.
No Such Thing as “Best” – It is all About Tradeoffs
Before we get on to the list proper, I would like to talk a little bit about the characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages of different liquid fuels.
Specifically, you need to understand that there is no such thing as best. All you get when choosing one fuel source over another is a different set of trade-offs.
True, much of the time what fuels you’ll be required to store to be ready for rough times ahead will be dictated for you based on what your vehicle, generator, and various other tools use, but for some of us we will have more choice in the matter.
We will be buying and choosing what fuel we are going to put in with and this is where the selection process can get tricky.
Do you want a fuel that is widely available, inexpensive, and energetic but one that has a short shelf life owing to volatility, or would you like a more expensive fuel with a long shelf life that is difficult to get and largely obsolete for most applications? Other comparisons abound.
Yes, some fuels will be auto-includes and others will be optional or even just in-case choices.
But keep in mind that the survival landscape could look very different going forward in the aftermath of a major event compared to life as we know it today. Ponder that as you read over the list below.
9 Types of Fuel for Survival
Gasoline. Or petrol, if you’re an Englishman. You know it and you love it. Gasoline is the most ubiquitous petroleum-derived liquid fuel that gives life to internal combustion engines large and small the world over.
Gasoline is plentiful, comparatively affordable, and provides plenty of power for nearly any application requiring an engine, but its volatility and capriciousness both as a liquid and vapor means that safe storage practices are a must, and it is long-term storage where modern gasoline presents the most problems.
Gasoline is not pure in its commercial form, being instead a combination of multiple hydrocarbons.
Stored correctly in an appropriate container, ethanol-free gasoline will last anywhere from 6 months to a year before its component compounds separate enough to render the gasoline “dodgy” or even completely useless.
However, the proliferation of high-percentage ethanol/gasoline blends means that the shelf life is even shorter, 3 months on the outside, maybe 6 months if you use a stabilizer additive.
Straight gasoline that has no ethanol can last anywhere from a year to 1 ½ years with a stabilizer additive.
Regardless of which one you are storing, attempting to run an engine with gasoline that has gone truly bad can lead to significant malfunctions or even destroy the engine.
This means that storing any quantity of gasoline for any length of time will mandate religious rotation, or reconditioning of old gas on your own if you don’t want your supply to go bad, and that is a hassle that many folks, including many preppers will simply not be up to.
If you are relying on critical tools or vehicles as part of your survival plan, you might want to consider an alternative fuel source if you need your fuel stores on standby for a long time.
Modern diesel fuel as we know it is not a specific formulation of petroleum fuel, but instead it classifies any liquid fuel specifically for use in a diesel, or compression ignition, engine.
Compared to gasoline, diesel fuel is not as energetic and the engines themselves are more complicated but also more durable, and commercial diesel fuel is significantly more stable over time and gasoline, though it does struggle in specific conditions, such as very cold weather.
Like gasoline, modern diesel fuels are being increasingly tinkered with and sold with various additives that have slightly reduced their once famously long shelf life.
Even so, diesel is an excellent option for long-term storage compared to gasoline so if you have ever contemplated getting a diesel engine vehicle, your personal preparedness plan might be the last excuse you need.
When storing diesel fuel, one must be very cautious of low temperatures which can lead to jelling of the fuel, making it unusable until temperatures have raised enough to return the fuel to its liquid state.
Another quirk of diesel fuel is that mysterious algae can form and live in the diesel fuel mixture at the border of water separation within the solution.
These algae colonies are very much like algae that form in your pond or pool at home, and left untreated can hideously clog fuel lines and ruin your day.
Despite these setbacks, diesel is an excellent option for liquid fuel so long as your vehicle and generator infrastructure utilizes it.
Biodiesel is one of the most promising liquid fuels in use today specifically for diesel engines, and one with many interesting advantages for preppers in particular.
Biodiesel is simply a form of diesel engine fuel that is created from plant and animal matter, specifically through a chemical reaction of lipids such as animal fat or plant oil, interacting with an alcohol of some kind.
What results is an ester, either methyl ethyl or propyl. Soybean oil, vegetable oil, and animal tallow are among the most common components used for the creation of biodiesel.
The ready availability of the ingredients and the comparative ease of the chemical processes and reactions required to create usable biodiesel means that this is a legitimate DIY fuel for diesel engines that preppers are at least theoretically capable of creating themselves.
It is worth noting, however, that only specialty engines can run on pure biodiesel but a usable biodiesel fuel mixture is easily made by combining a large quantity of biodiesel with a much smaller quantity of standard diesel fuel.
Surprisingly efficient, biodiesel is a good option for the 21st century but it does have one major shortcoming compared to standard diesels.
The organic compounds in biodiesel are vulnerable to degradation by various forms of microscopic life that will attack and consume it, meaning that without specialty storage procedures and additives you cannot expect biodiesel to keep as long as your standard diesel fuels.
Nonetheless, preppers getting truly ready for a long-haul survival situation would be wise to become well versed in the use and creation of biodiesel.
Kerosene is another petroleum-derived hydrocarbon-based fuel commonly used for household and outdoor purposes as a lamp or stove fuel but also commonly employed as aviation fuel in a highly refined form called RP-1.
Once upon a time, kerosene was an extremely common fuel and a facet of civilization thanks to its preponderant use as lamp fuel throughout cities.
Improvements in the efficiency and availability of other liquid fuels have largely seen this usage superseded throughout most of the world certain countries, such as India, still make widespread use of kerosene.
Kerosene is, as imagined, extremely flammable and when in common usage throughout cities as lamp and stove fuel is often responsible for approximately 40% of all accidental fires.
However, kerosene operating at high efficiency in a lamp will produce a considerably clear, bright light and portable heaters utilizing it for fuel can easily heat and dry space.
In such devices, kerosene remains an excellent fuel for preppers in a portable capacity.
Though kerosene is spendy today in much of the West this cost is offset but its easy storage requirements and long shelf life.
Stored in an appropriate container that minimizes airspace with an eye toward preventing the formation of condensation kerosene can last anywhere between two and five years.
5. White Gas
What yes, AKA Coleman fuel or “camp gas,” is a naphtha-based petroleum fuel composed of light hydrotreated distillates, and as the name suggests is overwhelmingly used in portable lanterns and camping stoves.
It is sold virtually everywhere in the United States and Europe and is an affordable, efficient, and popular choice for those specific applications mentioned.
Perhaps the only disadvantage with white gas compared to other fuel sources is that they are very limited in its usefulness.
In virtually every case, you will not have any large tools or vehicles relying on white gas as a fuel source, but if a big part of your prepping plan involves the aforementioned lanterns or stoves, you’ll definitely want a ready supply of camp fuel on hand to operate them.
Gas has similar flammability to gasoline, but happily compared to gasoline it has a very long shelf life, anywhere from five to seven years when stored unopened, and up to two years when stored after being open.
One quirk of white gas that you should keep an eye out for is its propensity to rust metal containers, specifically the metal containers it is sold in!
You should regularly inspect the containers holding your white gas for any signs of rusting and either dispose of it or use it quickly before significant rusting takes hold when it is detected.
Everybody knows and loves propane, even if you only use it as fuel for your backyard grill.
However, compared to all the other liquid fuels on this list propane has the most potential as the sleeper “superstar” fuel for personal readiness.
Believe it or not, liquid propane is the third most commonly used fuel for vehicles of all kinds the world over, coming in right behind gasoline and diesel.
It can operate everything from buses and full-sized cars to forklifts, power tools, and personal heaters. Truly, this is the one fuel that can seemingly do it all.
Propane is easy to transport, overwhelmingly safe when kept in an appropriate and inspected pressure vessel, and easy to use.
It is also reasonably affordable, costing about $2.50 per gallon at retail and just under $2.00 per gallon on average for home delivery.
Compared to other liquid fuels, propane presents fairly unique hazards.
Propane is a liquid when under considerable pressure but its low boiling point means that it will turn into a gas immediately upon release into the atmosphere, but being heavier than air, this explosive vapor will sink down close to the ground or floor, and it represents a simple asphyxiation hazard.
The greater danger is obviously that of explosion, typically occurring when a leaking propane cylinder is kept near a pilot light or other source of flame or spark.
Propane at most standout capability for preppers, however, aside from its extraordinary versatility is its equally extraordinary shelf life.
Propane, kept in an appropriately inspected and serviceable vessel has a shelf life well in excess of 30 years with absolutely no additives or other fiddling required to achieve.
For our purposes, a propane-fueled vehicle and generator setup, along with propane heating and climate control in our homes mean that an on-property tank containing hundreds of gallons of propane could be all we need to get through a long-term survival situation.
Probably the most basic and fundamental solid fuel is wood. The burning of wood for a camp or cooking fire has accompanied mankind through the ages and will accompany us into the foreseeable future.
Wood is unique among all the other fuels on this list and then it requires the absolute least amount of processing, special skills, or industry to produce.
Dry branches and twigs can simply be picked up off the ground and immediately lit for light and warmth.
Greenwood, too, will usually burn, though it does so inefficiently and will generate abundant smoke in the bargain.
Though wood is about as elemental as it gets, there is always more to know in order to maximize your return on investment.
Wood that is stockpiled for firewood should be processed into appropriate lengths and then split into smaller pieces to maximize efficiency and promote rapid drying.
Drying, or seasoning, most hardwoods is a process that will take a couple of months and this should be accounted for if one is rapidly trying to prepare for oncoming cold weather.
Additionally, wood including seasoned firewood is vulnerable to equally elemental threats, including wood-eating and wood-boring parasites and a variety of fungi or molds that will rapidly decay and degrade your wood into nothingness.
Keeping such pests and hazards off of an outdoor pile of firewood is a significant challenge.
Paper and cardboard form one of the most common kinds of packaging and subsequently detritus in our modern world.
Both are paper products and that means they are ultimately derived from wood, and therefore can be burned in much the same way that wood is.
Compared to proper wood, paper and cardboard products will burn quickly and brightly, necessitating regular refueling to keep a fire going.
No this is hardly ideal from a sustainment perspective, paper and cardboard are so plentiful, so ubiquitous and in our modern era, you should not want fuel to burn in an emergency.
Virtually every trash can you pass contains it and every product that you buy has some paper or cardboard component.
Even if you have a supply of better fuel for your purpose, paper and cardboard always have a place as tinder or even kindling for establishing your primary fire.
Keeping a small box of newspaper or shredded cardboard for just such an occasion is warranted, and you would be smart to learn how best to maximize the performance of various compositions in an emergency situation.
9. Sterno Tabs/Gel
Sterno is a brand of jellied or solidified alcohol-based fuels, most commonly encountered today in those tiny tins used to heat food on a buffet table.
Though they seem like a novelty, Sterno fuel burns extremely hot and extremely cleanly, with some varieties producing intense heat with no visible flame and hardly any smoke to speak of.
Though this presents safety considerations unique to this type of fuel, there is no arguing with the efficacy of Sterno thanks to its availability, stability, ease of use, and suitability for indoor applications.
Widely available and reasonably affordable, Sterno can serve as a great primary fuel for special applications or when traveling.
A couple of cans of Sterno will supply quite a lot of heat for a tiny increase in weight and bulk to your overall load.
Also, it is worth mentioning that typical Sterno cans are not insulated in any way. The steel cans themselves will become extremely hot in use and could be a secondary fire hazard if not set on an appropriate surface or if the ground is not cleared of debris.
Always make sure that you allow the can to cool down completely before stashing it again.
Dealing with a crisis or the aftermath of a major disaster means you’re going to need the right fuels to run your vehicles and tools.
All of the liquid fuels on this list are reasonably common and all have a purpose, so it is up to you to plan for long-term storage based on what you already have or set up your acquisitions accordingly to make the best possible use of any or all of them.
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