Tri-fuel generators - anyone have one?

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
86,528
South Puget Sound, WA
I am going to be getting a tri-fuel generator for back up power. We have been without power for about a week, three times in the past 17 years. And several more times for a day or two. My current generator is an old Coleman contractor 4800w generator. It's noisy and the power is dirty. It's also oversized for our needs and I am tired of draining fuel out of it when idle. I am looking at a tri-fuel modification of either a Honda eu2000i or a Yamaha ef2400is. The propane option is because it stores for long times without degradation. We also have a large tank which may be necessary to use in the event of a serious earthquake.

The two places that do these conversions are:

www.generatorsales.com
Central Maine Diesel
1594-D Outer Hammond St.
Bangor, ME 04401
or
http://www.propane-generators.com/
US Carburetion Kit Center
416 Main Street
Summersville, West Virginia

Does anyone have a propane generator? Has anyone dealt with either of these firms? If yes, any comments on them.
 

Iembalm4aLiving

Feeling the Heat
Oct 3, 2008
271
N.E. Ohio
I've had this place bookmarked for a few years....they sell conversion kits.

http://www.propanecarbs.com/naturalgaskits.html

I have a Honda EX5000 that's been great. I'd like the ability to run it off natural gas. Modifying a perfectly good generator makes me nervous, though....
 
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begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
86,528
South Puget Sound, WA
I have a buddy with the same generator and he loves it.
 

pen

There are some who call me...mod.
Staff member
Aug 2, 2007
7,957
N.E. Penna
If you get a tri-fuel, just make sure you do keep some gas around which is fresh for it. In cold weather starting on propane is not pleasant unless the carb has a heater.

pen
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
86,528
South Puget Sound, WA
Good to know. We usually keep ~10 gallons on hand. Fortunately for us here "cold" is typically around freezing. How cold before it acts up? Would keeping the propane cylinder indoors help? I will have a few cylinders and could keep one inside.
 

pen

There are some who call me...mod.
Staff member
Aug 2, 2007
7,957
N.E. Penna
BeGreen said:
Good to know. We usually keep ~10 gallons on hand. Fortunately for us here "cold" is typically around freezing. How cold before it acts up? Would keeping the propane cylinder indoors help? I will have a few cylinders and could keep one inside.
I don't believe keeping the propane warm would help.

I tried buying a generator for my cabin w/out electric and couldn't find a straight propane generator on the market that didn't need electric hooked up to it to run the carb heater.

My family had a propane business for years and converted even the daily driver pick up trucks (chevy 1500's usually, their first conversion was a '69 challenger) to propane. They always had to be started on gas when the temps were around freezing, then once the engine had enough heat in it to heat the carb then it could be switched to propane and run w/out incident unless it was extremely cold.

pen
 

pen

There are some who call me...mod.
Staff member
Aug 2, 2007
7,957
N.E. Penna
velvetfoot said:
How do the standby generators powered by propane do it?
They have electric run to them keeping the carb warm. Power goes out, generator kicks on and it stays warm.

pen
 

daveswoodhauler

Minister of Fire
May 20, 2008
1,847
Massachusetts
My FIL has the Honda eu20001 for his camper trailer, and he loves it.
Actually, he is using it right now winterizing the trailer, and I would say that the generator has to be at least 50% quieter then mine.
He only needed something small to take when on extended trips without hookups with the trailer, and says that its one of the more efficient models on gas useage.
If I had the coin, the next one I would by would be the Honda
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
86,528
South Puget Sound, WA
pen said:
BeGreen said:
Good to know. We usually keep ~10 gallons on hand. Fortunately for us here "cold" is typically around freezing. How cold before it acts up? Would keeping the propane cylinder indoors help? I will have a few cylinders and could keep one inside.
I don't believe keeping the propane warm would help.

I tried buying a generator for my cabin w/out electric and couldn't find a straight propane generator on the market that didn't need electric hooked up to it to run the carb heater.

My family had a propane business for years and converted even the daily driver pick up trucks (chevy 1500's usually, their first conversion was a '69 challenger) to propane. They always had to be started on gas when the temps were around freezing, then once the engine had enough heat in it to heat the carb then it could be switched to propane and run w/out incident unless it was extremely cold.

pen
I'll ask the Maine company about this. They get a lot colder than we do.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
86,528
South Puget Sound, WA
The propane system relies on the tank being warm enough for the liquid in the tank to vaporize at the top of the tank. Therefore keeping a spare tank warm in the basement, will help a lot. Also, some people report wrapping the tank with heat tape as a solution. But that means having electricity to keep the heat tape warm. I read where some have put their tanks in a pan of hot water. Keeping the tanks full also helps.

One of the most interesting insights on this issue came from a hot-air ballooning site where they take this issue very seriously. In a table posted there, the pressure drops about 50% from 30F to 10F.
 

pen

There are some who call me...mod.
Staff member
Aug 2, 2007
7,957
N.E. Penna
Hmm, the big generators don't need a propane tank heater, just that carb warmer. Must be because of the size of the tank?

Yea, I can see balloonists finding that to be important! Problem is as it evaporates it makes the tank even colder than ambient.

Hmm, wonder why they generally run fine on the stuff once it's started on gas? Maybe it's just because there is no real way to "choke" the carb when using propane perhaps?

I never questioned as a kid when I was around these. My cousin with the business died 10 years ago. All I know is when using his trucks in the winter is was start on gas, once you feel heat from the dash, turn it to propane.

pen
 

turbocruiser

Feeling the Heat
Jun 10, 2011
329
Rocky Mountains Majesty
For a long while we've wanted a Honda Tri-Fuel generator and during that time I've really researched the Central Maine product the most to include talking to their tech dept. They seem super knowledgeable and what I will probably do is get their Honda EU2000i now and then a little later get their Honda 2000i companion. That's if I don't just get the EU3000is and that's the decision I'm deciding about back-and-forth, back-and-forth. On the one hand having 2 of the 2000 watt generators gives great portability and scalability as well as the ability to actually power two separate sites. On the other hand the 3000 is probably all I'd ever need and its all in one (big) package.

Either way I am interested in tri-fuel for a few reasons. 1st, realistically speaking for safety reasons and storage reasons there's a limit to the amount of gasoline I would have on hand and that's about 5 gallons. That would give me only an average of 18 hours of generator with 1 of the 2000's, 9 hours with 2 of the 2000's and 10 hours with 1 of the 3000's. 2nd, even with the two twenty gallon propane tanks I have here I'd only be adding around 28 hours of generator with 1 2000, 14 hours with 2 2000's, etc. 3rd, realistically speaking I either have to have a much larger propane tank installed which I could of course do, or, I have to rely on the really very reliable natural gas supply we have here to power the generator/s. I looked into it little bit and basically if I understand things correctly, I can install a NG quick disconnect fitting where I would be able to attach the generator fuel hose when it was necessary and the generator/s would basically run indefinitely assuming appropriate stops for oil fillups, etc. So I'm super interested in all this and would love to learn much more.

Edit: By the way, one of the things I asked Central Maine about was that in their pictures it always looked like the door to the motor area was a little cocked off crooked and I assumed that was the bracket for the tri-fuel valve itself getting in the way. According to their tech that picture just looks like that because they didn't correctly close the door but that the door does indeed completely close with the bracket they designed so that's good to know. Also, if you go with the EU2000i and then the EU2000 companion you get a 30amp socket which will add additional versatility.
 

firefighterjake

Minister of Fire
Jul 22, 2008
19,340
Unity/Bangor, Maine
The things you learn . . . the place in Maine is only a couple miles from where I work . . . never even knew such a company was here in the city.
 

jimbom

Combustion Analyzer
Dec 19, 2010
1,021
Missouri Ozarks
BeGreen said:
The propane system relies on the tank being warm enough for the liquid in the tank to vaporize at the top of the tank. Therefore keeping a spare tank warm in the basement, will help a lot. Also, some people report wrapping the tank with heat tape as a solution. But that means having electricity to keep the heat tape warm. I read where some have put their tanks in a pan of hot water. Keeping the tanks full also helps.

One of the most interesting insights on this issue came from a hot-air ballooning site where they take this issue very seriously. In a table posted there, the pressure drops about 50% from 30F to 10F.
I guess you could warm it up on your stove. :)
 

jimbom

Combustion Analyzer
Dec 19, 2010
1,021
Missouri Ozarks
My dad converted a tractor trailer that he used hard to propane back in the fifties. I don't remember the details, except that he also installed a big air horn and connected the propane to that. We lived in southeast Missouri at the time, but I don't think he had a gasoline option because the gas tanks were removed. Said he wanted the engine to run cleaner so the oil would last longer. He also had a nearby Skelgas bottling plant that sold him propane cheap. Ran it every day all winter as far as I know. Must have been a simple project as he was not a mechanic and he did it at home. I had forgotten about that until this thread. Perhaps ignited my interest in engineering with that little shade tree project.
 

Highbeam

Minister of Fire
Dec 28, 2006
18,598
Mt. Rainier Foothills, WA
The reason that you should not use a honda 2000i for backup power is that it does not make any 220 volt power. Safely powering your home with this genset would require significant jacking around and would never offer the flexibility of the proper 220 genset. The 2000i is a wonderful genset for an RV or something that only needs small amoutns of 110 volt power. I believe that the 3000 watt honda model does make 220 volts but is very very expensive and much harder to mvoe around. Esart though.

For the guy that wants to plug his fridge in with an extension cord, the 2000i is a fine unit.
 

hossthehermit

Minister of Fire
May 17, 2008
2,571
Maine, ayuh, by gorry
About all I can add here, is that Central Maine Diesel is a well respected company to do business with, I know severall people who deal with them on a regular basis for diesel applications. I wasn't aware they did generators, I'll have to check them out, they're only about 20 miles from me, and I have been sorta looking for a new gen.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
86,528
South Puget Sound, WA
Highbeam said:
The reason that you should not use a honda 2000i for backup power is that it does not make any 220 volt power. Safely powering your home with this genset would require significant jacking around and would never offer the flexibility of the proper 220 genset. The 2000i is a wonderful genset for an RV or something that only needs small amoutns of 110 volt power. I believe that the 3000 watt honda model does make 220 volts but is very very expensive and much harder to mvoe around. Esart though.

For the guy that wants to plug his fridge in with an extension cord, the 2000i is a fine unit.
The only loads we will be powering will be 120v, basically a refer and freezer, both modern, energy savers. These loads sit on one bus of the panel. If there is spare power then we might run a tv or radio and the kitchen lights, but that's about it. I am leaning toward the Yamaha 2400 at the moment. That seems to be the preferred unit for both sellers that do the conversion.

I toyed with the idea of the Honda 3000 but that is only 120v too so it would just mean more fuel consumption. I think the Honda EU6500isA - 5500 Watt unit is the smallest with 240vac out unless I buy a European or Asian market unit.
 

Jags

Moderate Moderator
Staff member
Aug 2, 2006
18,201
Northern IL
BG - something that I have not seen mentioned here yet: Propane conversion of a gas motor will yield less HP than gasoline. So a motor sized to run a 2400W genset that is converted to propane, will probably NOT pull what the original motor config would. You might want to ask the company doing the conversion what loss you should expect. Size your genset accordingly.
 

benjamin

Minister of Fire
Nov 7, 2009
693
SW WI
BeGreen said:
The propane system relies on the tank being warm enough for the liquid in the tank to vaporize at the top of the tank. Therefore keeping a spare tank warm in the basement, will help a lot. Also, some people report wrapping the tank with heat tape as a solution. But that means having electricity to keep the heat tape warm. I read where some have put their tanks in a pan of hot water. Keeping the tanks full also helps.

One of the most interesting insights on this issue came from a hot-air ballooning site where they take this issue very seriously. In a table posted there, the pressure drops about 50% from 30F to 10F.
There are vapor systems and liquid systems to run an engine on propane.

I think propane vapor problems only occur at much lower temps, and/or high usage rates as in hot air ballooning or farm weed burners. Weedburners will sometimes have a tank of water with several tanks floating around to keep the tanks from getting to cold in the summertime. Large propane boilers will often have a "vaporizer" which burns propane to heat propane to keep the pressure up in sub zero weather.

Most propane engines use a liquid system where the propane vaporizes in the carburetor, so a warm tank won't make much difference. I'm not familiar with the problems mentioned so I won't speculate any further.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
86,528
South Puget Sound, WA
Jags said:
BG - something that I have not seen mentioned here yet: Propane conversion of a gas motor will yield less HP than gasoline. So a motor sized to run a 2400W genset that is converted to propane, will probably NOT pull what the original motor config would. You might want to ask the company doing the conversion what loss you should expect. Size your genset accordingly.
Good point, that is why I am leaning toward the Yamaha 2400 instead of the Honda 2000.