By Cha Monforte
Clandestine home-based LPG refilling of butane canisters widespread anywhere, worries Tagum inventor
The businessman in Tagum City who successfully cracked the process of refilling empty butane canisters with liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) could not imagine that one day his innovation could be massively imitated as it is now.
“They’re dicanting (the process of transferring the LPG to empty butane canisters) secretly right inside their houses using only an 11-kilogram LPG tank,” said Algerico Tabacon, who said he first cracked the process in trial-and-error experiment in 1998.
Tabacon, erstwhile small vendor of plastic banyera wares, is now operating his own mini gas refilling plant in an outskirt of the city.
In an interview, he said it is him who made innovation on butane tin canister, which started in Tagum City and which has now proliferated in many parts of the country.
“The LPG-refilled butane canisters I first produced were just intended for friends, and then in 2008 I opened business selling these,” Tabacon recalled.
He said his innovation started with Mr. Kim, a South Korean, who first brought butane canisters and small portable stove to him.
When the purely butane content of the canisters was consumed and Kim left the city and did not come back, Tabacon fancied to refill the canisters with LPG, that is readily available in the market.
Tinkering the the valve of the portable stove and making trial and error in inserting LPG to the empty butane canister in three days’ time in mid 1998 Tabacon found the best way to dicant it and sustain the flame from LPG, that is 60% profane and 40% butane.
But it was 10 years after when a massive influx of portable stove and 440 ml butane canisters made of tin started. The canisters, supposed to be for one-time use only or disposable, piled up but Tabacon saw a big bright business out from the canister scraps. The portable butane stove that is originally intended for outdoor use like camping could just be used for daily cooking indoors.
“Butane proved to be more economical than the 11-kilo LPG steel cylinder as it can boil faster due to closer pressure than the LPG, which still has to travel by the hose,” he said.
The butane like it is still now “ay tinangkil ng masa” like the owners of ambulant kwik-kwikan (fried boiled egg) tiendas around the old City Hall and karenderias in the public market who are able to cut their fuel expense by half, he recalled his first market niche before the households.
Users like butane also because also of its low-priced and thus it is easier to procure a refill in case of gas run out unlike LPG tanks that cost over P700. Currently, the retail price of butane in Tagum market is P20-P25. A brand-new purely butane can is priced P50 in stores.
To massively produce to meet increasing household market, he then negotiated and got support of Petronas to supply LPG for the mini gas refilling plant he contemplated as he got more orders and hired dealers.
But later his two top butane dealers copied his technology and competed him leading to a price decrease war starting in 2010. “Bagsakan na ng presyo”
The rest is history. His technology is being copied and individual home-based dicanters are born every now and then to join in the profitable trade that later worried the Dept. of Energy due to reports that butane canisters caused fire as negligent refillers and dicanters failed to check and replace defective, worn-out and rust-stained tin canisters.
When the butane was on its threshold stage, there was no law and national policy covering it. It is LPG that is well covered by DOE guideline while the Philippine National Standard for LPG container covered only a minimum 1-liter to 150-liter containers, which are permitted for storage and transport of LPG.
However, it was only in January 7, 2014 that the DOE issued its Department Circular 2014-01-0001, which prohibits the sale of LPG on single-trip and non-refillable containers and canisters which have been previously refilled with butane.
Tabacon as early as November 2012 proposed to the DOE that the tin butane canister be replaced with a stainless canister as he developed his own and had it registered with the Intellectual Property Office in his name, batting to make it as the Philippine National Standard.
Tabacon said he has compliance certificate and complies with the safety standard mandated under the DOE circulars and necessary permits to operate his business.
Tin canisters persist to be used these days due to high supply of empty butane canisters and it is cheap while the high demand of butane users continue even as authorities have been observed to have waned their anti-butane campaigns finding that its market consists mostly the poor.
Long-time butane users claimed that there are cases of small explosion or fire of butane sounding like “blab” especially when the stove is already old and worn out or the tin canister is rust-stained and worn-out leaking LPG.
But the fire hovering from the mouth of the butane can easily be put off by merely beating it with a rug or cloth. What is fire hazard is when that small fire catches the nearby flammable material, constituting human negligence, they said.