How to choose the generator fuel type?

Portable silent generator in coffee shop

They are most widely known for backup generators for commercial or industrial applications and are categorized by fuel type (diesel and natural gas). A little-known fact about commercial generators is that some accept fuels other than diesel or natural gas. Even dual-fuel and tri-fuel generators enable multiple fuel types for backup power.

While each generator and associated fuel type has its advantages, a few quirks will ultimately affect a buyer’s decision when purchasing a generator. While there isn’t necessarily one gas that is best for generators, the following list of available generator fuel types can help you choose the one that best suits your needs.


Gasoline is mainly used in portable residential generators, such as those sold at big hardware stores because gasoline tends to have a shorter shelf life and flash point than some of its counterparts. This means, for example, that it can ignite at a lower temperature than diesel. While gasoline may work fine for residential generators that require less refueling, it’s not generally considered a viable fuel source for commercial and industrial applications.


Diesel generators use diesel oil. Diesel generators are one of the most commonly used generators on the market due to their construction, versatility, and durability, enabling this type of generator to meet the various needs of several industries. Diesel generators can also be trailer mounted to provide functional portability, allowing users to tow the generator from site to site and different project sites, including those not yet connected to the utility grid or for disaster response and preparedness required for off-site projects.

There are many benefits to using diesel for generators but also some disadvantages. Many diesel generators are connected to a diesel tank, so fuel sources are limited. When using a diesel generator as a backup power solution, it is essential to be aware of the possibility of running out of fuel. It would help if you had protocols to replenish your diesel fuel source, either by diesel shipping or storage cubes that can be stored and relocated as needed.

While diesel can be stored, it does require a certain level of maintenance, as diesel can go bad. During severe weather or natural disasters, diesel fuel may not be available, so planning for additional fuel is critical when considering a diesel generator as a backup power solution.

Diesel generators also produce emissions that are considered harmful to the environment. Diesel generators are classified by EPA rating. When considering a diesel generator, check your state and local EPA rating requirements before purchasing. If you operate in California, consider California Air Resources Board (CARB) regulations when purchasing a generator.

Natural gas

Natural gas generators are also popular. Natural gas is one of the cleanest burning fuel types because it produces the lowest emissions of all fuel types available for backup generators. A natural gas generator is connected to a gas line, eliminating the need to store fuel and allowing the generator to run longer without refueling.

One downside to using natural gas generators is that natural gas utilities are often one of the first to be shut down during natural disasters, emergencies, and even routine maintenance. This is a safety precaution as natural gas is highly flammable. This process renders the natural gas generator inoperable.

Additionally, natural gas generators require more routine inspections, repairs, and maintenance. This is because natural gas generators are spark ignited and have spark plugs. Extra care must be taken in repairing, maintaining, and, if necessary, replacing these plugs and any pipes or hoses carefully inspected to prevent possible fires.


The answer is still available if you plan to use a natural gas generator as a backup power solution but are not connected to the main gas line! Propane generators are natural gas generators converted with a conversion kit to accept and vent propane. This enables users to purchase large propane tanks to store the propane and connect the propane to the generator during a power outage. In addition to its long shelf life, propane provides flexibility for those using natural gas generators and allows fuel storage.

The downside is that propane is less efficient than diesel or gasoline. However, propane does not degrade, unlike diesel or gasoline, making it an ideal solution for those who occasionally use a backup generator. Like natural gas, propane burns cleanly and releases fewer harmful emissions into the atmosphere than other backup generator fuel options.

Solar energy

These generators are made from renewable energy sources such as solar panels and wind turbines. The generator uses sunlight or wind to generate electricity, so it can be used even when there is no natural gas supply or access to gasoline or diesel. These generators can be powered by batteries or photovoltaic cells mounted on rooftop solar panels.


Since the 1800s, efforts have been made to develop a generator that can generate hydrogen-generated electricity. Hydrogen is highly plentiful (especially from water sources), non-toxic, cheap, clean, and produces more energy per pound than any other fuel source.

Experiments with hydrogen-powered generators began in the 1940s and are still being attempted today. Although hydrogen generators are not as readily available as other generators, they are portable and suitable for many settings, including laboratories. Hydrogen generators are also safe and portable, with good safety features.

The primary consideration when selecting a generator is the type of environment in which the equipment will be used. Balance budgetary requirements with safety considerations, portability needs, operating conditions, temperature, and ease of refueling when supplies run low.

What generator fuel is the best?

When determining which generator fuel type is best for your needs, it is vital to consider factors such as fuel availability and storage capacity. A significant factor to add to the equation is the size of the generator and the fuel requirements needed to ensure its optimal operation.

Since each fuel type has advantages and disadvantages, deciding on the best fuel type for a backup generator depends largely on your situation and needs. Please consider the following factors to help determine which generator is best for your needs.

Shelf life

Shelf life is the amount of time a fuel can be stored before it starts to degrade. This factor concerns how often you use your generator since you want to avoid the fuel going bad before it’s used. For example, when considering the shelf life of propane versus diesel generator fuel, both have a relatively long shelf life compared to gasoline.

However, diesel fuel degrades much faster than propane. Services such as diesel treatment or polishing can help maintain and slow down diesel degradation, but eventually, the diesel may need to be replaced.

oil on portable generator


Consider if you can store that fuel type and have the storage space. For example, diesel is usually held in the fuel tank that feeds diesel generators, which means the more diesel available, the longer the diesel generator will run.

Except for natural gas, most types of generator fuel can be stored similarly. While this is usually fine in applications using natural gas generators, if the natural gas utility’s supply is cut off, the natural gas generator will not be able to operate.


Consider how to replenish fuel sources. Your fuel supply can be delivered, acquired, and shipped to your facility, depending on the fuel type. The gasoline tank of a portable residential generator can be filled at a local gas station, while a natural gas generator is connected to a natural gas line. For fuel types such as diesel, you may need the company to provide diesel and refill your tanks as needed.

Receiving diesel fuel can be difficult during emergencies and severe weather, so it is essential to consider contingency measures.


When considering a backup generator, natural gas, and propane are often favorable for evaluating the environmental angle. As we mentioned, these fuel types burn the cleanest compared to other generator options on the market.


Regardless of flammability rating, safety is paramount regarding backup generators and fuel types. Each fuel type should be carefully considered and handled safely. For example, diesel fuel has a lower flammability rating than natural gas or propane but should still be handled carefully to avoid any potential risks, hazards, or accidents.


What is the availability of fuel types? How easy is it to get more fuel? Can you replenish the fuel supply if you expect to run the generator for extended periods? It is essential to consider these factors in the event of a power outage due to natural disasters, severe weather such as winter storms and snowstorms, or severe weather such as torrential rain, downpours, and high-velocity winds.


Diesel generators are one of the most commonly used backup generators in commercial or industrial applications due to their versatility in meeting the backup power needs of various industries. These generators typically have an onboard diesel base tank mounted on the unit’s trailer, allowing easy replenishment of the diesel supply as needed. While there are other types of portable generators, diesel is generally the best fuel for portable generators in commercial and industrial applications.


Generators use a variety of fuel types. The right choice depends on your site’s storage capabilities, access to a specific fuel type, power needs, and budget.

If you’re struggling to determine the correct type of generator and what fuel it should run on, talking to a professional can help you narrow down your options. To discuss fuel types and help determine which generator fuel type is best for your needs, please get in touch with BISON customer service. Contact us online to get started today.

choose the generator fuel type FAQ

A generator's fuel consumption can vary widely based on several factors, including the generator's power output, load demand, efficiency, and fuel used. To determine your generator's specific fuel consumption, you will need to refer to the manufacturer's specifications for that particular model. Fuel consumption is usually given as a rate, such as gallons per hour (GPH), liters per hour (LPH), or cubic feet per hour (CFH).

For example, a small portable gasoline generator with an output of 1,000 watts may use about 0.1 to 0.2 gallons (0.38 to 0.76 liters) per hour at half load. On the other hand, a more substantial diesel generator with an output of 100 kW may consume about 10 to 15 gallons (38 to 57 liters) of diesel per hour at full load.

Diesel may still be more expensive than gasoline, but diesel fueled generators are also much more fuel efficient than gasoline generators, typically burning around 50% of the fuel at any given time. As a result, portable diesel generators are generally less expensive than gasoline generators over time.

While a gas generator may be more cost-effective upfront, a propane generator can save you money in the long run. You probably won't use your generator daily, so you'll store it away most of the time. Propane is a far superior fuel supply in terms of shelf life.

Gas generators are much better for the environment than traditional gasoline generators. Gas generators reduce carbon monoxide (CO) emissions by more than 90% and hydrocarbon (HC) emissions by more than 70% compared to gasoline generators.

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