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What the Heck is a Btu Anyways?

4 April 2013

An important part of understanding energy is understanding how we measure it. British thermal unit (Btu) is one of the main measurements of energy. Btu is a common measurement of how much energy is in a source of fuel, similar to the number of calories in different foods.

Technical definition: British thermal unit is the amount of heat requited to raise a pound of liquid water one degree Fahrenheit. This doesn’t mean much to most of us, so I’ll give you some perspective in our everyday life we can compare 1 Btu to the amount of energy released from lighting one match.

How we use Btu: It is very difficult to compare the prices of a short ton of coal vs. a barrel of oil. Since Btu is a common measurement of energy we can convert different energy sources to Btu and compare prices per energy content. Below is a table showing how the price comparison would work, taken from U.S. Energy Information Association.

Price Btu (Energy Content) $/Million Btu
Coal $44.64 per ton 21 million per short ton $2.13
Oil $56.35 per barrel 6 million per barrel $9.39
Natural Gas $5.27 per Tcf 1 million per Tcf $5.27

This table clearly shows, that coal is the cheapest source of energy, which is a big factor for states when they consider their main fuel sources.

I will leave it at that for now. If you are interested in knowing MORE about Btu click here.



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