Last Updated on March 7, 2021 by Filip Poutintsev
Natural gas is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon gas mixture consisting primarily of methane, but commonly including varying amounts of other higher alkanes, and sometimes a small percentage of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide, or helium.
It is formed due to the decomposition of organic matters. These may include plants and remains of animals. This process takes millions of years of heat and pressure in extremes of a condition in the soil.
It used as a source of energy mainly in house-holds for heating, cooking and other purposes requiring electricity. It is a non-renewable energy. In recent decades the reserves for other fossil fuel have been decreasing e.g. coals. This is why the need to switch to renewable energy has been increasing.
These fuels also have a higher emission of carbon than compared to natural gas. Natural gas has been collected mainly as a by-product during the oil-drilling process.
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Pros of Natural Gas
1. Power Generation
Natural gas is a major source of electricity generation using various turbines. Gas turbine and a steam turbine is used in combination. It can also be used with renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Natural gas generated power has increased from 740 TWh in 1973 to 5140 TWh in 2014. It is about 22% of the total electricity generated in the world.
2. Cleaner Energy
Natural gas is cleaner than other fossil fuel sources. In comparison to coal, it produces almost half the amount of carbon emission. Natural gas produces both water and carbon dioxide while burning.
This results in a decrease in the carbon emission per unit of energy generated. Similarly, natural gas produces about 30% less pollution than petroleum.
3. Huge Reserves
Natural gas reserves are found in trillion barrels across the world. Many natural gas sites have not been discovered until now. The ones that have been discovered, are still not been utilized to its full potential.
Companies have set almost 1.4 trillion dollars to extract oils and gases until 2024. So, natural gas has a high potential of being extracted in the near future. It is safe to say that we will see more natural gas in the coming years.
4. Can be Used for Domestic Purpose
Natural gas dispensed in a residential setting can generate temperatures in excess of 1,100 °C (2,000 °F) making it a powerful domestic cooking and heating fuel. It used as a source of heat for cloth-dryers, heating/cooling, the central heating systems in the houses.
Compressed formed of gases in cylinders is also a famous source of fuel for people especially in the rural areas of the world.
Compressed natural gas (CNG) has been used as an alternative fuel for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) which is more commonly used. Natural gas is also supplied through pipes laid on the ground to individual grounds.
5. Vehicles Use
CNG can also be used as a fuel alternative for automobiles. By the end of 2014, there were over 20 million natural gas vehicles worldwide, led by Iran (3.5 million), China (3.3 million), Pakistan (2.8 million), Argentina (2.5 million), India (1.8 million), and Brazil (1.8 million).
CNG specific engines are made with a higher compression ratio as according to its higher octane number of 120-130.
Natural gas has also been used in aircraft like the husky 200 from Aviat Aircraft Inc. In 2014, Chomarat had made a ¼ scale version of its VX-1 KittyHawk with the potential of using CNG fuel.
Cons of Natural Gas
1. Limited Stocks
Being a non-renewable fuel, natural gases are going to deplete as its use increases. Thus, natural gases cannot be expected to be economically sustainable as they will not last for millenniums to come. Hence, proper planning and controlled extraction is necessary for longtime use.
Proper research has to be done using state of the art machinery and technologies to detect the proper sites. Extraction also has to do in a mannerly way with consideration of the local environmental eco-system.
This turns out to be a huge economic burden for the responsible authorities controlling the extraction and proper use of the non-renewable energy resources.
2. Highly Inflammable
These gases are highly inflammable and can result in fire or explosions are happened improperly. It cannot be detected easily as they are colorless, tasteless and odorless. This is a huge drawback considering that they are used by people in their homes and in their cars on a daily basis.
3. Emissions of Carbon Dioxide
Although they are cleaner than other gases it still produces huge amounts of carbon emission. According to the IPCC fourth assessment report, in 2004, natural gas produced about 5.3 billion tons of emissions.
Coal and oil produced 10.6 and 10.2 billion tons which are higher than natural gas. Still, as the consciousness to reduce carbon emission has exponentially increased in the past few decades, the carbon emission of natural gases is sure to be a hot topic as its use is going to increase and the carbon emission is expected to grow to 11 billion tons in a year by 2030.
4. Greenhouse Effect
Natural gas is composed mainly of methane gas. Methane gases are one of the many green-house gases that trap the heat from the earth and prevent the heat from escaping.
It is far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. A given quantity of methane gas is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the given time frame of a 20-year period.
Radioactive isotopes have been detected during the extraction of these gases. These isotopes include polonium, lead, and radon. The radiations from these isotopes are harmful human health of the extractors and local population nearby.
6. Risky Transportation and Storage
This step in the process of extraction and utilization of natural gas is very risky. They are highly inflammable and they have to be stored in high pressure as they have very low density.
This property also makes transportation difficult as it is lighter than air so it must be concentrated for many reasons including space utilization.
The consciousness among people about protecting our planet and living sustainably is growing day by day. With concerns about climate change and pollution, there has been a drastic change in the way people conceive the idea of consuming without limits.
Energy utilization is also a widely discussed idea with people opting for alternate, clean and safe sources of energy.
Its use in our daily lives has increased with time, so it is the right time to consider all of its advantages and disadvantages to decide whether or not natural gas has the potentiality to be the sustainable fuel of choice.