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Natural Gas

Natural gas is the cleanest of fossil fuels and is found deep under the earth’s surface, trapped under animal and plant remains. Natural gas is a hydrocarbon gas mixture that mostly contains methane.

Other gas compositions are ethane, propane, butane, carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen sulphide, and a few traces of rare gases.

It takes millions of years to form, and is formed when the remains of plants and animals are buried under the earth, and is subjected to massive pressure over the years. This pressure and the earth’s heat transform the debris into natural gas.

The process for natural gas to transform from plant and animal remains takes about 200 to 400 million years. So the demand for this resource is far more than the amount it can generate in a short period.

Natural gas has four key properties; it is lighter than air, which means that it quickly raises into the atmosphere instead of settling closer to the ground like heavier gasses do. It is also nontoxic so living organisms do not need to be worried about being poisoned.

Furthermore, it is safe because it can only burn with a proper mixture of air – to – gas ratio. Natural gas is also colourless and when it is burned the flame is a clean blue flame.

Natural gas is mainly used for the production of electricity, and in the industrial sector for heating purposes. Besides heating it is used for the production of fertilizer, insect repellents, laundry detergent, glue, photographic film, ink, paint, and nylon.

Natural gas processing follows many steps. Raw gas is extracted from gas wells deep in the earth and are sent through a process of condensation and water removal. The product is sent through a raw gas pipeline to an acid gas removal plant that amine treats the gas.

Treated gas is sent through a dehydration process and then a mercury removal system that activates the carbon molecules. This is then subject to a nitrogen rejection process and demethanizer and absorption process, and finally through a gas pipeline for commercial use.

Natural gas is converted to electricity through gas turbines and steam turbines. The highest fuel efficiency is achieved when these two types of turbines are used together in a combined cycle mode.

Gas cylinders used for domestic purposes have natural gas trapped in a pressurized cylinder and is used for heating purposes (cooking).

Natural gas once extracted need to be stored for future use or transported across long distances to other power plants. Because it has a low density, this is not so easy. Across the ocean natural gas is transported in liquefied format, and tank trucks carry compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG) for short road distances.

The process of preparing natural gas for transportation has two options – either to turn it into liquid in a liquefaction plant, or to return it to its natural consistency through a regasification plant. This is either done on land, or at sea on a ship. The advantage of this process is that it can be sold to consumers in the LNG or CNG format.

Natural gas is stored deep underground in salt domes, empty gas wells or in tanks (if it’s LNG). If demand is low, the gas is injected, and if it is high, it is extracted back.

The main problem with using this energy is the environmental damage it can cause if methane escapes into the atmosphere (e.g.: from accidental leakage).

Methane contributes to greenhouse emissions as therefore very dangerous. There is also the potential for explosion of leakage occurs.

The ancient Greek myth about a “burning flame” on top of Mount Parnassus in 1000 BC was actually burning natural gas that had escaped from deep underground. Such myths of burning springs are found even in Indian and Persian mythology.

It was the Chinese, in 500 BC that discovered its utility value and exploited it for heating purposes.

USA discovered natural gas in 1626 while England around the mid-1700s started using natural gas for commercial purposes. The first long natural gas pipeline in America was built in 1891 and was 120 miles in length.

In 1821, William Hart dug a well in New York especially for the purpose of obtaining natural gas. But one of the most prominent in the history of natural gas was “Colonel” Edwin Drake, who dug the first well in 1859, considered to be the beginning of the natural gas industry in USA.

The Bunsen Burner was invented in 1885 by Robert Bunsen and was a great milestone in the history of natural gas in America.

The main problem with natural gas, although it is the cleanest fossil fuel is its staggering carbon dioxide emissions, which is only expected to rise.

It also releases greenhouse methane, which is extremely harmful in its oxidized form. Besides these two, it releases sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and other pollutants into the atmosphere.

Many countries around the world are turning to natural gas to help fuel their economic growth, and reduce their carbon foot print, especially in times where petroleum and other energy sources are contending. Increasing technological advancements for domestic and industrial natural gas production is increasing fuel efficiency to match demand for the next 100 years.

Natural gas is considered a far more economical choice to conventional electricity, and because it is relatively easier to distribute it is a clear favourite.

Its other main attraction is its versatility both for domestic and industrial production. It is also cleaner than gasoline, so vehicles operating on natural gas are more environmentally friendly.

Natural gas is the most widely used of all fossil fuels. Domestic stoves and water heaters are run on natural gas, including factories and electrical power plants.

Transportation is also powered by it, and it is the ingredient of many household products like medicines, fertilizers, cements, adhesives and many more.

Even though natural gas is considered non-renewable because it takes millions of years to form, the main compound found in it (methane) can be produced by garbage too.

The methane extracted from rotting garbage is considered renewable because garbage is never in short supply.

Natural gas is expected to be the fastest growing major fuel by 2040. A new technology that helps develop offshore gas resources from the site itself, called Floating Liquefied Natural Gas (FLNG) is gaining the more attention. To date, there is only one such plant under construction by Shell Gas, and is expected to open in 2017.

The main economic advantage of FLNG is that it cuts down the cost of pumping gas via long pipelines to shore. This technology since it is onsite, drastically that it cuts down the cost of pumping gas via long pipelines to shore. This technology since it is onsite, drastically cuts down this cost.

Environmentally, FLNG preserves the land and surrounding area because there is no need for compression units to pump gas, and no dredging and jetty constructions. This means that the carbon footprint is significantly low. Not only onshore, but marine life is also preserved by this innovative technology.