What is Natural Gas? 10 Things You Might not Know

Science & technology

Natural gas – it heats our homes, powers our appliances, generates electricity and can even fuel vehicles. This versatile and abundant resource is contributing to emissions reductions all over the world. Consumption of natural gas across Europe increased by more than 5% between 2016 and 20171.

Though natural gas is in the news quite a bit, many people only associate it with home heating and cooking. We’re here to fix that. We’ve assembled 10 facts to help you learn about the energy we use every day. Naturally, we think they’re a gas.

What is Natural Gas?

1. What is natural gas?

Natural gas is primarily methane – a carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. It’s found underground and supplies 22 percent2  of the world’s energy. That number is set to grow in the next 20 years, as natural gas use is likely to increase3 more than any other energy source.

What is Natural Gas?

2. It goes by a lot of names.

When natural gas is cooled to -260°F it condenses. This is called liquefied natural gas, or LNG. In its liquid form, specially designed ships can transport LNG around the world. When natural gas is extracted from the ground, it’s processed to remove heavier components; these heavier components are called natural gas liquids, or NGLs – such as ethane, butane and propane. These are important feedstocks that help us produce everyday products.

3. It’s quite a complement – to renewable energy.

As renewable energy continues to grow as a source of electricity, natural gas-fired power plants stand out as a strong complement to renewables to ensure a reliable and resilient power grid. This efficient, flexible power source is ready to supplement dips in renewable energy on cloudy and windless days.

What is Natural Gas?

4. It’s lighter than air.

Natural gas, specifically methane, is less dense than carbon dioxide, so it’s technically lighter than air. In its gaseous state, it also takes up a great deal of volume, making it challenging to transport, so companies can pressurise it to allow transportation across land through pipelines.

5. It’s hitting new highs…

Globally, demand for natural gas is projected to grow by about 40 percent from 2016 to 20404. Together, Asia Pacific and Europe are projected to account for up to 95 percent5 of the growth of LNG imports from 2016 to 2040.

6. …and helping us reach new (carbon) lows.

Natural gas has a lower carbon footprint than other traditional energy sources. For example, it emits up to 60 percent less CO2 than coal6 in electricity generation. When paired with carbon capture and storage (CCS), which could capture up to 90 percent of emissions7, it has the potential to help reduce our energy’s footprint even more.

What is Natural Gas?

7. The smell of gas isn’t actually the gas itself.

In its natural state, natural gas is tasteless, colourless and odourless. Gas’s tell-tale scent is actually from an additive that is deliberately added to make it smell and easier to detect.

8. Gas is going places.

Within the transport sector, natural gas-powered engines can also help reduce emissions. An increasing number of cities have buses running on natural gas8 – and there were an estimated 1.8 million natural gas-powered vehicles on the roads of Europe in 20189, with nearly 5,000 fuelling stations across the continent. Meanwhile on the high seas, a new generation of ships are using LNG to power their engines and transport the fuel around the world, a win-win for this evolving fuel technology.

What is Natural Gas?

9. Call it the incredible shrinking gas.

And speaking of LNG, liquefied natural gas takes up 1/600 the space of natural gas; that’s like shrinking the volume of a beach ball down to a ping-pong ball, saving space so LNG ships can maximize the energy transported each trip10.

10. A flair for energy – but a lot less flaring.

To further enhance natural gas emissions benefits versus other fuels, ExxonMobil has committed to reducing natural gas flaring by 25 percent and lowering methane emissions by 15 percent11 from its operations by 2020. The company is finding new ways to make each part of the production process better, so that as natural gas production continues to increase, emissions drop.

 

Sources:

  1. Eurostat
  2. International Energy Agency
  3. ExxonMobil – 2018 Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040
  4. ExxonMobil – 2018 Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040
  5. ExxonMobil – 2018 Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040
  6. ExxonMobil
  7. London School of Economics and Political Science
  8. NGV Global News
  9. NGV Global
  10. ExxonMobil – The Bigger the Ships, the Fewer the Trips
  11. ExxonMobil – ExxonMobil Announces Greenhouse Gas Reduction Measures

 

Tags:   CNGcompressed natural gasliquified natural gasLNGmethanenatural gasWhat is natural gas?
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