What is Natural Gas?
Natural gas is a colorless and odorless fossil fuel with high amounts of methane (CH4) and and a few other hydrocarbons. It is an important source of fuel due to its production of clean energy. Natural gas occurs along with oil and a few other constituents like water, sulfur, and carbon dioxide.
Basically, natural gas is a compound that is made up of carbon and hydrogen. It naturally occurs below the surface of the earth and is used as fuel. Natural gas occurs in combination with either oil or petroleum-which explains the element of their flammability.
Besides methane (CH4), other elements inherent in its structure include butane, ethane, propane, sulfur and water molecules. The latter components are in small quantities and are usually eliminated during the refining process.
Impurities that are inherent in its structure include nitrogen, sulfur, water, oil, carbon dioxide and a few others. However, these impurities are eliminated during the refining process.
Like other fossil fuels, Natural gas too is extracted from below the surface of the earth. It is formed through decomposition of living matter that is subjected under high pressure beneath the earth. Each day, many cubic units of natural gas are consumed. It’s barely impossible for people to go for a day without natural gas. It is used both at home and in industries as well.
Natural gas occurs in sedimentary rocks. These rocks are found beneath the earth’s surface and are porous. This gas is consumed as found in nature. No major transformation processes are involved. Non-methane components such as water and carbon dioxide are removed to prevent the gas from solidifying during cooling.
Natural gas is obtained through the fracking (hydraulic fracturing) process. From there, it is purified and then stored for transportation as either a gas or in liquefied form.
The fact that this gas is flammable and burns cleanly makes it one of the most used clean energy sources. The only shortcoming it accrues is that it’s a member of the fossil fuels, some of which are associated with carbon dioxide emission.
Characteristics / Features of natural gas
It possesses some features that make it a unique fuel. Some of them are highlighted below.
1. It is combustible. Natural gas combusts easily due to high methane composition in its structure.
2. It is non-corrosive. High methane composition and low carbon content make natural a less corrosive substance.
3. Natural gas has no taste. It is a tasteless gas
4. The gas is non-poisonous. High methane and nitrogen compounds in
5. It is lighter than air. Natural gas has a lower density than air.
6. Natural gas has a narrow flammability range. Flammability range of natural gas is about 5-15% when mixed with air.
7. It is inodorous. Natural gas has no particular smell.
8. It has a high ignition temperature. Natural gas requires fairly high temperatures to ignite.
9. It is colorless. Natural gas lacks a definite color
10. The gas is non-viscous. It flows easily in air and underground pipes. This facilitates easier transportation.
Even though natural gas is a member of the fossil fuels, it has a good reputation of producing clean energy. Its production method is cheaper than hydropower generation. It’s easy availability explains why it is a common source of energy in many homes.
Advantages of Natural Gas
Alongside coal and oil, natural gas is a fossil fuel. Nevertheless, there are several benefits to using this type of fuel which make it an advantageous choice.
1. Natural gas provides electricity. Major Countries and cities use natural gas to produce their electricity.
2. It is cheaper than electricity. Natural gas costs less than electricity. Additionally, gas appliances are also cheaper to obtain.
3. Less emission of green gasses. Though natural gas is not a completely ‘clean’ gas as it does contribute to the greenhouse effect, it is cleaner than oil and coal. Natural gas releases half of the amount of CO2 into the environment than coal does, for instance. This lowers the cases of global warming.
4. Natural gas is safe for use. Natural gas is less dense than air; hence, it dissipates during a leakage thereby minimizing chances of an explosion. Its fossil counterparts like propane are extremely explosive.
5. It has a wide variety of uses. Natural gas is used to produce electricity, cook food, heat substances and also back up power generators. It is also used in industries that produce hydrogen, fertilizers, and other products.
6. It is used in industries. Natural gas is used in industrial processes that manufacture ammonia, hydrogen, plastics, and paints.
7. It is not as harmful as other fossil fuels. Natural gas is made up of methane which produces fewer amounts of carbon dioxide. Its carbon dioxide emission is less than that of petroleum and even far lesser than that of oil.
8. Natural gas can be transported in multiple ways. There are several ways through which natural gas can be transported. It can either be through the land, sea, or rail.
9. It is used to power vehicles. It provides a better fuel economy for vehicle owners. Natural gas is used to fuel cars and jet engines because it is cleaner and cheaper than oil or gasoline.
10. It is reliable. Natural gas is abundant, and you can expect to have your smaller unit refilled any time. Also, the heat settings on many of its appliances help people control heat quantity.
11. It is available in plenty. When compared to other fossil fuels, natural gas is more abundant. Natural gas also exists in greater abundance than coal and oil do. Though experts have warned that our coal reserves could run out in as little as 40-50 years, we have enough stores of natural gas on the planet to last us for nearly one more century.
12. It ignites easily. The methane compound in natural gas makes it easily combustible.
13. Alternative to coal and oil: Natural gas is also a pretty cheap alternative to coal and oil. It is in fact a proverbially cheap fuel.
14. It is available during power outage. Even when power is out, you can rely on natural gas to meet your energy needs.
Disadvantages of Natural gas
1. It is extremely flammable. It is highly explosive. When transported under high temperatures, natural gas can ignite leading to explosions. These explosions can cause fire leading to casualties.
2. Natural gas is poisonous. Natural gas is toxic. What makes it even dangerous is its lack of odor and color. This can make it very hard to detect.
3. It causes damage to the environment. It still emits some green gasses. Just like oil, petrol and other similar fuels, burning it produces carbon dioxide leading to global warming and eventually climate change.
4. It cannot be renewed. Even though natural gas is available in abundance, it will eventually run out since it is non-renewable.
5. It has too many processing stages. Natural gas has over five other elements in its structure. In order to remain with methane only, many complicated steps are undertaken. While the stages of its production are few, they are extremely hard to grasp.
6. Its infrastructure is costly to acquire. Natural gas installation requires a lot of money to complete successfully. The specialized tanks, plumbing needs, and acquisition of labor make the entire process expensive.
7. It not a better fuel alternative for vehicles. Vehicles cover longer mileage while on gasoline than natural gas. Energy produced by natural gas is very low compared to the energy produced by a similar amount of gasoline.
8. It depletes water sources. Fracking process uses a lot of water that would have been used elsewhere.
9. It destroys the ecosystem. Natural gas production methods destroy habitats for other organisms while setting up their plant.
10. It disturbs aquatic life. Leakage from underground pipeline transportation that passes through water bodies contaminates water killing water organisms.
11. It is likely to get depleted. The number of people who rely on natural gas is very high. Sooner or later, we will have a shortage of this precious gas.
12. It prevents the growth of other energy sources. Widespread use of natural gas has led to a decline in the use of other energy alternatives like wind power.
Coming across a perfect source of energy is hard. All of them have their advantages and disadvantages. While natural gas too has it downs, it is one of the best and cheapest sources of energy compared to other fossil fuels. However, it is best to move away from polluting fossil fuels towards greener alternatives, such as solar energy.