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Natural Gas Uses

Natural gas is primarily used in the northern hemisphere. North America and Europe are major consumers.

Mid-stream natural gas

Often well head gases require removal of various hydrocarbon molecules contained within the gas. Some of these gases include heptane, pentane, propane and other hydrocarbons with molecular weights above methane (CH 4). The natural gas transmission lines extend to the natural gas processing plant or unit which removes the higher molecular weighted hydrocarbons to produce natural gas with energy content between 950–1,050 British thermal units per cubic foot (35–39 MJ/m3). The processed natural gas may then be used for residential, commercial and industrial uses.

Natural gas flowing in the distribution lines is called mid-stream natural gas and is often used to power engines which rotate compressors. These compressors are required in the transmission line to pressurize and repressurize the mid-stream natural gas as the gas travels. Typically, natural gas powered engines require 950–1,050 BTU/cu ft (35–39 MJ/m3) natural gas to operate at the rotational name plate specifications. Several methods are used to remove these higher molecular weighted gases for use by the natural gas engine. A few technologies are as follows:

Power generation[edit source]

Natural gas is a major source of electricity generation through the use of cogeneration, gas turbines and steam turbines. Natural gas is also well suited for a combined use in association with renewable energy sources such as wind or solar and for alimenting peak-load power stations functioning in tandem with hydroelectric plants. Most grid peaking power plants and some off-grid engine-generators use natural gas. Particularly high efficiencies can be achieved through combining gas turbines with a steam turbine in combined cycle mode. Natural gas burns more cleanly than other fuels, such as oil and coal. Because burning natural gas produces both water and carbon dioxide, it produces less carbon dioxide per unit of energy released than coal, which produces mostly carbon dioxide. Burning natural gas produces only about half the carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour (kWh) that coal does.For transportation, burning natural gas produces about 30% less carbon dioxide than burning petroleum. The US Energy Information Administration reports the following emissions in million metric tons of carbon dioxide in the world for 2012

  • Natural gas: 6,799

  • Petroleum: 11,695

  • Coal: 13,787

Coal-fired electric power generation emits around 2,000 pounds (900 kg) of carbon dioxide for every megawatt-hour (MWh) generated, which is almost double the carbon dioxide released by natural gas-fired generation. Because of this higher carbon efficiency of natural gas generation, as the fuel mix in the United States has changed to reduce coal and increase natural gas generation, carbon dioxide emissions have unexpectedly fallen. Those measured in the first quarter of 2012 were the lowest of any recorded for the first quarter of any year since 1992.

Combined cycle power generation using natural gas is currently the cleanest available source of power using hydrocarbon fuels, and this technology is widely and increasingly used as natural gas can be obtained at increasingly reasonable costs. Fuel cell technology may eventually provide cleaner options for converting natural gas into electricity, but as yet it is not price-competitive. Locally produced electricity and heat using natural gas powered Combined Heat and Power plant (CHP or Cogeneration plant) is considered energy efficient and a rapid way to cut carbon emissions.

Natural gas generated power has increased from 740 TWh in 1973 to 5140 TWh in 2014, generating 22% of the worlds total electricity. Approximately half as much as generated with coal.Efforts around the world to reduce the use of coal has led some regions to switch to natural gas.

Domestic use

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.In much of the developed world it is supplied through pipes to homes, where it is used for many purposes including ranges and ovens, gas-heated clothes dryers, heating/cooling, and central heating.Heaters in homes and other buildings may include boilers, furnaces, and water heaters. Both North America and Europe are major consumers of natural gas.

Domestic appliances, furnaces, and boilers use low pressure, usually 6 to 7 inches of water (6" to 7" WC), which is about 0.25 psig. The pressures in the supply lines vary, either utilization pressure (UP, the aforementioned 6" to 7" WC) or elevated pressure (EP), which may be anywhere from 1 psig to 120 psig. Systems using EP have a regulator at the service entrance to step down the pressure to UP.

In the US compressed natural gas (CNG) is available in some rural areas as an alternative to less expensive and more abundant LPG (liquefied petroleum gas), the dominant source of rural gas. It is used in homes lacking direct connections to public utility provided gas, or to fuel portable grills. Natural gas is also supplied by independent natural gas suppliers through Natural Gas Choice programs throughout the United States.

Transportation[edit source]

CNG is a cleaner and also cheaper alternative to other automobile fuels such as gasoline (petrol).[82] 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).[83] The energy efficiency is generally equal to that of gasoline engines, but lower compared with modern diesel engines. Gasoline/petrol vehicles converted to run on natural gas suffer because of the low compression ratio of their engines, resulting in a cropping of delivered power while running on natural gas (10–15%). CNG-specific engines, however, use a higher compression ratio due to this fuel's higher octane number of 120–130.

Besides use in road vehicles, CNG can also be used in aircraft.[85] Compressed natural gas has been used in some aircraft like the Aviat Aircraft Husky 200 CNG[86] and the Chromarat VX-1 KittyHawk

LNG is also being used in aircraft. Russian aircraft manufacturer Tupolev for instance is running a development program to produce LNG- and hydrogen-powered aircraft.[88] The program has been running since the mid-1970s, and seeks to develop LNG and hydrogen variants of the Tu-204 and Tu-334 passenger aircraft, and also the Tu-330 cargo aircraft. Depending on the current market price for jet fuel and LNG, fuel for an LNG-powered aircraft could cost 5,000 rubles (US$100) less per tonne, roughly 60%, with considerable reductions to carbon monoxide, hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide emissions.

The advantages of liquid methane as a jet engine fuel are that it has more specific energy than the standard kerosene mixes do and that its low temperature can help cool the air which the engine compresses for greater volumetric efficiency, in effect replacing an intercooler. Alternatively, it can be used to lower the temperature of the exhaust.

Fertilizers[edit source]

Natural gas is a major feedstock for the production of ammonia, via the Haber process, for use in fertilizer production.

Hydrogen[edit source]

See also: Industrial gas

Natural gas can be used to produce hydrogen, with one common method being the hydrogen reformer. Hydrogen has many applications: it is a primary feedstock for the chemical industry, a hydrogenating agent, an important commodity for oil refineries, and the fuel source in hydrogen vehicles.

Animal and fish feed[edit source]

Protein rich animal and fish feed is produced by feeding natural gas to Methylococcus capsulatus bacteria on commercial scale.


Natural gas is also used in the manufacture of fabrics, glass, steel, plastics, paint, and other products.

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