Advantages and Disadvantages of Natural Gas
Natural Gas is a fossil fuel that exist in a gaseous state and is composed mainly of methane (CH4) a small percentage of other hydrocarbons (e.g. ethane). The use of natural gas is becoming more and more popular as it can be used with commercial, industrial, electric power generation and residential applications. Various schools, hospitals, hotels, motels, restaurants, office buildings also use natural gas for cooking and water and space heating. It is popular because of its property of instant heating and thus commercially used, in hotels, restaurants, motels, small manufacturing units, commercial office buildings, hospitals and schools mainly for cooking and heating purposes.
Natural gas is produced along with coal and oil beds. It is found deep inside the earth and drilled in same way was oil. It is cheaper and cleaner than gasoline and produce less greenhouse emissions than its counterparts. It burns completely and can be safely stored.
Natural gas can be used in the form of compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquified petroleum gas (LPG). It has two sides to it. Let us examine the pros and cons of using natural gas:
Advantages of Natural Gas
1. Less Harmful than Coal or Oil: As compared to petroleum or coal, natural gas causes less damage to the environment. It is made up of methane and results in less carbon emissions. In fact emissions of carbon dioxide are 45% lesser than other conventional fuels and 30% less than oil.
2. Easy Storage and Transport: Natural gas is easier to preserve than other fuels. It can be stored and transported through pipelines, small storage units, cylinders or tankers on land and sea.
3. Residential Use: Natural gas can be piped into houses for heating and cooking purposes and running a variety of appliances. Where there are no pipes, it can be supplied in small tanks.
4. Vehicle Fuel: Natural gas can be used as a fuel for vehicles (cars, trucks, jet engines). It is a cleaner, cheaper fuel than diesel or gasoline.
5. Burns Cleaner: Natural gas burns cleaner without leaving any smell, ash or smoke.
6. Instant energy: Natural gas is an economic and instant fuel for heating water and large areas as well as cooking. It is ideal because it provides precise control and quick results. It helps in oven cooking as it does not require pre-heating.
7. Precision in Kitchen: Natural gas is the best fuel to power kitchens because of its control, reliability and precision. A gas flame provides for precise temperature control and variety of heat settings allowing shift from hot to cold or vice versa, with the turning of the knob.
8. Industrial use: Natural gas is used for producing hydrogen, ammonia for fertilizers and some paints and plastics.
9. Abundant: It is relatively abundant compared to other fossil fuels, burns more cleanly and is easy to distribute.
10. Safer: It is lighter than air and tends to dissipate when there is a leakage unlike Propane, which being heavier than air, collects into explosive pockets.
11. Versatile: It can be used for heating, drying clothes, cooking, backing up generator power, and many other uses.
12. Cheaper: Natural gas is cheaper than electricity. It is quicker when used for cooking and heating water and majority of gas appliances are cheaper than electric appliances.
13. Neater: Gas appliances do not create electric fields which are unhealthy near your homes.
14. Used to Produce Electricity: In the U.S., itself, 30% of natural gas is used to produce electricity.
Disadvantages of Natural Gas
1. Toxic and Flammable: Leaks of natural gas are tremendously dangerous. Such leaks may cause explosions or fire. When inhaled, the gas is highly toxic. The main danger is that it is odorless and leaks cannot be detected unless some odorant has been added to the gas. It is for this reason that LPG (residentially used gas) is suffused with odorants, that in the event of a leak, detection is easy and appropriate actions can be taken. In the case of an underground leak, we are helpless as odorant becomes weaker and the gas leak goes undetected.
2. Damage to Environment: Burning of natural gas also releases carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other carbon compounds which are greenhouse gases that cause global warming and climate change. Even though it is cleaner than oil or coal as far as its by products are concerned, leakage of natural gas can be have serious consequences as methane is more toxic than carbon dioxide.
3. Complex Processing: For use as fuel, except for methane, all other constituents of natural gas have to be extracted. Processing results in many byproducts: hydrocarbons (propane, ethane etc.), sulfur, water, helium, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide.
4. Non-Renewable: Like all fossil fuels, natural gas though found in abundance is non-renewable and hence likely to be exhausted at some point of time. It is not a long term solution to our energy problems.
5. Expensive Installation: The infrastructure for natural gas production and distribution is fairly expensive. This includes separate plumbing systems and specialized tanks.
6. Inefficiency in Transportation: Natural gas when used as a fuel in vehicles provides less mileage than gasoline.
In spite of disadvantages, the entire process of producing, transporting and making use of natural gas provides an energy efficiency which is best among all fossil fuels. It proves to be less harmful to environment when it comes to pollution. It may not last forever but as of today it is the most popular energy source.
Image credit: natgasnow , Rockershirt
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