What You Need To Know About Natural Gas Power

What You Need To Know About Natural Gas Power

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This page may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that I have recommended. There is no additional cost to you whatsoever.

This is the ultimate article in a six-part series that explores how we get our electrical energy and what we have to find out about how renewable — and non-renewable — electrical energy is generated.

Electricity use is a serious part of Americans’ ecological footprint, and completely different power sources have very completely different environmental impacts. But we are inclined to pay much less consideration to electrical energy than different areas, like recycling and plastic use, the place it seems like people have extra management. After all, we will’t store for electrical utilities the best way we do web suppliers.

Yet it’s vital to grasp the place your power comes from and the way it impacts your ecological footprint.

Natural Gas Power

Although most individuals consider coal when they consider fossil fuels, pure fuel is the biggest supply of electrical energy within the United States.

Nationwide, we generate 40.5% of our electricity utilizing pure fuel. That’s greater than coal’s 19.3%. Despite great development in renewable energy over the previous decade, pure fuel accounts for rather more U.S. power manufacturing than all renewable power sources mixed. However, reliance on pure fuel varies widely all through the nation. For instance, Long Island will get almost 85% of its electrical energy from pure fuel whereas Hawaii doesn’t use it for electrical energy manufacturing in any respect.

Getting Natural Gas

Natural fuel is a naturally occurring fossil gas that varieties, like coal, from the decomposition of organic matter below stress and warmth over the course of centuries.

Unlike coal, which is made up of carbonaceous solids, pure fuel is made from methane, an odorless fuel that migrates via soil till it turns into trapped in nonpermeable underground reservoirs. The notorious methane odor is definitely ethyl mercapton, a chemical that’s added to pure fuel to make leaks simpler to detect. It is usually mistaken for, however is completely different from, the naturally occurring chemical compounds that trigger the odor of sewer gas.

Like oil, most pure fuel is drilled from underground reservoirs in a wide range of geological circumstances that may vary from pretty accessible, or typical, pure fuel to technologically difficult, often called unconventional pure fuel. Some examples of unconventional fuel embrace deep pure fuel, shale fuel, and coalbed methane. Extraction of every of those and different unconventional fuel sources have distinctive challenges and impacts.

schematic geology of natural gas resources
This diagram illustrates the most important geological sources of pure fuel within the U.S. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

A a lot smaller, however much less damaging, supply of methane is landfill gas, a byproduct of the decomposition of natural matter in a landfill. Landfill fuel is a robust greenhouse fuel when it escapes into the environment or is burned. But 60% to 90% of landfill fuel may be captured for electrical energy manufacturing. This quantity doesn’t considerably offset the usage of drilled pure fuel, nevertheless it does make a landfill rather more sustainable.

Once extracted, pure fuel have to be purified to take away water vapor and nonhydrocarbon compounds to make it burn extra effectively. In North America, pure fuel is normally transported via a 305,000-mile system of pipelines, nevertheless it will also be cooled and transformed right into a liquid for transport or trucking to locations that aren’t linked to pipelines.

How Natural Gas Works

The most effective use of purified pure fuel is as a direct energy supply, reminiscent of for heating and cooking, or in its place gas for automobiles. But it will also be used to generate electrical energy. Natural gas power plants add fuel and air to a turbine, the place it combusts and expands. The turbine causes a generator to spin a magnet, making electrical energy. This course of additionally generates warmth, which some pure fuel crops recuperate to be used as nicely.

Using electrochemical reactions as an alternative of combustion, fuel cells are a a lot cleaner approach to generate electrical energy than burning pure fuel. The chemical that fuels the response in gas cells may be pure fuel or hydrogen, which is normally obtained from pure fuel. When used to exchange of diesel mills at drilling websites, gas cells may even make pure fuel extraction slightly bit cleaner and extra energy-efficient.

However, gas cell-generated electrical energy remains to be principally used for off-grid functions; the know-how will not be sufficiently developed to be sensible or cost-effective as an alternative choice to pure fuel combustion.

gas stove top, two burners burning
Image: PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Environmental Impacts of Natural Gas

Among fossil fuels, pure fuel burns the cleanest. The solely emissions from burning purified pure fuel are carbon dioxide and water vapor.

Until just lately, individuals thought of these byproducts innocent. However, we now know that carbon dioxide is a serious contributor to local weather change. Despite being unsustainable, pure fuel nonetheless comes out forward of different fossil fuels because it releases 45% much less CO2 than coal and a 3rd lower than oil.

Like different fossil fuels, pure fuel is nonrenewable, and it has vital environmental impacts moreover emissions. While by no means insignificant, the environmental affect of pure fuel drilling can fluctuate broadly relying on the accessibility of the fuel. A easy vertical drill can have extra restricted impacts than different extraction strategies, which may be devastating. For instance, fracking requires a lot water that it might affect native hydrological options; it produces poisonous wastewater, which can be radioactive. Fracking also can produce earthquakes. It has additionally been linked to health impacts in neighboring communities.

Fire on flare stack at gas processing plant
Natural fuel flaring, frequent in fuel and oil manufacturing, produces CO2, carbon monoxide, and lots of different compounds, in response to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Scientists are at present working to grasp how a gaggle of microbes referred to as methanogens generate methane. If they’re profitable, they might design electrodes that might permit for microbial “factories” to sustainably produce methane fuel.

Developing a biogenic manufacturing technique would make pure fuel a renewable useful resource. But it will not clear up the issue of carbon emissions from burning pure fuel.

What You Can Do

Although customers don’t have a lot say in shaping the ability combine on their electrical grid, many power corporations like Pacific Gas and Electric Company or Puget Sound Energy do supply clients renewable power packages. By subscribing to such an possibility, customers mainly subsidize the utility’s buy of greener energy. This helps sustainable power suppliers develop to a scale the place they grow to be worth aggressive. Contact your native utility supplier to seek out out if such a program is accessible the place you reside.

No matter what supply provides the electrical energy to your house, probably the most sustainable selection is to make use of much less of it. If you aren’t certain the place you can enhance, begin with a home energy audit and prioritize changes based mostly on the outcomes. Many native utility corporations even have efficiency programs to assist clients scale back their power use.

  What You Need To Know About Electricity

Originally printed on February 17, 2020, this text was up to date in December 2022.