"The earth’s cleanest burning hydrocarbon"
Natural gas (NG) is the earth’s cleanest burning hydrocarbon, found all over the world, alone or in association with crude oil, both on land and on the ocean floor. Global NG production amounted to some 4.09 trillion m3 (1 m3 of NG = 10.55 kWh) in 2022 [STAT, 2023].
NG is a naturally occurring mixture of gaseous hydrocarbons consisting primarily of methane (60-90%), in addition to various smaller amounts of other higher alkanes (paraffin). NG produced out of wells typically goes through numerous stages of purification as it makes its way to the end user. Also, it is important to say that methane is the 2nd largest GHG contributor to global climate change after CO2.
Transmission & distribution pipelines
While transmission pipelines may operate at pressures over 1000 psi (68 atm - Nord Stream Gas Pipeline works at 100 atm), distribution systems operate at much lower pressures. Some gas lines (2 to 24 inches in diameter) in a distribution system may operate up to 200 psi (13 atm), but the small service lines that deliver gas to individual homes are typically well under 10 psi (0.68 atm). NG dispensed in a residential setting can generate temperatures in excess of 1,100 °C making it a powerful domestic cooking & heating fuel.
As fuel for vehicles
NG is typically compressed to 200-250 bar for use in vehicles. At standard temperature & pressure, natural gas has a density of 0.7-0.9 kg/m³, depending on the composition.
Russo-Ukraine conflict effect
As EU is looking to phase out Russia-sourced NG by 2027 due to the country's war w/ Ukraine, Russia, the world’s 2nd largest natural gas producer and the second largest exporter of the fuel, has pivoted its energy export trade to the east, w/ China & India propping up the country's NG export market [INN, 2023].
Liquefied NG (LNG)
NG can also be shipped over long distances as a liquid (LNG). chilled to -162 °C, at atmospheric pressure, which reduces the gas volume by 600 times making it possible to transport very high energy content over short & long distances in specially-designed ocean tankers & trucks. Global LNG trade grew by an impressive 6.8% last year reaching a new record of 401.5 million tons,
At close to atmospheric pressure by cooling it to approximately -162 °C, maximum transport pressure is set at around 25 kPa (4 psi) (gauge pressure), which is about 1.25 times atm pressure at sea level. At the destination (receiving terminal), it is re-heated and converted back to a gas via regasification, and sent thru pipelines for delivery to end-users [IGU, 2023]. NG tanks typically operate at pressures up to 850 kPa (~123 psi or 8,8 atm).
Major consumers & producers
Both North America & Europe are major consumers of NG. Global LNG fleet consists of 668 vessels, 45 floating storage regasification unit (FSRU), and 8 floating storage units (FSU) [Poder, 2023]. Figure 1 shows the largest producers of NG in 2022, and Figure 2, the leading NG exporting countries in 2022.
Figure 1: Largest producers of NG (2022)
Figure 2: The leading NG exporting countries