What is natural gas? Everything you need to know about this energy of the future

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Would you like to learn more about natural gas?

Here is a guide to this fuel of the future. You will find the information you are looking for and more on natural gas!

What is natural gas?

Natural gas is a hydrocarbon. Like the other elements in this class of organic compounds, crude oil and coal, it is made up of carbon and hydrogen.

Natural gas is mainly composed of methane in its raw state but can also contain ethane, propane, butane and pentane. These constituents, which are present in smaller quantities, are known as natural gas liquids (NGLs).

Raw natural gas can also contain non-energy materials such as nitrogen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulphide and water. These non-energy constituents and most NGLs are removed from natural gas in the pre-market processing stage.

How does natural gas form?

Natural gas is a fossil fuel, meaning it is formed by the decomposition of plant or animal matter buried in layers of sedimentary rock. Millions of years of pressure and heat exposure transform this matter into hydrocarbons that can take various forms, including gas.

Where is natural gas found?

Often called “fields” or “reserves”, natural gas deposits are pores or fractures in the sedimentary rock that have trapped the gas.

Sedimentary rocks such as sandstones, carbonates and shales are most likely to contain natural gas. They are found all over the globe, both on seabed and in the depths of the earth.

How is natural gas located and extracted?

Geologists and physicists are the first to intervene and study geological formations looking for signs that could indicate the presence of natural gas. Certain zones identified by these specialists are then drilled to the depth where the gas should be located. This can be done using vertical, horizontal or directional drilling.

When a drill hole reaches its target and an accumulation of natural gas is discovered, a casing (made of steel tubing) is inserted into the well. Cement is then injected around the casing to isolate the rock formations containing the gas. The casing is then perforated in the area where the natural gas is found and a steel production tube with valves and piping at the surface is inserted into the casing.

Since natural gas is under high pressure when it is deep, it automatically seeps into the holes drilled in the casing and travels up the casing to the surface where it is harvested. Natural gas usually contains water and impurities at this point.

How is raw natural gas processed?

As mentioned above, raw natural gas contains impurities that must be removed prior to being put on the market.

The most common method currently being used is the extraction of contaminants with a solvent. Treatment plants using this technique are equipped with pumps, heat exchangers and an absorption tower.

Membrane technology can also be used to free natural gas of its impurities. This consists of passing the raw gas through a membrane that will only allow the desired components through.

Most natural gas processing facilities are located near fields or along major pipeline systems.

How is natural gas transported?

Raw natural gas is mainly transported through a network of steel pipelines, then through gathering pipelines to the processing plant. Once processed, the natural gas is introduced under high pressure into pipelines that transport it to local distribution facilities. The natural gas suppliers add an odorant to the gas to help detect leaks.

Distributors can then change the state of the natural gas by changing various parameters, including pressure and temperature. This makes it possible to distribute and sell compressed, liquefied or low-pressure natural gas (traditional network).

How is natural gas stored?

There are different ways to store natural gas in aerial or underground sites.

Aerial storage

In its liquid state, natural gas can be stored in well-insulated cylindrical tanks with a double wall. Typically, the inner wall is made of steel or nickel and the outer wall of steel or concrete. The strength and thermal insulation of this double wall keeps the gas in its liquid form (LNG).

Natural gas can also be stored in its gaseous form in overhead tanks.

Underground storage

Underground storage is an efficient and economical way to store natural gas. It involves storing gas in depleted hydrocarbon deposits, aquifers or saline cavities.

What is natural gas used for?

Natural gas is a fuel used all over the world. Its uses can be classified into four main categories: power generation, industrial uses, transportation fuel, and residential, commercial and light institutional uses.

Electricity production

Natural gas is currently an important energy source in the world since it is widely used as a fuel in thermal power plants.

Using natural gas in these power plants therefore makes it possible to replace coal and other more polluting petroleum products that are also used to generate electricity.

Industrial usage

Natural gas is commonly used as a source of industrial heat and fuel for steam production. It is also widely used as a feedstock in petrochemical and fertilizer plants.

Transportation

Natural gas has been used as fuel in the transportation industry since the 1930s, particularly in the form of compressed natural gas (CNG). It can power various kinds of natural gas vehicles and networks of public fueling stations exist in many countries. More and more transport companies are also using CNG to fuel their heavy trucks and even have their own fueling station.

Liquid natural gas (LNG) is also used in the transport industry, mostly in heavy vehicles such as locomotives.

Residential, commercial and light institutional uses

Residential, commercial and institutional consumers especially use natural gas for heating buildings and water, drying and cooking.

What are the benefits of natural gas?

Natural gas has many properties that make its use beneficial.

First, it has a much cleaner combustion than traditional fuels do, which makes it a great ally in the fight against climate change. For example, natural gas engines emit 25% less greenhouse gases than diesel engines.

Its availability, safety, reliability and efficiency also make it a prime fuel for residential, commercial and industrial applications, as well as for electricity generation.

Additionally, the price of natural gas fluctuates less than that of other petroleum products.

For more information on compressed natural gas

We hope you learned more about this energy source with our overview of natural gas.

At EBI, we strive to make this fuel of the future shine by using CNG as a fuel for our trucks and by offering CNG refueling to the general public and businesses in several Quebec regions. Contact us for more information on CNG!