Natural gas is distributed either in its compressed gaseous (CNG) or cooled liquefied state (LNG). The share of Liquefied Natural Gas in total natural gas consumption has increased continuously in many markets, thus drawing more and more attention from both suppliers and customers.
A major driver for this shift is the competitive price of natural gas compared to oil and other energy sources. Additionally, in many markets, traditional gas resources previously used to feed local gas networks have been depleted and are being replaced with imported LNG.
As such, LNG can also easily be used beyond traditional grid injection – for example as fuel for transport vehicles or ships, taking advantage of the higher energy density of LNG and therefore reaching an acceptable distance between refuelings.
Advantages of LNG
The higher energy density of Liquefied Natural Gas is the crucial advantage over its gaseous counterpart CNG and many other refined products. When natural gas is liquefied by cooling it down to approximately -161 °C, it contracts to 1/600th of its original volume.
As a result, LNG can be stored, transported and used as a fuel in a convenient and cost-efficient way. Moreover, it also offers the opportunity to produce in remote regions with no access to pipelines, thus allowing the development of local natural gas resources.
LNG has been well known since the first half of the 20th century. LNG technologies have also been established for many years and have proven that LNG is ready for everyday use. At the same time, improved technical solutions are now needed for small-scale applications, e.g. in the transportation sector.
Based on its extensive engineering and operational experience, the industry is driving the development of such solutions, covering a range of efficient small-scale production and storage units as well as LNG and LCNG fueling stations.
Natural gas is non-toxic as well as non-corrosive and can be safely used. Its high ignition temperature of 649 °C (gasoline: 315 °C) and limited flammability range (5 % to 15 % in air) make its unintentional combustion unlikely.
Liquefied Natural Gas vapour is also lighter than air, i.e. less likely to cause a fire hazard and unable to pollute soil and water compared to other fuels that are heavier than air. In case of leakage, LNG evaporates, rises into the atmosphere and dissipates.
Advantages of Natural Gas
Security of supply
Global resources of natural gas are enormous and widely distributed around the globe. In recent years, innovations in extraction techniques have led to the development of many new natural gas reserves.
Today’s estimated U.S. gas reserves, for example, are 40 % higher than they were a few years ago. Moreover, a significant amount of natural gas still remains to be discovered, which makes it difficult to estimate the actual size of all reserves.
One thing, however, is certain when the world’s oil supply will run low, there will still be enough natural gas left, as this energy source is expected to last at least another 100 to 150 years.
Due to the large amount of natural gas reserves, natural gas prices have decoupled from oil prices. While, in the last 20 years, natural gas has sold at about two-thirds of the price of oil (per unit energy), it is now selling at around one quarter of the price of oil in some markets.
In most other markets, its price is still significantly lower than that of alternative oil products. Even if the spread between natural gas and oil prices fluctuates, the more abundant supply of natural gas will continue to maintain low and stable natural gas prices for years to come.
Natural gas is widely considered as a more environmentally friendly energy carrier with a promising future. For example, it generates almost 20 % less CO2 than crude oil and nearly 45 % less CO2 than coal (when combusted). It also produces virtually no SO2 emissions, less NOx emissions and less solid particle emissions than other fuels.
Furthermore, natural gas can also be obtained from renewable sources such as biomass and biogenic raw materials. More and more research and development efforts are being focused on the improvement of this sustainable production method.