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Natural Gas and the Environment - continued
« on: May 11, 2013, 09:17:06 PM »
Smog, Air Quality and Acid Rain

Smog and poor air quality is a pressing environmental problem, particularly for large metropolitan cities. Smog, the primary constituent of which is ground level ozone, is formed by a chemical reaction of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and heat from sunlight.

As well as creating that familiar smoggy haze commonly found surrounding large cities, particularly in the summer time, smog and ground level ozone can contribute to respiratory problems ranging from temporary discomfort to long-lasting, permanent lung damage.

Pollutants contributing to smog come from a variety of sources, including vehicle emissions, smokestack emissions, paints, and solvents. Because the reaction to create smog requires heat, smog problems are the worst in the summertime.

The use of natural gas does not contribute significantly to smog formation, as it emits low levels of nitrogen oxides, and virtually no particulate matter. For this reason, it can be used to help combat smog formation in those areas where ground level air quality is poor.

The main sources of nitrogen oxides are electric utilities, motor vehicles, and industrial plants. Increased natural gas use in the electric generation sector, a shift to cleaner natural gas vehicles, or increased industrial natural gas use, could all serve to combat smog production, especially in urban centers where it is needed the most.

Particularly in the summertime, when natural gas demand is lowest and smog problems are the greatest, industrial plants and electric generators could use natural gas to fuel their operations instead of other, more polluting fossil fuels. This would effectively reduce the emissions of smog causing chemicals, and result in clearer, healthier air around urban centers.

For more information on smog, including the major contributors to smog formation and what is currently being done to combat smog levels, visit the EPA's smog information section.

Particulate emissions also cause the degradation of air quality. These particulates can include soot, ash, metals, and other airborne particles. A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 1998, entitled 'Cars and Trucks and Air Pollution', showed that the risk of premature death for residents in areas with high airborne particulate matter was 26 percent greater than for those in areas with low particulate levels.

Natural gas emits virtually no particulates into the atmosphere: in fact, emissions of particulates from natural gas combustion are 90 percent lower than from the combustion of oil, and 99 percent lower than burning coal. Thus increased natural gas use in place of other dirtier hydrocarbons can help to reduce particulate emissions in the world. 

Current consequences stemming from global warming raised by the Union of Concerned Scientists can be found on their site.

Acid rain is another environmental problem that affects much of the developed world, damaging crops, forests, wildlife populations, and causing respiratory and other illnesses in humans.

Acid rain is formed when sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides react with water vapor and other chemicals in the presence of sunlight to form various acidic compounds in the air. The principle source of acid rain-causing pollutants, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, are coal fired power plants.

Since natural gas emits virtually no sulfur dioxide, and up to 80 percent less nitrogen oxides than the combustion of coal, increased use of natural gas could provide for fewer acid rain causing emissions.

Industrial and Electric Generation Emissions

Pollutant emissions from the industrial sector and electric utilities contribute greatly to environmental problems in developed countries. The use of natural gas to power both industrial boilers and processes and the generation of electricity can significantly improve the emissions profiles for these two sectors.

Natural gas is becoming an increasingly important fuel in the generation of electricity. As well as providing an efficient, competitively priced fuel for the generation of electricity, the increased use of natural gas allows for the improvement in the emissions profile of the electric generation industry.

According to the National Environmental Trust (NET), now Pew Charitable Trusts (PEW), in their 2002 publication entitled 'Cleaning up Air Pollution from America's Power Plants', power plants in the U.S. account for 67 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions, 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, 25 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions, and 34 percent of mercury emissions. Coal fired power plants are the greatest contributors to these types of emissions.

In fact, according to World Watch Report 184, natural gas combined cycle power plants emit half as much carbon dioxide as modern super critical coal plants.

Natural gas-fired electric generation and natural gas-powered industrial applications offer a variety of environmental benefits and environmentally friendly uses, including:

Fewer Emissions - Combustion of natural gas, used in the generation of electricity, industrial boilers, and other applications, emits lower levels of NOx, CO2, and particulate emissions, and virtually no SO2 and mercury emissions.

Natural gas can be used in place of, or in addition to, other fossil fuels, including coal, oil, or petroleum coke, which emit significantly higher levels of these pollutants.

Reduced Sludge – Coal-fired power plants and industrial boilers that use scrubbers to reduce SO2 emissions levels generate thousands of tons of harmful sludge. Combustion of natural gas emits extremely low levels of SO2, eliminating the need for scrubbers, and reducing the amounts of sludge associated with power plants and industrial processes.

Reburning - This process involves injecting natural gas into coal or oil fired boilers. The addition of natural gas to the fuel mix can result in NOx emission reductions of 50 to 70 percent, and SO2 emission reductions of 20 to 25 percent.

Cogeneration - The production and use of both heat and electricity can increase the energy efficiency of electric generation systems and industrial boilers, which translates to the combustion of less fuel and the emission of fewer pollutants. Natural gas is the preferred choice for new cogeneration applications.

Combined Cycle Generation – Combined-cycle generation units generate electricity and capture normally wasted heat energy, using it to generate more electricity. Like cogeneration applications, this increases energy efficiency, uses less fuel, and thus produces fewer emissions.

Natural gas-fired combined-cycle generation units can be up to 60 percent energy efficient, whereas coal and oil generation units are typically only 30 to 35 percent efficient.

Fuel Cells - Natural gas fuel cell technologies are in development for the generation of electricity. Fuel cells are sophisticated devices that use hydrogen to generate electricity, much like a battery.

No emissions are involved in the generation of electricity from fuel cells, and natural gas, being a hydrogen rich source of fuel, can be used. Although still under development, widespread use of fuel cells could in the future significantly reduce the emissions associated with the generation of electricity.

Essentially, electric generation and industrial applications that require energy, particularly for heating, use the combustion of fossil fuels for that energy. Because of its clean burning nature, the use of natural gas wherever possible, either in conjunction with other fossil fuels, or instead of them, can help to reduce the emission of harmful pollutants.

According to the Congressional Research Service’s 2010 report: “Displacing Coal with Generation from Existing Natural-Gas Fired Power Plants,” if natural-gas combined cycle plants utilization were to be doubled from 42 percent capacity factor to 85 percent, then the amount of power generated would displace 19 percent of the CO2 emissions attributed to coal-fired electricity generation.

Pollution from the Transportation Sector - Natural Gas Vehicles

The transportation sector (particularly cars, trucks, and buses) is one of the greatest contributors to air pollution in the United States.

Emissions from vehicles contribute to smog, low visibility, and various greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), about half of all air pollution and more than 80 percent of air pollution in cities are produced by cars and trucks. Currently, automobile manufacturers are under pressure to produce more environmentally friendly vehicles.

Natural gas can be used in the transportation sector to cut down on these high levels of pollution from gasoline and diesel powered cars, trucks, and buses. According to the EPA, compared to traditional vehicles, vehicles operating on compressed natural gas have reductions in carbon monoxide emissions of 90 to 97 percent, and reductions in carbon dioxide emissions of 25 percent.

Nitrogen oxide emissions can be reduced by 35 to 60 percent, and other non-methane hydrocarbon emissions could be reduced by as much as 50 to 75 percent. In addition, because of the relatively simple makeup of natural gas in comparison to traditional vehicle fuels, there are fewer toxic and carcinogenic emissions from natural gas vehicles, and virtually no particulate emissions. Thus the environmentally friendly attributes of natural gas may be used in the transportation sector to reduce air pollution.

Natural gas vehicles represent a growing segment of the transportation sector.  According to the Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition, the use of natural gas for vehicles doubled between 2003 and 2009. 

Over 100,000 natural gas vehicles are currently on US roads.  A large portion of those vehicles are transit buses, which account for nearly 62 percent of all natural gas vehicles.

Natural gas is the cleanest of the fossil fuels, and thus its many applications can serve to decrease harmful pollution levels from all sectors, particularly when used together with or replacing other fossil fuels.

The natural gas industry itself is also committed to ensuring that the process of producing natural gas is as environmentally-friendly as possible. The Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition has more information regarding natural gas-powered vehicles.

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Adewale Odubiyi
Owner, Nigeria Oil & Gas Forum

Nigeria Oil & Gas Forum

Natural Gas and the Environment - continued
« on: May 11, 2013, 09:17:06 PM »


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