LNG:The Future of Energy
Written By: Narendra Vishnumolakala
Put simply, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is a mixture of volatile hydrocarbon gases condensed into liquid form. This commodity has been gaining traction around the world for to a variety of different reasons – but is primarily due to transportation cost. Its popularity and demand has grown with the rise of natural gas production and consumption, where LNG will soon take up nearly 25% of global gas usage because of its low production cost and practicality in terms of transportation and storage.
To make LNG, gas is taken and transformed into a cryogenic liquid, where the gas’ volume is significantly condensed – all in order to make global shipping economically feasible. LNG is mainly comprised of methane gas, along with smaller percentages of ethane, propane, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and other heavier hydrocarbons. The end product is an odorless, colorless, non-toxic and non-corrosive liquid – making it an ideal substances for long-distance transportation.
The gas that forms this liquid is condensed to about 1/600th its standard pressure and temperature volume by cooling it to −260 °F (−162 °C). The liquefaction process involves removal of certain components, such as dust, acid gases, helium, water, and heavy hydrocarbons, which could cause difficulty downstream. Afterwards, the low-pressure liquid is moved into storage facilities or large, internationally bound tanker ships headed for markets eager to buy.
As of 2011, the United States has 299.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, which makes up 4.1% of the world’s estimated total. Currently, LNG accounts for 32.3% of global gas
trade, and it is no surprise that the U.S. is eager to start exporting LNG with its +7.7% increase in last year’s gas production. All of this despite lower gas prices at home. The U.S. currently stands as the world’s leader in natural gas production.
With all of this production activity at home, foreign gas prices make LNG exporting an attractive business – where the prices abroad have become quite lucrative. To meet these global energy demands, many import facilities in the U.S. are being converted to export terminals. Currently, thirteen companies in the U.S. have applications filed with the Department of Energy – with plans to export more than 17 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. Large Asia-Pacific economies such as India, Japan, South Korea, and China are in the process of signing long-term contracts with US companies for gas imports. There is an extensive list for the proposed construction and expansion of LNG export & import terminals in North America as of December 2012, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). All of these companies are working rapidly for deployment, but, still, each of these proposals is rigorously evaluated before an LNG terminal can be constructed or expanded. LNG is clearly expected to play an increasingly important role in the natural gas industry and global energy markets in the future.
LNG is in the early stages of becoming a mainstream fuel for personal and commercial transportation needs, as well as an increasingly popular energy used for industrial processes. Apart from being one of the cleanest, safest and most efficient energy sources of energy, LNG has a number of advantages that can make it a major fuel source in future. Some of the benefits are mentioned as follows:
Most environmentally friendly fossil fuel
Growing consumption for power generation and vehicle fuels.
More affordable compared to black products (fuel oil and diesel) and LPG. Typically priced 50% to 75% cheaper than diesel on an energy-equivalent basis – making it an attractive alternative for all modes of transportation
Suitable for consumer purposes such as process, steam recovery, heating and cooking
Applicable in the tourism, steel, paper and ceramic sectors
Safer than traditional fuels
LNG is lighter than air – so, the fumes quickly rise and dissipate.
Has a high ignition temperature and limited flammability range of 5 to 15% (in atmosphere) – compared to gasoline’s 1 to 99% range.
Typically stored at ambient pressures, contributing to higher levels of safety
Research at TAMU
The oil and gas industry is busy developing more complex, higher pressure, higher temperature LNG processes using more reactive chemicals than ever before – all in order to rapidly develop and deploy these facilities. These same complex processes require more complex safety technology as a result, all in order to reduce risk to personnel and the environments in which companies operate.
Texas A&M currently has personnel conducting studies on the specific hazards associated with LNG, all done in order to make this energy source safer to manufacture and use.
Here Now, Here for the Future
Looking ahead, it’s clear that fossil fuels will continue to be an important source of energy as the world struggles to find viable alternatives. Within the hydrocarbon family, the fastest growing production source is natural gas. Natural gas, and LNG by association, is currently viewed as the bridge between the dominant fossil fuel liquids we currently rely on, and renewable energy of the future. With its economic benefits and abundance, LNG will thusly be a large contributing factor in natural gas’ growth.