June 12, 2021

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Is Natural Gas (Mostly) Good for Global Warming?

Is Natural Gas (Mostly) Good for Global Warming?

Natural gas “creates less carbon emissions than the coal it replaces, but we have to find ways to minimize the leakage of methane.”

That’s the opinion of Vaclav Smil, a distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, writing in IEEE’s Spectrum (in an article shared by Slashdot reader schwit1):

Natural gas is abundant, low-cost, convenient, and reliably transported, with low emissions and high combustion efficiency. Natural-gas-fired heating furnaces have maximum efficiencies of 95 to 97 percent, and combined-cycle gas turbines now achieve overall efficiency slightly in excess of 60 percent. Of course, burning gas generates carbon dioxide, but the ratio of energy to carbon is excellent: Burning a gigajoule of natural gas produces 56 kilograms of carbon dioxide, about 40 percent less than the 95 kg emitted by bituminous coal.

This makes gas the obvious replacement for coal. In the United States, this transition has been unfolding for two decades. Gas-fueled capacity increased by 192 gigawatts from 2000 to 2005 and by an additional 69 GW from 2006 through the end of 2020. Meanwhile, the 82 GW of coal-fired capacity that U.S. utilities removed from 2012 to 2020 is projected to be augmented by another 34 GW by 2030, totaling 116 GW — more than a third of the former peak rating.

So far, so green. But methane is itself a very potent greenhouse gas, packing from 84 to 87 times as much global warming potential as an equal quantity of carbon dioxide when measured over 20 years (and 28 to 36 times as much over 100 years). And some of it leaks out. In 2018, a study of the U.S. oil and natural-gas supply chain found that those emissions were about 60 percent higher than the Environmental Protection Agency had estimated. Such fugitive emissions, as they are called, are thought to be equivalent to 2.3 percent of gross U.S. gas production…

Without doubt, methane leakages during extraction, processing, and transportation do diminish the overall beneficial impact of using more natural gas, but they do not erase it, and they can be substantially reduced.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.