Prashant Modi – Industrial uses for natural gas

Prashant Modi - red gasNatural gas  by Prashant Modi

Although natural gas as a whole is used for things like the generation of electricity and heating, its chemical components are often extracted for use in various industries too. According to Prashant Modi, the chemical methanol, which is a derivative of the methane found in natural gas, is a hugely important chemical used to produce a whole range of industrial products, including vinyl, plastics, acetic acid, formaldehyde and fuel additive. Using a conversion process, methanol can be converted into both propylene and ethylene; these two chemicals can also be produced using the other gaseous compounds found in natural gas. These two compounds are then used in many different ways; they’re converted into foams, plastics, textile fibres, packaging materials, automotive components, paints, anti-freeze, resins and PVC plastics.

More than 98% of the synthetically produced fertilizer in the world is produced using ammonia, which is derived from natural gas. This process requires high pressures and temperatures, and therefore needs to be made using a cheap source of energy so as to be economically viable. Prashant Modi says that natural gas, being one of the cheapest fossil fuels, is ideal for providing both the feedstock and the energy for this process.

The single largest consumer of industrial energy is the steel industry, taking up approximately 5% of the world’s entire energy production. Steel manufacturers use the methane derived from nature gas as part of their steel production methods, by reacting methane and ore. As with fertilizer production, natural gas is the obvious choice, from an economical standpoint, as the main source of energy and feedstock.

One newer area where natural gas is being put to use is in the transport industry. Although the benefits of using natural gas as a transport fuel are quite well understood now, Prashant Modi says that growth in this area has been relatively slow to materialise. However, many environmentalists are eager for this gas to be used for fleets of trucks and cargo vehicles, as some studies have indicated that when compared with diesel and gasoline, natural gas can reduce the output of carbon dioxide by up to twenty five percent. It has also been shown to significantly cut down on the emission of nitrous oxide, as well as particulates and non-hydrocarbons.

Is natural gas a safe fossil fuel? Prashant Modi discusses

Coal, one of the fossil fuels.

Coal, one of the fossil fuels. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) – Prashant Modi

There’s no doubt that natural gas is one of the most eco-friendly fossil fuels. However, much like with every other energy source, its advantages and disadvantages are often the subject of debate amongst environmentalists, economists and energy tycoons. Here, Prashant Modi takes a closer look at its benefits and its shortcomings, as well as possible solutions to the latter.

Natural gas is made up primarily of methane and is the world’s lightest hydrocarbon. It’s also colourless and odourless. When burned, this fossil fuel produces huge quantities of energy which can be used for both industrial and domestic purposes, including the generating of electricity, heating and cooking. Additionally, Prashant Modi says that its one of the most economical fuels to produce and to transport.

This gas is often praised as one of the cleanest energy alternatives; the burning of it releases less pollutants than any other fuel. It emits relatively low levels of emissions such as sulphur, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, particularly in comparison to coal, and doesn’t produce any particulates such as ash which can cause health problems. Whilst it’s certainly not as clean as other energy sources such as solar or wind, and is not renewable, Prashant Modi says that its abundance, affordability and straightforward production makes it one of the most popular fossil fuels available.

But there are some critics of natural gas who say that it isn’t quite as clean as it initially appears, as some scientists have theorised that methane escapes from pipelines and wells into the atmosphere. However Prashant Modi says that there is a middle ground between these two opinions. Whilst it is true that the transportation and production of natural gas presents environmental risks, much research is being done into ways to minimise these dangers.

A liquefied natural gas tanker arrives in Bost...For instance, according to Prashant Modi, a number of energy companies are now using LNG (Liquefied natural gas), which provides them with a way to both store and transport natural gas economically, without the need for laying pipelines. Natural gas can be transformed into LNG by cooling it, and removing many of the other compounds which are present along with the methane. LNG takes up far less space than this fossil fuel in its gaseous form, and is thought to be safer and more eco-friendly.

Prashant Modi – A history of methane

Methane, also called natural gas, is an odourless, colourless and clean burning fossil fuel, which currently provides approximately 20% of the energy used in the UK.

English: Molecule of methane. Slovenščina: Mol...

Molecule of methane – Prashant Modi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prashant Modi, a leading expert in the field of energy resources, says that methane has a number of advantages over other fossil fuels – it is easy to transport, clean and convenient to use. Methane is used for lighting homes, cooking, heating and for the general production of electricity. It also has several industrial uses.

The majority of geologists believe that methane was first formed several million years ago, when animals and plants died, and their decomposing remains were naturally deposited in the silt and mid. Over time these remains were covered over by sediment, and were then heavily compressed as a result of these sedimentary layers weighing down on them. The intense pressure and heat in the layers caused the organic materials to transform into methane and oil. Methane can be found trapped within the underground rock formations located all over the world – these include deep sea aquifers, sandstone beds, coal seams and shale formations.

Prashant Modi says that Britain was the first country in the world to use natural gas for commercial purposes. In the mid 1780s, methane sourced from coal mines was used by the British to light up streetlamps and lighthouses. America began to use this gas in the mid 19th century. In 1859, a former railroad conductor named Edwin Drake dug America’s first natural gas well. It was after Drake’s discovery of both oil and gas underground that the use of this natural energy source began to take off in the US.

Throughout most of the 19th century, methane was only used for lighting. At this point, Prashant Modi explains, no pipeline infrastructure had been built, which made it difficult to transport the gas, or to use it for things such as heating and cooking in homes. However when natural gas lights were replaced with electric lights towards the end of the century, transportation methods and more creative uses for methane were gradually developed, and over the course of the next century, the methane industry transformed into what it is today.