Natural gas is a vital part of an energy mix and can help reach decarbonization goals. Its combustion produces fewer undesirable byproducts than coal or oil and emits less carbon dioxide.
In the short term, it can provide low-carbon backup at peak power usage times while storage technologies scale up and innovative new energy pathways are explored. Carbon capture, use, storage (CCUS), and hydrogen production can also play a role in a net-zero path.
It’s a Fossil Fuel
The least harmful byproducts are produced while burning natural gas than when burning coal or oil, making it the cleanest fossil fuel.
When used to generate electricity, a gas-fired power plant produces 50 percent less carbon dioxide than a coal-fired power plant per kilowatt hour.
Like other fossil fuels, natural gas comprises hydrocarbon compounds (a compound with one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms) and non-hydrocarbon gases, such as water vapor. When burned, it produces heat, water vapor, and carbon dioxide.
Renewable natural gas, also known as biomethane, is a type of natural gas made from organic waste sources, such as landfills, animal manure, food scraps, and wastewater sludge, that are broken down by bacteria to produce methane, carbon dioxide, and other gases and solids through anaerobic digestion. Biomethane can be “upgraded” to become a fully-replaceable alternative to fossil natural gas in existing applications, such as heating and heavy-duty vehicles, which results in a net reduction in methane emissions.
It’s More Flexible
Natural gas production has fewer air pollutants and less carbon dioxide than coal or fuel oil to produce the same amount of energy. It’s also more flexible than most other energy options regarding seasonality and availability.
Demographic trends have seen populations move toward more hospitable climates, increasing demand for natural gas in those regions. Demand for natural gas peaks in winter when people use it to heat homes, offices, and businesses. Then it decreases during warmer summer months when the need for cooling energy increases.
Renewable natural gas can help alleviate this volatility by filling the gaps in the gas market. It’s produced from organic waste — such as landfills, animal manure, food scraps, and wastewater sludge — using anaerobic digestion. This creates biomethane, which is then “upgraded” into natural gas by removing impurities and purifying the gas.
Natural gas produces less air pollution and greenhouse gases during combustion than other fossil fuels. It generates around half the carbon dioxide and a tenth of the air pollutants as coal when used to produce electricity. It also emits significantly fewer sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides.
The environmental impacts of natural gas vary depending on how it is extracted and used. Renewable natural gas, derived from waste sources such as landfills and livestock manure through anaerobic digestion, can be added to the existing supply of conventional natural gas to increase its climate benefit. This is especially important in countries that consume high amounts of traditional fossil fuels, like the United States. But depending solely on renewable energy sources and natural gas to replace fossil fuels runs the risk of a protracted transition period, which would hinder or even stop our efforts to reduce emissions to levels that will prevent the worst effects of global warming.
It’s More Efficient
Natural gas is more efficient than electricity and other fossil fuels when burned to produce energy. It generates less carbon dioxide, fewer air pollutants, and half as much sulfur as coal or oil to have the same point.
About 40 percent of gas demand in the world goes to power, and 28 percent is used in buildings for space and water heating. The remaining market varies by region, although management will likely remain the most critical sector in a highly electrified world.
Renewable natural gas is another fuel source from organic waste streams such as landfills, animal manure, and wastewater sludge. Bacteria in these “wet” waste streams produce methane and other gases through a process known as anaerobic digestion. The gas is then gathered and processed to remove impurities, making it a more pure fuel.
It’s More Affordable
Natural gas costs far less than electricity to heat homes, businesses, and industrial settings. It’s also the cleanest fossil fuel energy option. Gas appliances keep over 3,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air yearly.
Renewable natural gas is made from waste streams, such as landfills, animal manure, and food scraps, through anaerobic digestion. Bacteria break down organic matter in these “wet” wastes to produce a mixture of gases, including methane. The gas is then extracted and processed or “upgraded” to remove impurities and make it ready for use.
These waste streams have great potential to provide 4-7 percent of current natural gas consumption in the United States. They may also be a source of biogas for industrial thermal applications that currently rely on natural gas, such as steel and cement production. These applications account for a large share of carbon emissions and must be decarbonized to meet global climate goals. Policies must support investment in renewable alternatives and focus on efforts to decarbonize these critical sectors of the economy.