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ABSTRACT: New Roles for Natural Gas in the 1990s

Daniel J. Soeder

A probable increase in the use of natural gas is predicted to occur over the next decade because heightened concerns by the public over air quality are likely to place severe constraints on increased use of coal and petroleum as primary fuels. Congress and the states appear to be preparing to legislate new clean air standards that will be difficult to achieve under present economic conditions using the current mix of hydrocarbon fuels.

Natural gas is a favorable fuel for several reasons. Because it has a high hydrogen-to-carbon ratio, it produces the least amount of carbon dioxide per calorie of any of the hydrocarbon fuels. Combustion of gas in modern burners does not produce significant CO, NOx, SO2, or any of the complex photochemicals responsible for smog and ozone pollution. Supplies of gas are plentiful, with a total domestic recoverable resource base of over 980 tcf estimated by the Potential Gas Agency. Additional gas, not counted in reserve estimates, is present in abandoned fields, where secondary recovery techniques may produce significant quantities.

A promising area for increased natural gas usage in the next decade is electrical power generation, either by substituting gas for oil and coal as a boiler fuel or by generating electricity directly using chemical fuel cells powered by natural gas and air. Natural gas-fueled vehicles are another favored technology, due to very low emission levels and because natural gas can be run in a standard automotive engine with only minor mechanical modifications. Vehicles must carry compressed natural gas in high-pressure cylinders, but adsorptive materials are being developed to transport significant quantities at reduced pressure. Current technology can pack a 2400-psi volume-equivalent of natural gas onto adsorptive material in the same space at only 500 psi. Additional natural gas technolog includes petrochemical feedstocks, gas engine-driven cooling units, and small industrial cogeneration units that provide both heat and electricity.

AAPG Search and Discovery Article #91003©1990 AAPG Annual Convention, San Francisco, California, June 3-6, 1990