The impact and importance of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) in today’s energy scene

Oluwatosin Jegede

Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) has increasingly come into focus as we steer our energy systems toward more sustainable pathways. Notably, the emissions profile of LNG and its precursor, natural gas, is markedly less harmful compared to other fossil fuels.

For instance, the combustion of natural gas produces around half the CO2 of coal, alongside a considerable reduction in other pollutants. This positions LNG as a compelling option for shrinking our global carbon footprint.

Yet, important questions arise: Is LNG truly a “clean” solution? How adequately can it cater to our escalating energy demands? To answer these and other queries, we delve into LNG’s production, transportation, and storage.

We explore its multifaceted applications, impact on the environment, and significant role in the gas supply market. So, buckle up for an in-depth journey through the fascinating realm of LNG, a vital energy source that’s shaping our present and future.

What is natural gas vs. Liquefied Natural Gas

Natural gas, a fossil fuel, is discovered in underground rock formations known as reservoirs and extracted via drilling. Post extraction, it travels via pipelines to processing plants for purification, resulting in pipeline-quality dry natural gas that feeds local energy markets.

But we needed a solution beyond pipelines to take this energy source global. Enter Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). By turning natural gas into a liquid, energy companies found a way to transport and store it efficiently for global markets. Shipped in tankers, stored, and then re-gasified when needed, LNG revolutionized the reach and versatility of natural gas as an energy source.

How is Liquefied Natural Gas made?

The process of making Liquefied Natural Gas begins in LNG facilities through a process known as liquefaction. This involves cooling natural gas, initially in its gaseous state, down to a chilly -162 degrees Celsius (-260 degrees Fahrenheit). At this point, it transforms into a liquid.

Along with this intense cooling, the process also removes impurities, such as dust and carbon dioxide. An impressive aspect of this process is that it shrinks the volume of natural gas by 600 times, making it significantly easier to transport and store.

How is Liquefied Natural Gas transported

Transporting LNG often involves a network of insulated pipelines. These pipelines shuttle the LNG from the liquefaction facilities to storage units, tankers, and regasification plants, extending to export facilities if needed. When moving LNG across continents, we employ specially designed LNG carriers. These ships, often taking the form of tankers, can carry multiple temperature-controlled storage tanks designed to withstand high pressure.

The LNG is transferred to large storage tanks upon arrival at import terminals. From here, it can either be compressed, vaporized, and fed into the local gas grid or loaded onto trailers and ISO tank containers for regions without grid access. While road transport of LNG is still a small portion of the distribution, its demand is rising.

How is Liquefied Natural Gas regasified

Once LNG reaches a location with gas demand, it undergoes a warming process called regasification, turning it back into a gaseous state. Most regasification occurs at import terminals, where LNG is stored until demand increases.

Regasification methods vary based on location climate. Warm climate locations often use seawater to generate the necessary heat for vaporizing LNG. Conversely, cooler locations require submerged combustion vaporizers for this conversion, leading to more emissions in colder areas.

What is Liquefied Natural Gas used for

Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), once regasified, serves various purposes in residential, commercial, and industrial settings. It aids in everyday activities, such as cooking, and also powers larger projects, like electricity generation. Around homes and businesses, you’ll find natural gas-powering stoves, drying machines, water heaters, air conditioning units, humidifiers, and even some lighting systems.

In industrial sectors, natural gas is integral to many processes. It generates electricity at power plants, heats buildings and water, fuels machinery, and is a key ingredient in producing chemicals, fertilizers, hydrogen, and various other materials. It also plays a significant role in manufacturing industries, including paper, metal, and clothing.

Is Liquefied Natural Gas toxic or dangerous?

Contrary to common belief, LNG isn’t toxic. Yes, all fuels need handling with caution, but LNG poses less danger than liquid fuels like gasoline or diesel. It’s only slightly flammable; for a fire, 5% to 15% of LNG must be present in the air and heated to 580 degrees Celsius (1076 degrees Fahrenheit). Even then, LNG ignites slowly and doesn’t explode, making it safer for transport.

However, exposure to methane vapors, the main component of LNG, in enclosed spaces isn’t safe. High concentrations can lead to methane poisoning, and by displacing air, methane deprives people and animals of needed oxygen.

Read also: The green fuel to decarbonize the shipping industry

Is Liquefied Natural Gas clean a renewable energy?

Natural gas, including its liquefied form, is considered cleaner than coal and oil, emitting 40% less carbon dioxide than coal and 20% less than oil. But clean, renewable energy? Not quite. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas and the principal component of LNG can escape during extraction or transportation, significantly impacting the climate.

Due to these methane leaks, industry players face increased scrutiny to reduce the environmental impact. Efforts are now aimed at minimizing methane and carbon dioxide emissions during production processes. Despite these issues, LNG is still considered an improvement over other fossil fuels. Hence, it is often dubbed a “transition fuel” as we strive for a fully clean, renewable energy future.

How is Liquefied Petroleum Gas produced

Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) is a byproduct of crude oil refinement or natural gas processing. This hydrocarbon gas, colorless and comprising propane, butane, or a mix of both, finds widespread use in various sectors. It serves as a manufacturing ingredient, a vehicular fuel, and a power source for cogeneration plants. Additionally, it’s a popular choice for heating and cooking in households.

Just like LNG, LPG can also be liquefied to simplify large-scale transportation and storage. This process involves placing the gas in high-pressure, well-sealed tanks to avoid any leaks. As LPG is odorless, small quantities of ethanethiol are added. This compound emits a distinct smell, helping users detect any gas leaks.

What are the biggest exporters and importers of LNG

When it comes to the global LNG market, certain countries clearly lead the way. The biggest exporters include Qatar, Australia, the United States, Nigeria, and Algeria. These nations have abundant natural gas reserves and robust infrastructure for their extraction, processing, and export.

On the receiving end, the primary importers of LNG are Japan, South Korea, China, and Germany. These countries, with their significant energy demands and lack of adequate natural gas reserves, rely heavily on LNG imports to fulfill their domestic and industrial energy needs.

Read also: The 5 reasons to phase out the fossil fuels era and embrace a greener energy future

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