Saturday, July 07, 2012

Emissions from Combustion of Natural Gas

Natural gas is the cleanest of all the fossil fuels. Composed primarily of methane, the main products of the combustion of natural gas are carbon dioxide and water vapor, the same compounds we exhale when we breathe. Coal and oil are composed of much more complex molecules, with a higher carbon ratio and higher nitrogen and sulfur contents. This means that when combusted, coal and oil release higher levels of harmful emissions, including a higher ratio of carbon emissions, nitrogen oxides (NOx), and sulfur dioxide (SO2).  Coal and fuel oil also release ash particles into the environment, substances that do not burn but instead are carried into the atmosphere and contribute to pollution. The combustion of natural gas, on the other hand, releases very small amounts of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, virtually no ash or particulate matter, and lower levels of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other reactive hydrocarbons.

Fossil Fuel Emission Levels
- Pounds per Billion Btu of Energy Input
Pollutant Natural Gas Oil Coal
Carbon Dioxide 117,000 164,000 208,000
Carbon Monoxide 40 33 208
Nitrogen Oxides 92 448 457
Sulfur Dioxide 1 1,122 2,591
Particulates 7 84 2,744
Mercury 0.000 0.007 0.016
Source: EIA - Natural Gas Issues and Trends 1998

Natural gas, as the cleanest of the fossil fuels, can be used in many ways to help reduce the emissions of pollutants into the atmosphere. Burning natural gas in the place of other fossil fuels emits fewer harmful pollutants, and an increased reliance on natural gas can potentially reduce the emission of many of these most harmful pollutants.

Natural gas combustion produces almost 45 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions than coal, emits lower levels of nitrogen oxides and particulates, and produces virtually no sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions. The lower levels of these emissions mean that the use of natural gas does not contribute significantly to smog or acid rain formation. In addition, because natural gas boilers do not need the scrubbers required by coal-fired power plants to reduce SO2 emissions, natural gas plants create much less toxic sludge.   (Natural Gas .org)

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