Natural Gas – Low Inflammability provides Greater Safety
Natural gas is fast gaining popularity around the world. With the environmental and economic costs of conventional fossil fuels soaring, more and more countries are looking to tap the vast resources of natural gas trapped underneath the earth’s surface. The statistics are encouraging. The demand for natural gas is booming in Asia as well as United States. According to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute, global use of natural gas was a record 111.9 trillion cubic feet in 2010. Today, the share of natural gas in global energy consumption is pegged at 23.8 percent.
This sharp rise in the global demand for natural gas has made experts optimistic. According to the International Energy Agency, natural gas is “positioned to make a sustained impact on the global energy market.”
Natural Gas assumes even greater significance for many developing nations including India, since the emerging economies are growing at a much faster pace compared to the developed nations. Commensurate to this will be the Carbon emissions and the resultant global warming and erratic climate changes. The gravity of the situation is much worse than one can imagine. In fact, the UK government’s chief scientist Prof. John Beddington has recently observed that there is already enough CO2 in the atmosphere to cause more droughts, more floods, more sea surges and more storms over the next 25 years. According to him, such erratic climate changes will be witnessed in quite a short timescale.
The Safe Alternative
The increase in popularity of natural gas is the result of a global search for a clean and safe fuel. The safety advantages that natural gas offers are as follows:
Limited inflammability: Fears about natural gas explosions are highly exaggerated. In fact, its physical properties make natural gas safer than petrol or diesel. Natural gas has limited inflammability and the mixture of natural gas to air has to be between 5 and 15 percent. When natural gas escapes, it will not burn if the mixture of natural gas and air is less than 5 percent. If the mixture is more than 15 percent natural gas, then there will not be enough oxygen to allow it to burn. On the other hand, both diesel and petrol have lower concentrations of inflammability.
Lesser chances of burning: The chances of a fire are highly unlikely even if natural gas accidently leaks in the open. Natural gas is lighter than air. In case of a leak in an open setting, natural gas will quickly dissipate into the atmosphere and will have no malignant impact. For ignition to occur the leak must take place in a confined space, the mixture of air and natural gas has to be in the flammable limit of 5 to 15 percent and there must be a source of ignition. On the other hand, both petrol and diesel are dense fuels, increasing the chances of burning.
High ignition temperature: Natural gas has an extremely high ignition temperature of 1100 degree Fahrenheit. On the other hand, petrol ignites at 600 degree Fahrenheit. This means that the chances of natural gas igniting or exploding are considerably low. Yet another factor in favour of natural gas is that it produces only half as much carbon monoxide as oil when it burns.
Non-toxic: Natural gas is considered an extremely clean fuel. It is colourless, tasteless and odourless. Since it is odourless, an odorant known as Mercaptan is added to it. This has the strong and typical smell of rotten eggs and thus a leak is easily detected. It is also non-toxic. There are no poisonous ingredients that can cause health concerns. Its non-toxicity also makes it safer for the earth’s resources as the chances of ground and water contamination are much lower.
Safety Features in Storage: Compressed natural gas cylinders and tanks which are used for storage have to adhere to strict safety norms issued by both the industry and the government. The tanks are made of polymers and composites that make them stronger than even stainless steel tanks. The special designs used enable these tanks to hold gas safely between 3000 and 3600 pounds per square inch (psi) of pressure. Safety tests conducted on these storage tanks include impact tests. They are thus engineered to withstand collisions and other accidents.
The economic and environmental benefits of using natural gas are well proven and documented. The increasing awareness about its relative safety as compared to other fuels has only added to the global demand for natural gas as viable energy source.