Air Quality natural gas power plant

Published on September 16th, 2011 | by Nicholas Brown


Study: Natural Gas May Not Provide Immediate Global Warming Improvement

September 16th, 2011 by  

natural gas power plant

Natural gas is considered an important part of the energy mix by many on the right and left because it can not only provide baseload power (generate a consistent amount of electricity reliably all the time), but natural gas can be used to fuel peaking and backup power plants which can be started quickly enough to backup malfunctioned power plants and avoid long blackouts in the event of a power shortage.

Natural gas can also beneficial to solar and wind power plants because it is a low carbon emissions source of electricity that can back up those power plants during low wind and cloudy periods instead of the more expensive gasoline which also pollutes the air more.

A study, however, states that replacing 50% of coal’s electricity supply with natural gas would not help global warming much due to the fact that natural gas power plants do not emit the significant amount of sulfur dioxide that coal power plants do, and sulfur dioxide is believed by some to cool the planet.

I cannot attest how helpful or harmful sulfur dioxide is where climate change is concerned, but it is a toxic substance.

Another issue with natural gas is the fact that it is 95% methane, and methane is 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, which has a global warming potential of 1.

Methane, however, has a much shorter half life in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. I will try to confirm how much methane is released into the atmosphere due to natural gas production, though (and update this post when I can do so).

The study, conducted by the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), will be published next month in Climatic Change Letters.

h/t Technology Review

Image Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by Deacon MacMillan


Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

About the Author

writes on CleanTechnica, Gas2, Kleef&Co, and Green Building Elements. He has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, and geography. His website is:

  • CharlieM

    I could be wrong, but I thought methane when burned turns into CO2 and water vapour? Yes methane is 20x more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2 but methane power plants don’t release methane as exhaust – they release CO2 and water vapour. So, still not greenhouse friendly, but not 20x worse than coal.

    @Bob – nicely put – but scary how many people latch on to that whole thing and somehow come to a conclusion that SO2 is good for the global warming, and so coal is good for the environment!

    • Anonymous

      True, methane burned becomes CO2. That’s bad.

      Apparently methane creates less CO2 than does coal per unit electricity produced. That makes methane better than coal in that one respect.

      But during fracking, extracting, transporting and using, leaks of methane into the atmosphere are common. And that’s bad.

      Methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO2 but in the atmosphere it does turn into CO2 after some time. Overall bad.

      Coal also releases SO2 (sulfur dioxide) when burned and that SO2 works as a sun shield, reflecting some sunlight back into space which is good.

      But the SO2 doesn’t stay up in the atmosphere for all that long. It rains back down as a weak acid which kills plants, harms crops, poisons lakes, and eats away stone (buildings and statuary). That’s bad.

      That SO2 is only a temporary cooling effect, the extra CO2 from coal is going to cause more heat retention once the SO2 “umbrella” is gone.

      The CO2 from both coal and methane becomes part of the CO2 cycle and hangs around for a very long time, which is bad. We’re not far from the point of no return in regard to the amount of CO2 now in our atmosphere. Very bad.

      I see nothing but a need to quit using both coal and methane ASAP. Probably cut coal first, if we can minimize methane leaks. Accept a little more heat now in exchange for less CO2 in the system overall.

      Natural gas plants are dispatchable, can be turned on and off quickly with little wasted fuel. Coal is a bear to shut off or turn on. Lots of wasted energy and can take eight hours to get up to full speed vs. NG’s ten to fifteen minutes.

      If we have NG rather than coal on the grid then utilities are more likely to shut down the NG turbine to save fuel costs when there is ample renewable energy available. As the price of wind and solar continue to fall it will be cheaper for utilities to install renewables than to purchase fuel and at that point we will see fossil fuels really start their goodbye tour.

      Given only the information I have at the moment, it seems like NG is a better choice if we have to burn something to get electricity. And we are forced to keep burning stuff for a while or crash the economy.

      • Anonymous

        Excellently explained 😀

  • Anonymous

    All of these demonstrations were run by Rossi.

    Rossi has refused to let independent researchers test his device.

    I continue to not believe….

  • Anonymous

    Nicholas – read up on “global dimming”, the period following WWII when we were burning lots of coal and not scrubbing the output. There was a measured decrease in solar input and a drop in crop production.

    We also got acid rain which gave us dead forests and lakes. As well as many health problems.

  • Brad Arnold

    There is a new clean energy technology that is 1/10th the cost of any other energy technology. Don’t believe me? Watch this video by a Nobel prize winner in physics:

    Still don’t believe me? It convinced the Swedish Skeptics Society:

    LENR using nickel. Incredibly: Ni+H+K2CO3(heated under pressure)=Cu+lots of heat. Here is a detailed description of the device and formula from a US government contract:

    Still don’t believe me? A major US corporation has bought the rights to sell the 1 megawatt Rossi E-Cat, and it will be announced late October in the US, with the unit hitting the market in November. How can any fossil fuel compete with such cheap energy (and clean to boot!).

    By the way, here is a current survey of all the companies that are bringing LENR to commercialization:

    • Anonymous

      Still don’t believe it.

      Rossi has been offered several opportunities to have his gear tested by bodies of scientists, with full non-disclosure agreements, and he has refused.

      The heat output from his device is consistent with the power which could be produced by the electrical input. Steam is made, but there is no measurement of pressure.

      If he ever lets his device be tested by people who know what they are doing and they find it works I’ll start believing.

Back to Top ↑