Natural gas has been a valuable source of energy for hundreds of years, but over the last decade or so, the use of this resource has intensified. In its early stages, natural gas was mainly used for street lights and powering a small number of homes. After improving technology and distribution, it has become a vital source of energy for several industries, as well as an efficient way to heat buildings, produce electricity, and fuel vehicles. If trends continue in this direction, natural gas may eventually become an energy giant, and our sole source of power.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, more than half of U.S. homes are supplied with natural gas, which accounted for 21 percent of total U.S. natural gas consumption in 2009. Delivered through pipelines or tanks of compressed natural gas (CNG), this resource is mostly used for heating and water heating, but other appliances have also begun to consume natural gas, such as ovens, stoves, dryers, and lighting fixtures. Similarly, commercial buildings consume natural gas for space and water heating, and at times, air conditioning.
The industrial sector is another large consumer of natural gas, accounting for 27 percent of U.S. consumption in 2009. Keeping with its main function, countless manufacturing plants use natural gas as a source of heat to bake, melt, glaze, or dry their products. It is commonly used in the production of steel, glass, tile, ceramics, paper, bricks, cement, and food products, and can be found in many plastics, fertilizers, fabrics, antifreeze, and pharmaceuticals. As such a vital portion of so many goods and processes, industrial facilities will use natural gas for decades to come.
Robert McCutcheon, US industrial products leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers, declared that the growing natural gas industry “has potential to spark a manufacturing renaissance in the U.S., including billions in cost savings, a significant number of new jobs and a greater investment in U.S. plants.”
Although the industrial sector consumes a large amount of natural gas, generating electric power is presumably the process that consumes the majority of this resource. It is the most environmentally friendly fossil fuel as it releases 45 percent less carbon dioxide than burning coal and 30 percent less than burning oil. Since climate change has become a major issue globally, many expect the burning of natural gas to increase.
The most recent industry to take part in the natural gas movement is the automotive industry. It has become a source of fuel for cars, buses, and trucks, with scientists continuing to develop the safest and most efficient way of using this resource for transportation. The U.S. has begun to see an increase in natural gas vehicles because they produce 30 to 40 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than regular gasoline or diesel fuel. Car manufacturers are also realizing the potential of natural gas powered vehicles because of its low cost of operation for consumers.
Despite the controversial extraction technique known as fracking, the residential, industrial, electric, and automotive industries have all begun to embrace the power of natural gas. With such an efficient, powerful, and inexpensive energy source gaining interest, the United States will undoubtedly become more energy efficient and independent in the years to come. Taking into account that natural gas is responsible for generating about 24 percent of U.S. energy, how long do you think it will take before it becomes the main source of power in this country?