• What Can Methane Be Used For?

Air Monitoring

What Can Methane Be Used For?

Mar 05 2022

With climate change such a pressing concern for governments all over the globe, methane has almost become a naughty word in recent years. It’s no surprise why, either; although not as persistent or pervasive as carbon dioxide, methane carries a global warming potential (GWP) some 80 times greater than its more illustrious counterpart over a 20-year period.

For that reason, scientists have been examining emissions sources, developing monitoring methods and investigating potential uses for this powerful gas in an attempt to turn a damaging waste product into a useful commodity. Fortunately, their efforts have not gone unrewarded, with several promising project in various stages of development and some in full swing. Here are three of the most popular uses of methane explained in more detail below.

Fuel source

Did you know that natural gas is generally composed of anywhere between 60% and 90% methane? Although still a fossil fuel, gas is far less damaging for the environment than coal and compares favourably to oil, as well. For this reason, it’s seen by many as a bridge fuel which can pave the way to a cleaner tomorrow while the infrastructure for renewable technologies is rolled out across the globe.

By capturing methane at the point of emission – including within the energy industry itself – and harvesting it as a fuel source to light, power and heat people’s homes and businesses, we can enhance the environmental credentials of the fuel source even further.

Transportation

Just as methane can be used as a substitute for fossil fuels inside power stations, so too can it serve as the driving force behind vehicular transportation. Calculations derived from modern monitoring techniques show that a methane-powered combustion engine could produce 20% fewer emissions than a conventional petrol car, which, if replicated across the planet and combined with electric vehicles (EVs), would represent a major environmental gain for the human race.

Of course, leaving the car at home and walking, cycling or taking public transport is the ideal method of getting from A to B, but that simply isn’t feasible for all individuals or all journeys. Methane-powered transportation could provide a valuable compromise to allow people to reduce their carbon footprint but remain independent and mobile.

Petrochemicals

Methane is composed of two elements: carbon and hydrogen. Using a process known as steam cracking, the methane can be separated into its constituents parts, which are then used by the petrochemicals industry to generate desirable chemicals such as methanol, hydrogen cyanide and acetylene.

Methanol is particularly useful, since it is a chief component of all sorts of everyday consumer goods. Everything from acrylic plastics to industrial adhesives and paints, plywood and synthetic fabrics and fibres for use in the garment and textiles industries can all be derived from methanol. What’s more, isolating the hydrogen makes it ideal for use in the transportation sector mentioned above, too.

If you’d like to learn more about the ins and outs of how methane is monitored, captured and deployed, the Industrial Methane Measurement conference in Rotterdam in the Netherlands is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the subject. Scheduled to take place on the 8th and 9th June, it’s open to all-comers and promises to cover all aspects of the industry.


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International Environmental Technology 32.3 - May/June 2022

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