The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


October 28, 2012

Smart use of natural gas

Several articles have appeared over the past few months related to various efforts and desires to "encourage" consumption of natural gas. It is a bit puzzling as to why we need to encourage consumption. This is not a "use it or lose it" scenario, given that the amount of gas in a formation is fixed and has been so for millions of years. Just because a resource exists doesn't mean we must use it as fast as possible and in the worst ways possible.

Gas should be approached as a butcher would approach a side of meat. Gas is often burned solely to generate low-grade heat, such as space heating for buildings. When we consider the second law of thermodynamics and the temperature of the gas flame, this is horribly wasteful and akin to grinding up filet mignon to make hamburger meat.

Opportunities for cogeneration should always be explored. This approach might be to extract the useful non-methane compounds and helium from the gas. Then burn the methane in a combined cycle power plant, converting 50 percent to 60 percent of its energy into valuable and versatile electricity. Finally, use the power plant's waste heat, which is now no hotter than the boiling point of water, for industrial process heat, campus and district heating. Natural gas used to generate electricity consumed within buildings still provides a space heating fringe benefit, as all electricity eventually ends up as heat dissipated in lights and appliances.

Such an approach can be compared to the butcher who separates and sells sides of meat based on their quality and value. He will be able to extract greater benefit from a given amount of meat than the butcher who just grinds it all into hamburger.

The core concern with modern energy use paradigms is the need for very concentrated, high thermodynamic quality. Fossil fuels provide this high-grade energy very easily, almost too easily. Expanding practices such as direct-fired space heating, which destroy the thermodynamic potential of these fuels, is not a wise decision.

Corey Johnson,


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