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Our Future is Methane Energy

Updated on February 17, 2011

Introduction to Methane And Natural Gas

Methane is a naturally occurring gas on planet earth, and thus can be found in many places both naturally and artificially by humans. It is these two elements within space and time that make methane (the primary molecule in natural gas) very unique amongst other substances. Methane can be found in the atmosphere naturally, and artificially. It can also be found in most kinds of wetlands, such as bogs, swamps and peatlands. It is an extremely prevalent gas in landfills both active and retired (technology now allows the siphoning of methane from landfills--one of our biggest methane power suppliers!). Methane gas is also a naturally occurring substance in mammals' excrement, most notably those species under the super-order ungulata and more specifically ungulates under the subfamily of bovinae such as cattle, water buffalo and antelopes.

As you can see below, Methane is a stable, simple molecule composed of one carbon atom, and four hydrogen atoms. Methane can be assembled both naturally and artificially under the right conditions. The molecular formula for methane is CH4 and is a non-polar molecule. Thus, the relationship between the carbon atom and the hydrogen atoms is uniform and mutual (water would be an example of a polar molecule).

Methane at The Molecular Level

Photo Courtesy of www.GlobalWarmingArt.com
Photo Courtesy of www.GlobalWarmingArt.com
Many Methane Molecules Together.  Methane is a stable and balanced molecule with even polarity.  Photo courtesy of University of California, Irvine.
Many Methane Molecules Together. Methane is a stable and balanced molecule with even polarity. Photo courtesy of University of California, Irvine.

What is Methane Energy?

As stated before, methane is the primary substance associated with natural gas. The two may be thought of as synonymous, to make this article simpler. On the list of where methane comes from, it also is found in coal beds, fossil fuels and other organic (or previously organic) matter and must be sorted from its mother substance accordingly. The basic premise behind methane / natural gas energy is: Combust the substance under the right conditions, and you will make water vapor (to power turbines and other power creating technologies) and carbon dioxide (CO2). Natural gas power is now a technologically and relatively "greener" method of energy than its cousins, coal and oil.

Methane is widely considered among the scientific community and educational institutions as a far more dangerous and potent green house gas than carbon dioxide. Per-capita (or, per molecule) methane complicates atmospheric conditions far more than carbon dioxide and logically must be treated as such.

A Natural Gas Power Station

A Combination of Water Vapor And Carbon Dioxide Rises From a Natural Gas Power Plant in California.  Photo Courtesy Phil Klein
A Combination of Water Vapor And Carbon Dioxide Rises From a Natural Gas Power Plant in California. Photo Courtesy Phil Klein

Combustion is Key

So then how do energy experts and power station technicians "treat it as such"? Burn it. That's right, combust the Methane (CH4) into carbon dioxide (CO2). It is simply the lesser of two evils. The logic is "if methane is going to occur naturally and artificially, and is becoming more prevalent in the atmosphere due to human activity, why not make use of it and do a relative favor for the environment?" Granted, if the human population and its industrial production & output wasn't so widespread, we wouldn't need to do this exchange. Reality is reality though--we must choose between the lesser of two evils, I personally would rather make use of this molecular anomaly and utilize it respectfully and logically.

Methane Energy is a Matured Power Source

Natural Gas Power has been utilized since the 1950s, at least in the United States. Large reserves present in both the United States and Canada have lent itself to both becoming one of the prevalent and common methods of producing energy in the two countries. Research and development funds have poured in over the past fifty years, and thus has lent itself to the efficiency of methane power.

On the flip side, methane is relatively less efficient (per mega watt hour) than coal and oil power, respectfully. It is our third most efficient power source (nuclear energy aside). It is also the third least-expensive (per mega watt hour) power source available. The less expensive power sources are coal and oil, respectfully. As you can already guess by these correlations, the pollution generated is the third highest among current power-generating options (in terms of CO2 output), with coal and oil leading the way in this category. Then again, I would rather have methane be utilized and thus combusted rather than just lurk in our atmosphere and continue to rise exponentially in relation to human population, don't you feel the same?

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      Kass 6 years ago

      I would like to point out that the picture of "many methane molecules together" is not. It is actually a picture of a methane molecule surrounded by a number of water molecules in a crystaline structure - something that is known as methane hydrate or "fire ice". That is was Riter is refering to as "ice like clumps".

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      C. C. Riter 9 years ago

      They can get it from the oceans too in the form of ice like clumps. Can't recall what it's called now. We frat it too. LOl too bad we can't pipe that. The cows excrete it from their mouths not like we do. They belch it and poop it too, but they don't fart like horses. I know TMI

    • BristolBoy profile image

      BristolBoy 9 years ago from Bristol

      I was just going to say that generally natural gas is classed as a more efficient power source than coal or oil for electricty genetration, often getting efficiencies in excess of 50% as opposed to nearer 30-40%for coal and oil.  This is thus what makes gas the cheapest source of electricity (in areas with good natural gas networks anyway such as large parts of north America, Europe and many other areas).

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