Natural Gas Products
Natural gas has a multitude of industrial uses, including providing the base ingredients for such varied products as plastic, fertilizer, anti-freeze, and fabrics. In fact, industry is the largest consumer of natural gas, accounting for 43 percent of natural gas use across all sectors. Natural gas is the second most used energy source in industry, trailing only electricity. Lighting is the main use of energy in the industrial sector, which accounts for the tremendous electricity requirements of this sector. The graph below shows current as well as projected energy consumption by fuel in the industrial sector.
|Industrial Primary Energy Consumption by Fuel 1970 – 2020|
|Source: EIA Annual Energy Outlook 2002 With Projections to 2020|
Although industry accounts for a great deal of natural gas consumption in the United States, this industrial consumption is concentrated in a relatively small number of industries. Natural gas is consumed primarily in the pulp and paper, metals, chemicals, petroleum refining, stone, clay and glass, plastic, and food processing industries. These businesses account for over 84 percent of all industrial natural gas use.
Industrial applications for natural gas are many. Industrial applications include those same uses found in residential and commercial settings – heating, cooling, and cooking. Click here for a review of residential uses, and here for a review of commercial uses. Natural gas is also used for waste treatment and incineration, metals preheating (particularly for iron and steel), drying and dehumidification, glass melting, food processing, and fueling industrial boilers. Natural gas may also be used as a feedstock for the manufacturing of a number of chemicals and products. Gases such as butane, ethane, and propane may be extracted from natural gas to be used as a feedstock for such products as fertilizers and pharmaceutical products.
Natural gas as a feedstock is commonly found as a building block for methanol, which in turn has many industrial applications. Natural gas is converted to what is known as synthesis gas, which is a mixture of hydrogen and carbon oxides formed through a process known as steam reforming. In this process, natural gas is exposed to a catalyst that causes oxidization of the natural gas when brought into contact with steam. This synthesis gas, once formed, may be used to produce methanol (or Methyl Alcohol), which in turn is used to produce such substances as formaldehyde, acetic acid, and MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether) that is used as an additive for cleaner burning gasoline. Methanol may also be used as a fuel source in fuel cells. For more information on the production of and uses for methanol, click here.