The short answer: by the time it reaches your stove, furnace or water heater, natural gas is almost pure methane. Usually, it’s a fossil fuel that comes from deep in the ground, formed by pressure, temperature and time.
The long answer is really long – millions of years long. Natural gas begins as plant life, animals and microorganisms, most commonly from dried-up, long-forgotten oceans. All of this matter would die off and eventually get buried under sediment, mud and rock (that’s why it’s called a fossil fuel) where it would sit under pressure and heat for millions of years. This would break the organic materials’ carbon bonds and transform it into something we all use today. As almost pure methane (one carbon and four hydrogen atoms) natural gas is the cleanest-burning fossil fuel.
Once mined in its raw form, natural gas can have impurities and other hydrocarbons in it like propane, butane, and hydrogen sulfide, which are removed as byproducts and used in a variety of useful ways. Although naturally colourless and odourless, gas producers add that distinctive “rotten egg” odour (called mercaptan) so leaks can be easily detected.
However, some natural gas doesn’t come from pressure, heat and time. Ontario could add to its energy mix with biogenic methane, also known as biogas. In this process, methanogens – tiny methane-producing microorganisms – break down organic matter from biodegradable waste to produce natural gas. Landfill gas is a great example, where new technologies are being utilized to harness this renewable resource. Although many jurisdictions are turning to biogas, the province isn’t moving forward on it at this time.
To learn more about how it gets to your home read our previous posting The Journey of Natural Gas. You can also let us know your thoughts below.