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Natural Gas

History Of The Discovery And Use Of Natural Gas

Natural gas is believed to have been first discovered and used by the Chinese, perhaps as early as 1000 B.C. Shallow stores of natural gas were released from just beneath the ground and piped short distances to be used as a fuel source. Natural gas could provide a continuous source of energy for flames. These "eternal fires" were found in temples and also used as attractions for visitors. In the 1800s, natural gas began to be piped short distances as a light source. With the discovery of oil in the 1860s, natural gas was largely ignored as a fuel source. One of the early difficulties with natural gas was in transporting it from the source to other sites for use. The combination of electric lights and petroleum meant that

TABLE 1
substance mole %
methane (CH4) 76
ethane (C2H6) 6
propane (C3H8) 4
butane (C4H10) 2
nitrogen (N2) 10

An offshore natural gas drilling platform. Photograph by Byron F. Peterson. Stock Market. Reproduced by permission.

containers of natural gas were used as heat sources for cooking in homes but for little else.

As the technology for piping gas from the source began to improve, it became possible to pipe natural gas over thousands of miles. This has meant that natural gas has become as convenient as petroleum and coal to use as a fuel source, and often with far less pollution. Natural gas burns with almost no byproducts except for carbon dioxide and water (as opposed to coal which often has large amounts of sulfur in it), and the heat released from the reaction (combustion of any of the hydrocarbon components of natural gas is an exothermic process). The combustion of methane, the most prevalent component of natural gas, is described by the reaction below:

Ethane is used less as fuel source than as a starting material for the production of ethylele (acetylene), which is used in welding.

Both butane and propane are relatively easy to liquefy and store. Liquefied propane and butane are used in disposable lighters and as camping fuels.


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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Mysticism to Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotideNatural Gas - Formation And Composition Of Natural Gas, History Of The Discovery And Use Of Natural Gas, Liquefied Natural Gas