Natural gas (also called fossil gas) is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon gas mixture consisting primarily of methane, but commonly including varying amounts of other higher alkanes, and sometimes a small percentage of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide, or helium. It is formed when layers of decomposing plant and animal matter are exposed to intense heat and pressure under the surface of the Earth over millions of years. The energy that the plants originally obtained from the sun is stored in the form of chemical bonds in the gas.
Natural gas is a non-renewable hydrocarbon used as a source of energy for heating, cooking, and electricity generation. It is also used as a fuel for vehicles and as a chemical feedstock in the manufacture of plastics and other commercially important organic chemicals.
In petroleum production gas is sometimes burned as flare gas. Before natural gas can be used as a fuel, most, but not all, must be processed to remove impurities, including water, to meet the specifications of marketable natural gas. The by-products of this processing include: ethane, propane, butanes, pentanes, and higher molecular weight hydrocarbons, hydrogen sulfide (which may be converted into pure sulfur), carbon dioxide, water vapor, and sometimes helium and nitrogen.
Natural gas is a major source of electricity generation through the use of cogeneration, gas turbines and steam turbines. Natural gas is also well suited for a combined use in association with renewable energy sources such as wind or solar and for alimenting peak-load power stations functioning in tandem with hydroelectric plants. Most grid peaking power plants and some off-grid engine-generators use natural gas. Particularly high efficiencies can be achieved through combining gas turbines with a steam turbine in combined cycle mode. Natural gas burns more cleanly than other fuels, such as oil and coal. Because burning natural gas produces both water and carbon dioxide, it produces less carbon dioxide per unit of energy released than coal, which produces mostly carbon dioxide. Burning natural gas produces only about half the carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour (kWh) that coal does. For transportation, burning natural gas produces about 30% less carbon dioxide than burning petroleum. The US Energy Information Administration reports the following emissions in million metric tons of carbon dioxide in the world for 2012: