01 July 2010 17:56 [Source: ICIS news]
By Joe Kamalick
The study by MIT’s energy initiative group, which draws on expertise from chemical engineers, utility specialists, economists and scientists here and abroad, may pose particular concerns for the
The institute’s energy panel bases its analysis on the premise that within this decade the
That may be a major assumption, given that the debate over anthropogenic global warming (AGW) has flared anew in the industrialized world, and in the
Still, many in the US Congress adamantly opposed to any sort of comprehensive cap-and-trade emissions mandate would support less draconian and incentive-driven measures to reduce the nation’s carbon emissions.
So MIT’s expectation of a carbon constrained future is not unreasonable and it underpins the institute’s analysis of what would happen in that environment.
In the study, “The Future of Natural Gas”, MIT says that this nation’s energy outlook must be heavily influenced by “the realization over the last few years that the producible unconventional gas resource in the
“Natural gas has moved to the centre of the current debate on energy, security and climate,” says the analysis.
For the MIT energy panel members, the overarching conclusions of their study include:
In the years ahead, MIT sees electric utilities accelerating the switch from coal to natural gas as a generating fuel.
“Substitution of gas for coal could materially impact CO2 emissions in the near term, since the
This too assumes that carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies will prove cost-effective on a commercial scale, a goal not yet reached and by no means certain. If carbon capture and storage proves to be not viable on a large scale, still more coal-fired power plants would shift to natgas.
The MIT group also sees increased use of natural gas as a transportation fuel or, additionally, as a feedstock for methanol-fuelled trucks and cars.
“Development of the
The analysis notes, however, that “it is unlikely in the near term that this will develop into a major new market for gas”, in part because “liquefied natural gas does not currently appear to be economically attractive as a fuel for long-haul trucks because of cost and operational issues related to storage at minus 162 degrees Centigrade”.
But in decades ahead, “significant [natural gas] penetration of the private vehicle market before mid-century emerges in our carbon-constrained scenario”.
That’s because natural gas as a transportation fuel could well expand through methanol.
“The conversion of natural gas to methanol, for which there is already large-scale industrial use and a well-established cost basis, is an option for providing a cost competitive, room temperature liquid transportation fuel and reducing oil dependence,” the study notes.
However, as demand for natural gas increases in major sectors - power generation, industrial consumption, transportation and home heating - there are uncertainties about domestic supply, says MIT.
“Assessments of the recoverable volumes of shale gas in the
“The largest challenges lie in the area of water management, particularly the effective disposal of fracture fluids,” said MIT. “Concerns with this issue are particularly acute in those regions that have not previously experienced large-scale oil and gas development.”
For example, there are mounting efforts in the
Bills pending in the US Congress also could seriously impede shale gas drilling, according to the gas industry, by putting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in charge of permitting each and every fracking project.
In addition, the MIT study notes that much of the abundant
“The expansion of shale gas development in areas that have not previously seen significant gas production will require expansion of the related pipeline, storage and processing infrastructure,” the study said. This raises issues both of cost and potential public opposition of the NIMBY or “not in my back yard” sort.
If the expected expansion in
“If a more integrated [global] market evolves, with nations pursuing gas production and trade on an economic basis, there will be rising trade among the current regional markets,” the MIT study says, “and the US could become a substantial net importer of LNG in future decades.”
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