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The role of natural gas and its infrastructure in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, improving regional air quality, and renewable resource integration

The pursuit of future energy systems that can meet electricity demands while supporting the attainment of societal environment goals, including mitigating climate change and reducing pollution in the air, has led to questions regarding the viability of continued use of natural gas. Natural gas use, particularly for electricity generation, has increased in recent years due to enhanced resource availability from non-traditional reserves and pressure to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) from higher-emitting sources, including coal generation.

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Abstract:

The pursuit of future energy systems that can meet electricity demands while supporting the attainment of societal environment goals, including mitigating climate change and reducing pollution in the air, has led to questions regarding the viability of continued use of natural gas. Natural gas use, particularly for electricity generation, has increased in recent years due to enhanced resource availability from non-traditional reserves and pressure to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) from higher-emitting sources, including coal generation. While lower than coal emissions, current natural gas power generation strategies primarily utilize combustion with higher emissions of GHG and criteria pollutants than other low-carbon generation options, including renewable resources. Furthermore, emissions from life cycle stages of natural gas production and distribution can have additional detrimental GHG and air quality (AQ) impacts. On the other hand, natural gas power generation can play an important role in supporting renewable resource integration by (1) providing essential load balancing services, and (2) supporting the use of gaseous renewable fuels through the existing infrastructure of the natural gas system. Additionally, advanced technologies and strategies including fuel cells and combined cooling heating and power (CCHP) systems can facilitate natural gas generation with low emissions and high efficiencies. Thus, the role of natural gas generation in the context of GHG mitigation and AQ improvement is complex and multi-faceted, requiring consideration of more than simple quantification of total or net emissions. If appropriately constructed and managed, natural gas generation could support and advance sustainable and renewable energy. In this paper, a review of the literature regarding emissions from natural gas with a focus on power generation is conducted and discussed in the context of GHG and AQ impacts. In addition, a pathway forward is proposed for natural gas generation and infrastructure to maximize environmental benefits and support renewable resources in the attainment of emission reductions.

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Citation:

Mac Kinnon, Michael A., Brouwer, Jacob, & Samuelsen, Scott. (2018). The role of natural gas and its infrastructure in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, improving regional air quality, and renewable resource integration. Progress in Energy and Combustion Science64(C). doi:10.1016/j.pecs.2017.10.002