Energy Gases: The Methane Age and Beyond

Nakicenovic, N. ORCID: (1993). Energy Gases: The Methane Age and Beyond. IIASA Working Paper. IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria: WP-93-033

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The combustion of fossil fuels results in the emissions of gases and pollutants that produce adverse ecological effects. Evidence is also accumulating that suggest they may also cause global climate change. The combustion gases that are connected with global climate change are primarily carbon dioxide (CO2) and to a lesser degree methane (CH4). All of these gases already occur in low concentrations in the atmosphere and, in fact, together with other greenhouse gases, such as water vapor, have made the earth habitable. The risk, however, is that the additional emissions of greenhouse gases associated with energy-use and other human activities are rapidly increasing the atmospheric concentrations of these gases and may therefore lead to an additional global warming during the next century. While the greenhouse gases that result from energy-use are the most important cause of these concerns, the energy gases also offer a potential solution to this problem.

Natural gas consists mostly of methane and is a very potent greenhouse gas if released into the atmosphere, but after combustion occurs, the amount of carbon dioxide resulting is much smaller per unit primary energy in comparison to other fossil energy sources. Natural gas emits roughly one-half of the carbon dioxide in comparison to coal for the equal amount of energy. Thus, a possible shift to a methane economy during the next decades offers a genuine mitigation strategy. Beyond that, natural gas could pave the way for more environmentally compatible energy systems of the distant future that could use hydrogen and electricity, both of which are carbon-free energy carriers, that could be produced by non-fossil sources of primary energy. This transition to the methane age and beyond to carbon-free energy systems would enhance the reduction of other adverse impacts on the environment by human activities.

In fact, carbon dioxide emissions represent the largest mass flow of waste in comparison to all other anthropogenic activities. Current energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are in the order of 6 gigatons of carbon (GtC) or more than 20 GtCO2. This is more than 20 times larger than, for example, global steel production of about 700 megatons (Mt). Decarbonization is a notion that denotes reduction of carbon dioxide emissions per unit primary energy and unit economic activity, and dematerialization refers to the reduction of materials used per unit economic activity. Decarbonization would also help reduce the emission of other energy pollutants and wastes, and it would also enhance the dematerialization in general. Other measures that would lead to decarbonization, in addition to a shift to methane economy, include efficiency improvements and energy conservation, carbon removal and storage or a shift to carbon-free sources of energy, such as solar and nuclear energy.

Item Type: Monograph (IIASA Working Paper)
Research Programs: Environmentally Compatible Energy Strategies (ECS)
Depositing User: IIASA Import
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2016 02:02
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 17:14

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