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Natural gas as it is produced from the ground (after having been separated from the concurrently produced crude oil or condensate) is a mixture of compounds which have widely varying physical characteristics. These compounds are composed of hydrogen and carbon atoms in various molecular arrangements and are generally referred to as hydrocarbons. Impurities sometimes occur in natural gas and are usually removed. Except in special situations, these impurities are not valuable enough to warrant their recovery and purification.
Natural gas obeys the so-called gas laws relating pressure, volume, and temperature as well as certain relationships dictated by the characteristics of the individual compounds. These characteristics are determined by the molecular structure or arrangement of the carbon and hydrogen atoms. Among the characteristics which affect natural gas or its components values are boiling point or vapor pressure, critical pressure and temperatures, specific gravity, and heat of combustion. These same characteristics govern the separation of the mixtures in processing plants. Partly because of the characteristics of the individual hydrocarbons the relative amounts of the separate compounds vary appreciably, with the lighter hydrocarbons being much more prevalent than the heavier hydrocarbons.
The two principal uses for natural gas are for fuel and as a basis for the manufacture of chemicals. By far the largest use of natural gas as produced, as well as some of the constituents extracted therefrom, is for fuel. However, a small but important amount of natural gas is used in manufacturing chemicals. These chemicals are called petrochemicals since their origin is petroleum. The ability of carbon and hydrogen to bond together in a variety of forms makes the constituents of natural gas perfect building blocks for many modern day chemicals.
Many interesting future developments are in store for natural gas. These include extension of existing and the building of new pipeline systems, both for natural gas and for natural gas liquids. In addition, trans-oceanic movement of natural gas in liquefied form is an accomplished fact and will play an increasing role in the world's energy balance. Future expansion of the petrochemical use is also anticipated.
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