MIT Releases Report on Natural Gas: Promising ‘Transitional Fuel’ Toward Renewable Future

July 9, 2010 Updated: October 8, 2018

[xtypo_dropcap]N[/xtypo_dropcap]atural gas has “great potential” to help curb greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our dependence on oil, paving the way toward a future that can run on renewable resources, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT said this could be done by replacing coal plants with more efficient combined-cycle gas plants.

The university study “The Future of Natural Gas” was part of a series by MIT to investigate the roles of different alternative energy sources “for meeting future demand under carbon dioxide emissions constraints.” A report on nuclear power was released in 2003 and another on coal in 2007. A full report on natural gas “with additional analysis” will be released later this year.

The study, managed by the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), was conducted over two years. The researchers found that combined-cycle plants fired by natural gas, which use the hot gases released from burning natural gas to turn a turbine that generates electricity, are much more efficient than coal plants. Natural gas is a cleaner fuel than coal or oil, emitting less carbon dioxide than the other two energy sources.

MITEI Director Ernest J. Moniz said in a statement, “Much has been said about natural gas as a bridge to a low-carbon future, with little underlying analysis to back up this contention. The analysis in this study provides the confirmation—natural gas truly is a bridge to a low-carbon future.”

The report said the United States has natural gas reserves that can supply the nation with energy for 92 years at the current consumption rate. However, much of it is derived from unconventional sources that are difficult and expensive to extract. Nonetheless, MIT noted that much of the nation’s shale gas (gas produced from shale, a type of sedimentary rock) could be affordably extracted.

Globally, “recoverable gas resources” (with known technologies for extraction) are enough to last over 160 years at the current consumption rate, reported MIT. But in order to implement the extensive use of natural gas, there must be “substantial additions to the existing processing, delivery, and storage facilities [that] will be required in order to handle greater amounts and the changing patterns of distribution.”

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