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How fossil fuels
move the world Natural Gas

Invisible but increasingly useful

Natural gas is used primarily for heating and for generating electricity – and because of its low CO2 emissions compared to other fossil fuels, this is a growing trend. Natural gas has the best ecological performance among the fossil fuels. For example, during the combustion of natural gas 25 % fewer greenhouse gases are emitted than with oil and up to 35 % less than with coal. Natural gas does not contain any aromatic hydrocarbons and a lot less sulfur.

1,033.4 billion cubic meters of natural gas

were transported around the world in 2012. About 70 percent of this reached the customers through pipelines, mainly within Russia and Europe.

The global network covers approximately three million kilometers.*

The rest of it - 329.8 billion cubic meters - was liquefied and shipped by LNG tanker. LNG stands for liquefied natural gas. Japan is by far the biggest importer of LNG. The industrial nation uses about one-third of the transported LNG volume. Australia could soon become one of the major LNG exporters. Many liquefaction terminals are currently under construction.

Natural gas reservoirs

When reservoirs are being classified, a distinction is made between conventional and unconventional reservoirs. In conventional reservoirs, the natural gas is contained in good porous rock. In unconventional reservoirs, the pores are very small and tight and the gas cannot flow to the well on its own. Artificial flow paths first have to be created - for example, with the help of hydraulic fracturing technology.

Low Emission

Natural gas is the fossil energy source with the lowest CO2 emissions. In many cases it can replace energy sources such as coal and oil, which have a greater impact on the environment.

Source: Federal Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt - UBA), Germany

CO2 Emissions from fossil energy sources

What is natural gas? The main constituent

The main constituent of natural gas is methane (CH4) - an organic compound that consists of carbon and hydrocarbon atoms. Natural gas usually also contains heavier hydrocarbons, methane homologs: ethane (C2H6), propane (C3H8), butane (C4H10), and some nonhydrocarbon admixtures.


Methane belongs to the natural greenhouse gases along with carbon dioxide and steam. It comes both from natural sources such as swamps and forests as well as livestock, landfills or agricultural land. Natural gas is also mostly made up of methane.


Ethane is a chemical compound which belongs to the saturated hydrocarbons. Ethane is a colorless odorless gas used chiefly for heating and combustion purposes.


Propane is a colorless odorless combustible gas and belongs to the hydrocarbons. Propane is a well-known cooling agent for automobile air conditioning, for example. In liquid form it is used as a combustion and heating gas, as liquefied petroleum gas and for operating hot air balloons.


Butane is a liquid gas generated during crude oil distillation and found in crude oil and natural gas. Blended with methylpropane and propane, butane can be used for heating and cooking purposes in tanks, gas cylinders or lighters. Buses and cars can also be driven with LPG consisting of butane blended with other hydrocarbons.

What is natural gas used for?

Natural gas is mainly used to generate electricity and heat. It is also used as a fuel in the chemical industry, for example in the manufacture of fertilizer and colorants. Natural gas could become more important in the production of plastics. Scientists at the Technical University of Berlin are attempting to manufacture ethylene from the main component of natural gas. If they succeed on a large scale, natural gas could replace the oil that is generally used for this purpose.

On the road with natural gas

Natural gas mobility offers enormous potential for reducing CO2 emissions - without compromising on driving range and comfort. A study by the Institute of Energy Economics (EWI) has shown that if a fifth of Germany's vehicles were converted from oil-based fuels to natural gas by 2030, up to 20 million tons of CO2 equivalent could be saved every year. That equals the annual CO2 emissions of 2.5 million two-person households. Technically speaking there is barely any difference between a gasoline engine and a natural gas engine - in the latter a gas-air mixture is ignited instead of a gasoline-air mixture. The natural gas is stored in a pressure tank, which can hold enough gas for a distance of 200 to 400 kilometers depending on the vehicle model.

Flagship project: Hamburg Airport. The entire fleet of baggage tow trucks as well as six passenger buses has been running on biomethane from the airport's own refueling station from 2007. Overall, CO2 was reduced by 12 percent, and gas vehicles emissions fell again by 65 percent upon conversion to bio- methane - equaling 527 tons per year. The airport was awarded the GreenFleet Award in 2012 for its good energy credentials.



In the little town Werlte, in Lower Saxony, Audi aims to be the first car manufacturer to power natural gas cars using artificially produced gas. The energy for the project comes from the company's own offshore wind farm in the Baltic Sea.

Step 1:

The green electricity created there splits water into hydrogen and oxygen by means of electrolysis in the first step.

Step 2:

In the second step, the plant produces synthetic methane from this hydrogen and from a biogas plant that would otherwise have ended up in the atmosphere.

Source: Gaswinner