What is natural gas?
Natural gas is a colourless, odurless substance found in permable rocks in the earth's crust, usually together with crude oil. Formed from the decay of organic materials, this gas consists primarily of hydrocarbons. These compounds come in a number of different forms (see Hydrocarbons).
What are hydrocarbons?
Hydrocarbons have been called "canned energy". They comprise compounds of carbon and hydrogen. One atom of carbon binds to four of hydrogen. Energy is released when the carbon atom is heated and reacts with the oxygen in the air. More complex hydrocarbons are formed when several carbon atoms combine. This also increases their energy content.
When you hang your clothes to dry, the chances are good that the peg you use is processed natural gas. That is because this commodity ranks alongside oil as the most important feedstock for plastics production.
Put briefly, hydrocarbons in the gas are broken down into smaller components under high temperatures and pressures to create monomers – the smallest plastic building blocks. The next step is to combine monomers into long chains called polymers, which are also found in nature. One example is the cellulose in plants.
Different combinations of monomers create end products with varying properties. These can also be improved by adding colorants or other substances to provide the basis for different plastics.
From shopping bags and bottles to mobile phones and computers, we are constantly surrounded by plastic materials – and thereby also by natural gas as a key ingredient in their production.
Learn more about the different expressions used in the gas industry here.