Humans have harnessed naturally occurring gas for over 2,500 years, since the Chinese made crude pipelines from bamboo shoots to transport seeping gas to the coast in order to boil sea water and make it drinkable. By the end of the 19th century natural gas was being piped short distances for street lighting – but without quality metal pipes and a pipeline infrastructure, it was difficult to transport it very far.
Demand for gas as the greenest fossil fuel is on the rise; according to the BP Energy Outlook gas is the fastest growing fuel in the energy mix. It emits half the CO2 of coal and a third less than oil when burned, as well as fewer pollutants. But the transportation of natural gas has remained a major hindrance to the efficient exploitation of reserves worldwide. Large gas discoveries like those off Senegal and Mauritania are heralded, but often with an aside about potential difficulties in monetizing the assets. Unnecessary volumes of associated gas are still being flared because of the problems of efficiently transporting the gas to market. Pipelines crossing hundreds of kilometers and several countries are difficult to plan, expensive to construct and potentially insecure.
Converting gas to a liquid form for ease of transport is the obvious answer. Various technologies to do this have been used for many years, but the expense of building onshore conversion plants or floating vessels, amplified by the common commercial model used for selling liquefied natural gas (LNG), with suppliers locked into long-term contracts, has limited the business.
This situation is changing. The International Gas Union reported that global trade in LNG reached a record 258 million tons in 2016 as new markets appeared worldwide. Technology is and will continue to prove key to this expansion, with new and more efficient methods of converting gas into liquids being developed, as we discuss in this edition. The global LNG market is expected to double by 2030. Flexibility in LNG contracts is increasing and deals are shorter, with natural gas becoming a global trading commodity like oil.
It’s a new era for gas.
Editor in Chief