The Role of LNG in the Energy Transition | 2024 | Blog | Resources | John Crane

The Role of LNG in the Energy Transition

April 29, 2024

5 Minute Read

Moving away from fossil fuels toward more sustainable energy sources is fundamental to the global goal of achieving net zero by 2050. Using liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a “bridge fuel” could make the switch easier, making it a promising lever for accelerating the energy transition.

LNG holds the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions, especially when used as a substitute for coal. By supporting hydrogen production on a large scale, it can also pave the way to achieving sustainable energy goals. John Crane has supported the LNG industry since its formation, and we’re continuing this legacy as LNG demand grows.

Understanding the Basics of LNG

When natural gas is cooled to -256ºF (-160ºC), it becomes liquified natural gas or LNG. Compared to its gaseous state, LNG is more energy dense and takes up only around 1/600th the volume of natural gas. The liquid is often transported in large cryogenic tanks until it reaches its destination, then regasified for distribution and end-use. LNG is suitable for the same applications as natural gas, including heating, electricity generation and the production of fertilizers and other industrial products.

As a component in the energy transition, LNG can decrease carbon emissions in processes where it displaces coal, which has a large carbon footprint. The fuel can easily be shipped to regions where a lack of native natural gas resources hinders the scaling back of coal usage. In this respect, liquid natural gas could serve as a “bridge fuel” for the shift from coal to renewables and other zero-carbon alternatives.

The Advantages of LNG in the Energy Transition

With a lower carbon-emissions profile compared to other fossil fuels, LNG has a distinct advantage in decarbonizing industry. When burned, natural gas emits 50% less CO2 than coal, and it does not generate soot, dust or fumes — further reducing its impact on air quality and overall environmental footprint.

One of the difficulties with renewables is maintaining a steady power supply, as energy sources like solar and wind are inherently intermittent. LNG, which has existing markets and infrastructure in place, can act as a backup for clean power generation, providing power on demand when renewable production ebbs or falls short.

In the transportation industry, carbon emissions are notoriously difficult to abate. However, LNG burns cleaner than diesel and is already a proven alternative in heavy-duty vehicles and ships. Meanwhile, the acceleration of LNG-fueled transportation technology means options are continually growing.

Using LNG for transportation is a near-term strategy for carbon reduction; its use can facilitate the switch from traditional fuels to cleaner options such as hydrogen.

How LNG Benefits the Hydrogen Economy

Establishing a hydrogen economy is a promising step toward a carbon-neutral future. LNG’s versatility, existing markets and infrastructure enable it to support hydrogen-related efforts in several ways.

Hydrogen Production and LNG

Currently, hydrogen electrolysis is expensive and energy intensive. Until technology advances to the point where electrolysis is economically viable, LNG can facilitate a form of low-emissions hydrogen production using steam methane reformation (SMR) and carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS).

Using LNG as a feedstock for SMR is an established industrial process; the methane from LNG, when combined with steam, produces hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Pairing SMR with CCUS technology, which prevents the release of CO2 into the atmosphere, generates hydrogen with low carbon emissions.

Transportation Potential of LNG

LNG can be transported worldwide by ship, rail or truck. This flexibility is a boon for locations lacking abundant natural gas resources, as it makes LNG available locally for producing low-carbon hydrogen through a pairing of SMR and CCUS. Ultimately, LNG’s transportability allows the hydrogen economy to scale more quickly.

Existing Infrastructure for LNG

Pipelines, storage facilities and transportation networks currently used for LNG can potentially be repurposed for hydrogen, reducing the cost and complexity of the energy transition. However, a thorough assessment of existing infrastructure will be necessary to mitigate hydrogen-specific risks such as embrittlement.

LNG Co-Blending

Using a blend of hydrogen and LNG in existing industrial processes can lower emissions in the near term, offering a precursor to full hydrogen use. Initiatives are underway to assess the real-world benefits and risks of blending hydrogen with traditional fuels like natural gas.

Decarbonizing LNG

There are good reasons to use LNG to bridge the energy transition. First, its low-carbon intensity makes it an appealing alternative to coal, and second, it’s a readily available feedstock for hydrogen production. However, realizing the full potential of LNG as a low-emissions pathway requires decarbonization along the entire LNG value chain.

Implementing CCUS

There are several opportunities along the LNG value chain for capturing carbon, with CCUS providing the most benefit during the natural gas processing and liquefaction stages. Implementing carbon capture at liquefaction facilities can reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 90%.

Using Renewable Energy

When used for LNG production and liquefaction, zero-emissions energies such as solar, wind or hydroelectric power, would significantly reduce LNG’s carbon footprint. The global shift toward renewables and the increasing availability of renewable technology presents a promising pathway for the LNG industry to bolster its overall sustainability and environmental stewardship.

Improving LNG Transportation Efficiency

Optimizing shipping routes to minimize fuel consumption will decrease emissions from LNG transportation. By analyzing factors such as wind patterns, currents and distance, operators can ensure that vessels use diesel and other fuel resources efficiently.

A future step to decarbonizing LNG transportation would be to use the LNG itself to power shipping vessels. This technology is already in use today.

Exploring Bio-LNG

Moving away from conventional natural gas extraction toward bio-LNG production could help industrial operators lower greenhouse gas emissions. Also known as liquefied biomethane, bio-LNG is a renewable form of LNG produced from organic waste; it has the potential to reduce emissions by up to about 92% when combusted.

By adopting these decarbonization strategies, the LNG industry can play a key role in building a more sustainable energy future.

The Challenges of LNG as a Bridge Fuel

Despite the benefits of near-term decarbonization for many difficult-to-abate industrial sectors, political and technical obstacles hinder the widespread implementation of LNG as a bridge fuel.

Government policies and regulations are not always favorable toward LNG, yet support is crucial in driving adoption. Improving financial incentives could make LNG more economically attractive and encourage industries to embrace it as an alternative fuel source. Similarly, trade policies impact the market, shaping LNG’s availability and pricing on an international scale.

There are also real-world engineering challenges to contend with:

  • In many regions, the infrastructure for handling and distributing LNG is insufficient or non-existent. Building such infrastructure is time-consuming and requires capital investment.
  • Once LNG reaches its destination, it must be regasified. The initial cooling and final regasification require large amounts of energy. If provided by burning fossil fuels, this contributes to overall carbon emissions.
  • Methane, the primary component of LNG, is a flammable greenhouse gas. Preventing leakage for safety and emissions control reasons requires advanced technologies and operational management.

By understanding these influences, stakeholders in the LNG industry can effectively navigate the challenges that LNG poses while ensuring sustainable growth within their operations.

John Crane’s LNG Sealing Solutions

Seal and seal support systems are crucial for the safety and reliability of LNG processes. Dry gas seals contain process fluid and emissions in rotating equipment, minimizing environmental impact and improving the overall reliability, efficiency and safety of the LNG value chain.

As a market leader in sealing solutions, John Crane has supplied dry gas seals for LNG since 1991. Today, more than 90% of the dry gas seals operating in LNG liquefaction plants are from John Crane.

The Type 28XP with Carbon LF™ dry gas seal is created explicitly for LNG operations. Our engineers designed this seal to withstand contact conditions during ratcheting, turbine wash and windmilling. This seal delivers long-lasting performance and was tested extensively under demanding conditions to prove the technology.

John Crane’s commitment to innovative solutions for seal protection and enhancement allows us to play a key role in the growth of the LNG industry as the energy transition progresses.

Learn how John Crane’s mechanical seals helped an LNG processing plant significantly extend its mean time between repair (MTBR).

Supporting LNG the New Energy Transition

LNG is poised to deliver significant value as a bridge to the new energy economy. Its low-emissions profile relative to coal, transportability and potential as an on-demand backup for renewable power sources position LNG in the right place to accelerate a net zero carbon future.

At John Crane, we believe it is necessary to explore all available technologies to achieve sustainability goals, and we’re committed to pioneering solutions that support the new energy economy.

Contact John Crane to explore proven LNG solutions for the new energy era.

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