The country wants to avoid natural gas slips, which add to 2% of the total extracted, on average; the gas is mainly employed to generate energy.

Second world largest natural gas producer (second only to Russia), the USA wants to minimize the losses caused by slips deriving from the exploration of the energy input. Natural gas has been intensely used in the country to generate power, as a replacement to coal, helping to reduce the energy carbon footprint. Yet the challenge of the slips of gas, mainly composed of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas generator, is still a great concern for scientists and for the instances involved in the product chain.

“If we want to steadily reduce our intensive use of fossil fuels until we fully adopt renewables, natural gas provides the opportunity of possibly being a transition fuel, since there is no doubt that, when burning it, we liberate less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The challenge is that methane, the major component of natural gas, is a powerful greenhouse gas generator. And the science, public policies and the regulations necessary for its use are very complex”, summarises Dave Allen, who teaches chemical engineering at the University of Texas, in Austin (USA), and one of the speakers at the Sustainable Gas Research & Innovation Conference, to be held on September 27 and 28, in São Paulo.

The object of concern for Allen and his colleagues may be translated into numbers. “If 1% to 3% of the gas we extract from the ground slips before being used, then we lose all the advantage it has as low-carbon fuel.” As stated by Allen, an average estimation points to a 2% slip of all the gas extracted. “That is, we have already lost a great share of this advantage. What else do we know? Well, we know that the average [C1] does not tell the whole story. What we have is a situation in which a small share of the installations accounts for a large share of the emissions.”

Finding these great emitters is a major technological challenge. “In all the installations using gas, how do we find large methane slips? This requires technology and there are a number of ongoing researches in the USA nowadays.