The Least Bad Fossil Fuel

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Although renewable energy sources offer the best way to radically cut greenhouse gas emissions, generating electricity from natural gas instead of coal can significantly reduce the amount of carbon added to the atmosphere. Conventional coal-fired power plants emit 0.25 kilogram of carbon for every kilowatt-hour generated. (More advanced coal-fired plants produce about 20 percent less carbon.) But natural gas (CH4) has a higher proportion of hydrogen and a lower proportion of carbon than coal does. A combined-cycle power plant that burns natural gas emits only about 0.1 kilogram of carbon per kilowatt-hour (graph at right).

Unfortunately, dramatic increases in natural gas use inthe U.S. and othercountries have driven up the cost of the fuel. Forthe past decade, natural gas has been the fastest-growing source of fossil-fuel energy, and it now supplies almost 20 percent of America's electricity. At the same time, the price of natural gas has risen from an average of $2.50 to $3 per million Btu in 1997 to more than $7 per million Btu today.

The price increases have been so alarmingthat in 2003,then Federal Reserve Board Chair Alan Greenspan warned that the U.S. faced a natural gas crisis. The primary solution proposed by the White House and some in Congress was to increase gas production. The 2005 Energy Policy Act included large subsidies to support gas producers, increase exploration and expand imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG). These measures, however, may not enhance energy security, because most of the imported LNG would come from some of the same OPEC countries that supply petroleum to the U.S. Furthermore, generating electricity from even the cleanest natural gas power plants would still emit too much

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  • semolina
    Which fossil fuel emits the least of carbon?
    9 years ago

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