The Cleanest-Burning Fossil Fuel
Because natural gas is the cleanest-burning fossil fuel, it can help improve the quality of air and water, especially when used in place of other, more polluting energy sources. Natural gas combustion results in virtually no atmospheric emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) or small particulate matter, and far lower emissions of carbon monoxide (CO), reactive hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carbon dioxide than combustion of other fossil fuels.
Natural gas is more environmentally attractive than other fossil fuels because it is composed chiefly of methane – a molecule made up of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. When methane is burned completely, the principal products of combustion are carbon dioxide and water vapor. In comparison, oil and coal compounds have much more complicated molecular structures. They include a higher ratio of carbon, as well as various sulfur and nitrogen compounds. They do not burn as cleanly. Coal and industrial fuel oil combustion also produce ash particles, which do not burn at all; however, they can be carried into the atmosphere. Because natural gas burns cleanly, its use can be an effective means of controlling pollution.