Methane is a monstrous greenhouse gas, an invisible killer that lurks unsuspecting humanity everywhere. And the insidiousness of companies that are trying to sell methane and its processed products knows no limit.

Fortunately, the world community is not asleep: agreements on emissions are adopted, studies are published, and politicians do not tire of reminding about the imminent transition to carbon-free energy. Perhaps, something will really happen in a certain remote perspective similar to green power transition. Perhaps, the power will be able sometime to do without natural gas. But today the criticism of methane as energy carrier most often appears only the tool by means of which in some countries try to redistribute financial streams. And by the way, the latest researches showed that «terrible» greenhouse properties of natural gas are a little bit exaggerated.

In energy twine

In the British city of Glasgow, once the center of heavy engineering and shipbuilding, as well as the famous workers’ protests of the early XX century, back in 2021, the next UN Conference on Climate Change was held. It was marked out by rough criticism from ecologists, speeches of the researchers who were fairly declaring a social inequality in a question of emissions and also various funny things. So, the electric cars used to deliver the guests of the event had to be charged from diesel generators. However, this can be called the brightest symbol of the ostentatious struggle for the stability of the planet’s climate.

Following the results of this conference various agreements were signed. Among them is the Global agreement on methane (Global Methane Pledge). Over 80 countries agreed to reduce emissions of methane by 30% (from the level of 2020) by the end of the current decade. Australia, India, Iran, China and Russia treated this initiative with some surprise, refusing to sign the document.
The next year conference was held in the Egyptian Sharm el-Sheikh. And a number of the countries which decided to reduce methane emissions, increased to 150. Estimates of losses from flaring and natural gas leaks – 260 billion cubic meters per year were also announced. And representatives of the United States declared more ambitious version of the Plan of action on reduction of emissions of methane in the USA. As usual in such cases, it was promised not only to tighten the screws in the oil and gas sector, but also to reduce consumer spending, provide economic benefits and stimulate job creation. Yes, nobody promised «to create workplaces», only «to stimulate creation».
During the same conference by the International observatory on emissions of methane (IMEO) of the Program of the UN on environment (YuNEP) the Warning system and responses to methane (MARS) was started.

Surprisingly, but in most cases, when it comes about volumes of emissions of natural gas, it becomes clear that the largest emissions fall on the Russian Federation though our country makes this energy resource less than the United States. Besides at the level of the Program of the UN for environment it is persistently put some idea that reduction of emissions of methane needs to be carried out first of all due to decrease in oil and gas production.

On this background the leadership of the USA appears in an improbable power twine. On the one hand, it declares that hydrocarbon raw materials in quite foreseeable future are not required to their country as that rushes in the «green» future. On the other hand, oil and gas companies are required to increase the production of this raw material, modestly hinting that in the next ten years or maybe more it will definitely be needed.

Management of power information of the United States in March, 2023 published the assessment of influence of the Law on decrease of the inflation rate on power. Also it turns out that production of natural gas in the USA by 2050, most likely, will increase to 1.25 trillion CBM. Scenarios, at which this indicator decreases, are not considered. Apparently, it will be some kind of special methane, consisting not of carbon and hydrogen, but of the famous molecules of freedom, which certainly, if they affect the climate, then only positively.

Hydrogen in methane

Certainly methane is greenhouse gas. According to available data, its concentration in the atmosphere increased approximately by 2.4 times since preindustrial times. Depending on a source choice you learn that greenhouse properties of methane surpass a similar indicator of carbon dioxide in 20 or at once by 80 times. So, in YuNEP insists that CO2 is more than 80 times more powerful than methane. But also the reservation according to which natural gas which got to the atmosphere collapses much quicker than carbon dioxide (the most part is in 10-12 years). There is a conclusion is drawn that reduction of emissions will quickly be reflected in rates of warming.

And the research «Climate change 2021: fundamentals of physical science», published by the Cambridge university, says that greenhouse properties of methane exceed a similar indicator of CO2 by 27.9 times. The authors refer to these fresh data, printed in March, 2023, research of Surface warming and wetting due to methane’s long-wave radiative effects muted by short-wave absorption. It applies for small but very significant sensation. And slightly in more detail we will tell about it closer to the end of the article.

So far we will note that all progressive mankind fights against carbon dioxide. And natural gas gradually becomes the second front in unequal fights for preservation of temperature conditions on the planet Earth. And before the greenhouse properties of methane politicians spoke loudly, various scientific teams have already written about them. Often in these works were criticized incorrect, from the point of view of the authors, solutions, applying for participation in the green energy transition. For example, «blue» hydrogen was exposed to defamation. The hydrogen power is a subject which is tried to be approached repeatedly: and in the 1970s and at the end of the 2000s. It received the next regeneration in 2020 when the European Union approved «Hydrogen strategy». After it the relevant documents started accepting the certain countries including Russia.

Crutch for RES

Hydrogen power is a crutch for the European Union with which it tries to prop up electric generation on the renewables (R). RES cannot provide stable production of electric energy in necessary time and the demanded volume as the wind does not blow always and the sun does not shine always. At the moment the difficulties connected with it are completely parried by the present traditional capacities — on gas and coal. But the most part of coal power plants the EU intends to refuse by 2030 and the gas — in the period of the 2030-2040s.

In this article we will not discuss feasibility of such plans. In this case it is important for us that hydrogen is considered as the battery or, perhaps, a necessary buffer for a power supply system in which RES absolutely dominate.

Plans of Europe mean that electrolyzers which by means of solar and wind electric energy will begin to make hydrogen from water will be made. Such hydrogen is called «green».
But the most part of this energy carrier is made from natural gas («gray» hydrogen) today. Yes, thus carbon dioxide gets to the atmosphere. But after all it can be caught that turns such hydrogen into «blue».

However already at early stages of discussion of the current round of hydrogen power the «blue» scheme of production persistently admitted unusable as inquisitive researchers found an extended methane trace in such a product. It turned out that though one greenhouse gas is caught, but another gets to the atmosphere in the course of production and transportation. From the same position also the «turquoise» scheme of production providing receiving hydrogen from natural gas by pyrolysis was criticized.

«Green contra gray»

More competitive conditions were provided to «green» hydrogen in advance. It is not obvious if to consider this product as the independent energy carrier self-valuable to the arising market. But it is quite explainable in conditions when hydrogen appears the battery for RES generation. «Blue», «turquoise» and other color colleagues will be obviously superfluous in this scheme, though cheaper in production.

Such a situation generates disputes between the countries. For example, the minister of power transition of France Anyes Panye-Ryunashe scarified Germany for a «hypocritical» position concerning the hydrogen made by means of atomic energy. At first both countries agreed to follow the principle of «a technological neutrality» concerning production of hydrogen. Low-carbon («nuclear») hydrogen could be used «for achievement of the objectives of decarbonization in the industry and transport» on an equal basis with «renewable» hydrogen. And then the German authorities tried to revise this decision (as it was in their interests). Not to tell, however, that they fully managed it. And after all this dispute does not come within miles of what are generated by the hydrogen made from natural gas.

Pedaling the subject of greenhouse properties of methane creates a point of pressure upon producers of natural gas, providing a basis for possible system of a payment for emissions and base for artificial decrease in competitiveness of the products made from natural gas.

Certainly, today in fashion is resolute optimism concerning prime cost of hydrogen. In October, 2022 the analytical center Carbon Tracker (London) published the report of Clean Hydrogen’s Place in the Energy Transition. This report runs: «Rapid growth of capital investments in not fossil environmentally friendly («green». — The edition) can lead hydrogen within the next several years to that its cost will fall lower than $2 for 1 kg that will make it one of the cheapest types of energy». And it can appear so that rapid growth of capital investments wonderfully will not lead to this result.

But if you cannot reduce prime cost of the product, it is necessary to increase prime cost of a product of your competitor. And then it will be possible to play the methane card, having sharply lowered appeal of «grey» and «blue» hydrogen. It is especially probable in the conditions of pro-slipping of «Hydrogen strategy» in the territory of the European Union.

Though projects in this area are also realized, but the break which was expected by 2024, most likely, do not wait any more. One could assume that this is just our slander, but at the end of last year, E.ON stated that, with the current state of affairs, Germany does not implement its hydrogen plans for 2030. Instead of 10 GW of electrolysis capacities 5.6 GW will be installed. Also there is no necessary infrastructure for hydrogen transportation (including from ports) to consumers. Now there are only 417 km of hydrogen networks (less than 0.1% of a gas network of Germany). Of course, it is possible to transport methane — hydrogen mix on the available network of gas pipelines. But it not fully corresponds to the tasks facing hydrogen power.

Even more often in the European sources it is possible to meet appeals to concentrate on this stage of effort not on a power component, and on replacement of already used hydrogen in the industry and agriculture (production of fertilizers). In other words, new consumers arise extremely reluctantly, hopes for formation of the new market have faded, but there is already a market for non-energy «gray» hydrogen, and it should be replaced with «green».

And this is not about any remote prospect. It is process which happens at present. And Russia intending to occupy one of the leading positions in the emerging global hydrogen market, should pay close attention to the advantages that the argument about the greenhouse properties of methane gives to potential competitors.

Sea «methane card»

Hydrogen power is not the only direction in which it is possible to use «the methane card». In 2022 large mass media (for example, Bloomberg) spread around results of research «Methane in the sea: in search of the invisible climatic murderer» (Methane at Sea: Finding the Invisible Climate Killer) Transport & Environment non-profit organization (T&E). The name of research already sets thinking on an excessive exaltation of authors. But the organization which they represent, participated in development and promotion of the toughened European requirements to motor and bunkering types of fuel.

In research it is claimed that leak of methane from the vessels using the liquefied natural gas (LNG) as fuel does them «dirtier» in comparison with vessels on diesel fuel or fuel oil. The statement can seem doubtful as ecological instructions within the convention MARPOL cover nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides, as well as unburned hydrocarbons. It is doubtful that LNG can lag behind diesel fuel and fuel oil at least in the first two parameters.

But to the authors of the research such questions are uninteresting. They are concentrated on other: allegedly approximately 80% of the vessels use liquefied natural gas as fuel and during the work of engines 3.1% of fuel gets to the atmosphere. And methane, as it is noted in research, is greenhouse gas which «heats the atmosphere more than 80 times more» than carbon dioxide.

The T&E Company claims that more than two thirds of new vessels since 2025, most likely, will work at LNG and by 2030 a share of this fuel, which is used for a bunkering in Europe, will grow from 6% to more than 20%. Researchers claim that the majority of the vessels working at the liquefied natural gas cause bigger damage to climate than the vessels working at fossil fuel which they have to replace.

But the authors of the research like neither diesel fuel nor fuel oil. It only emphasizes how negatively they estimate the use of methane for a bunkering. However the way out, in opinion of T&E, is: it is necessary to pass to green types of fuel based on hydrogen.

In principle, experiments of a bunkering hydrogen started being made recently. It is also considered a possibility of production of ammonia from «green» hydrogen and its use as ship fuel. But it is not reasonable to expect that without additional incentives these directions will become somehow noticeable in the bunkering segment at this stage.

At the beginning of 2023 it was declared start of global campaign «Tell «no» to LNG» which was obviously cast by research efforts of T&E. In its framework urge to refuse natural gas as bunkering fuel, referring to leak of greenhouse gas of methane during the operation of engines. Allegedly the vessel construction, working at LNG, and bunkering infrastructure under their needs distracts «poor resources» from fuel and technological decisions which «lay a way to transportations with really zero emissions».

Not only heats but also cools

It can seem that radicalism of an appeal to tell «no» to liquefied natural gas testifies to marginal character of this action than to something serious. And it is possible to agree with such a look. But attempts to lower emissions of methane are not limited to it. And the branch treats them very seriously.

In September, 2022 «The innovative initiative of fight against emissions of methane in sea navigation» was created — Lloyd’s Register and a number of large sea carriers, which in March 2023 new players joined. The initiative purpose is to find and advance technological decisions for sea branch on measurement of emissions of methane and management of them. Thus participants of “The innovative initiative of fight against emissions of methane in sea navigation» recognize advantages of LNG as bunkering fuel but conduct work on transition to fuel solutions of the future.

Here it is worth mentioning the Green Ray project, which coordinates the Finnish center of the technical researches VTT. It unites some companies from all chain of value creation in the field of navigation. Within the project the technologies reducing methane emissions by ship engines will be tested. In other words, this initiative is aimed at the solution of the revealed problems that as it is possible for LNG more long was used as bunkering fuel.

Participants of Green Ray also made specification which it is possible to consider comical. So, according to them, all technologies developed within the project will also be completely capable to use bio or synthetic methane instead of the liquefied natural gas made from fossil raw materials. That is CH4 can be used instead of CH4. We cannot help admiring scientific progress. However, we understand that it was necessary to say these on-duty phrases, no matter how strange they really sound. Meanwhile Green Ray was given out financing from the European Union. And at the same time programs of certification which cover all (!) greenhouse gases on all way of LNG from the extracted gaseous cubic meters to the liquefied kilograms delivered to the end user start being developed and actively take root. By the way, developers of such certifications give the most radical estimates of greenhouse properties of methane — in their opinion, it is 84 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide.

Generally, the fight against emissions by natural gas accrues the last years. And suddenly there is a research of the Californian University mentioned by us at the beginning of article in Riverside which as we noticed, applies for some sensational nature. It confirms that methane detains a large amount of heat in the atmosphere of the planet. But! At the same time it creates the cooling clouds at the expense of which 30% of heating are compensated.

That is methane absorbs a part of short-wave radiation of the Sun in the atmosphere, and therefore it does not only promote heating but helps cooling.

It is unlikely that this study will force the people interested in decrease in competitiveness of methane and products of its processing to reconsider the views. But it testifies to a scope for studying of once again what impact makes methane on the planet. Probably, our country should also thoroughly invest in the study this question.

Whether all aforesaid means that emission of natural gas is a trifle at which you should not pay attention? Of course, it is no so. And domestic oil and gas industry like no other knows how serious the matter is. Therefore for many years it consistently fights against emissions of methane and increases efficiency of its production and transportation. But it is impossible to allow that this question became a political tool, because the political tool will be used for economic pressure and support of inefficient technologies.