Liquefied natural gas or LNG is natural gas (predominantly methane, CH4) that has been converted temporarily to liquid form for ease of storage or transport.
Liquefied natural gas takes up about 1/600th the volume of natural gas in the gaseous state. It is odorless, colorless, non-toxic and non-corrosive. Hazards include flammability, freezing and asphyxia.
A typical LNG process. The gas is first extracted and transported to a processing plant where it is purified by removing any condensates such as water, oil, mud, as well as other gases like CO2 and H2S. An LNG process train will also typically be designed to remove trace amounts of mercury from the gas stream to prevent mercury amalgamizing with aluminium in the cryogenic heat exchangers. The gas is then cooled down in stages until it is liquefied. LNG is finally stored in storage tanks and can be loaded and shipped.
The liquefaction process involves removal of certain components, such as dust, acid gases, helium, water, and heavy hydrocarbons, which could cause difficulty downstream. The natural gas is then condensed into a liquid at close to atmospheric pressure (maximum transport pressure set at around 25 kPa/3.6 psi) by cooling it to approximately −162 °C (−260 °F).
The reduction in volume makes it much more cost efficient to transport over long distances where pipelines do not exist. Where moving natural gas by pipelines is not possible or economical, it can be transported by specially designed cryogenic sea vessels (LNG carriers) or cryogenic road tankers.
The energy density of LNG is 60% of that of diesel fuel.
LNG is principally used for transporting natural gas to markets, where it is regasified and distributed as pipeline natural gas. It can be used in natural gas vehicles, although it is more common to design vehicles to use compressed natural gas. Its relatively high cost of production and the need to store it in expensive cryogenic tanks have prevented its widespread use in commercial applications.
The density of LNG is roughly 0.41 kg/L to 0.5 kg/L, depending on temperature, pressure and composition, compared to water at 1.0 kg/L.
The heat value depends on the source of gas that is used and the process that is used to liquefy the gas. The higher heating value of LNG is estimated to be 24 MJ/L. The lower heating value of LNG is 21 MJ/L or 635 BTU/ft3. For the purpose of comparison of different fuels the heating value is also known as the energy density expressed in MJ/L or the gasoline gallon equivalent expressed in BTU/ft3. The energy density of LNG is 2.4 times greater than that of CNG which makes it economical to transport natural gas in the form of LNG by ship. The energy density of LNG is comparable to propane and ethanol but is only 60% that of diesel and 70% that of gasoline.