Liquefied Natural Gas, commonly known as LNG, has recently resurged as a popular news topic as officials seek more profitable and efficient ways to transport and export natural gas. The process was invented in the 19th century, but has become a topic of conversation in recent years as U.S. natural gas production increased.
Breaking Down the LNG Process
Liquefied Natural Gas is exactly what it sounds like: natural gas transformed into a liquid state. The process is completed by cooling natural gas to -260° Fahrenheit and then storing it in cryogenic containers for shipping. Liquefied Natural Gas is approximately 600 times smaller in volume than natural gas, enabling companies to import or export more natural gas with less space. Designated import/export terminals have been built that liquify the natural gas before exporting and regasify the liquid when importing or storing it until needed.
A Brief History of LNG
Liquifying natural gas is the most efficient way to transport the resource to destinations that need it but cannot be reached by or support natural gas pipelines. LNG is most commonly shipped on ocean tankers that contain extremely cold cryogenic tanks. The liquefaction process occurs at the export terminal before being transported and is then reverted back to its gaseous state at the import terminal.
The U.S. has only recently become one of the key players in LNG exports, thanks to increasing supplies of natural gas and expanded export terminals. For awhile, the U.S. relied rather heavily on LNG imports. Beginning in 1995, the United States starting importing larger and larger quantities of LNG. The import of the gas increased rapidly until 2007 when it peaked at 771 billion cubic feet (Bcf). Now, the United States exports over 700 Bcf of Liquefied Natural Gas to 28 countries, though it still imports LNG to areas whose pipelines and storage capacity are limited.
Natural gas is an incredibly important energy source both stateside and all around the world. In the U.S. alone, natural gas accounts for almost a third of primary energy and is the source of heating fuel for about half of all households. LNG gives the United States the ability to supply natural gas to areas that do not have functioning pipelines or the ability to store the substance long-term.