What do I need to know about natural gas?

Natural gas is one of Australia's most prominent and important resources, not least because it meets the energy needs of people up and down the country.

It's popular because of its flexibility and because it boasts less than half the carbon emissions of coal when used to generate electricity.

What is natural gas made up of?

Natural gas is primarily made up of methane, although other gases are also present. Butane, propane and ethane are found in small amounts.

It has been formed over millions of years as a result of plants and animals decaying into the ground.

They're compressed in the surface of the earth and deep drilling enables the gases to be released and used to power homes and businesses all over Australia.

One of the main features of natural gas is that it is colourless and odourless, which only adds to its popularity as a source of energy. It's also lighter than air, which makes it less dangerous than some other alternatives.

Where is natural gas found in Australia?

Australia has an abundance of natural gas and current reserves are expected to last until around 2050.

The country has several large reserves of gas, with the main ones found at the Cooper Basin in central Australia, the Northwest Shelf in Western Australia and Victoria's Gippsland Basin.

There are high hopes that more reserves will be found across the nation, which will help keep gas prices down and ensure supplies are being met.

A series of pipelines are found all over Australia, which are responsible for connecting gas producers with their consumers.

How is natural gas used in Australia?

It's estimated that natural gas provides approximately 12 per cent of electricity on the Australian National Electricity Market.

Power stations throughout the country are responsible for turning the chemical energy found in natural gas into electrical energy that can be used in homes and businesses.

Natural gas is pumped into a gas turbine where it is combined with air and burned. This generates heat, as well as several combustion gases. Heat causes the gases to expand, which when enclosed in the gas turbine, leads to a build-up of pressure.

The blades of the gas turbine then spin, converting some of the heat energy into mechanical energy. An electromagnetic field found within the generator then converts it into electrical energy.

Combustion gases are then used to heat pipes full of water, creating steam. This expands in the pipes so when it eventually emerges, it is under an extreme amount of pressure.

This will turn the steam turbine, which once again converts mechanical into electrical energy. It is then that the steam comes into contact with pipes full of cold water, which condenses the steam so it turns back into liquid form.

A transformer is responsible for changing the electrical energy coming out of the generator into a high voltage. This means it can be used by the electricity market to be transmitted efficiently through power lines.

By the time the electricity reaches homes and businesses, its voltage has been lowered so it can be used in a safe way.

Does Australia export its natural gas?

Some countries don't have the level of gas reserves seen here in Australia and therefore choose to import it.

Australia is a major exporter of liquefied natural gas - otherwise known as LNG - especially to countries throughout Asia. Japan and China in particular see LNG as a cleaner alternative to burning other types of fossil fuel.

There have even been suggestions Australia could soon become the world leader in LNG exports.

Posted by Paul Doyle