For hundreds of years, natural gas has been known as a very useful substance. The Chinese discovered a very long time ago that the energy in natural gas could be harnessed, and used to heat water. In the early days of the natural gas industry, the gas was mainly used to light streetlamps, and the occasional house. However, with much improved distribution channels and technological advancements, natural gas is being used in ways never thought possible.

There are so many different applications for this fossil fuel that it is hard to provide an exhaustive list of everything it is used for. And no doubt, new uses are being discovered all the time. Natural gas has many applications, commercially, in your home, in industry, and even in the transportation sector! While the uses described here are not exhaustive, they may help to show just how many things natural gas can do.

Natural gas is one of the most popular fuels for residential heating. According to theAmerican Gas Asssociation (AGA), 51 percent of heated homes in the U.S. (or 49.1 million households), used natural gas heating in 2000.In addition to heating homes, natural gas can also be used to help cool houses, through natural gas powered air conditioning.Some examples of other natural gas appliances include space heaters, clothes dryers, pool and jacuzzi heaters, fireplaces, barbecues, garage heaters, and outdoor lights.Commercial uses of natural gas are very similar to residential uses. The commercial sector includes public and private enterprises, like office buildings, schools, churches, hotels, restaurants, and government buildings. The main uses of natural gas in this sector include space heating, water heating, and cooling. For restaurants and other establishments that require cooking facilities, natural gas is a popular choice to fulfill these needs.

Natural gas has a multitude of industrial uses, including providing the base ingredients for such varied products as plastic, fertilizer, anti-freeze, and fabrics.Natural gas is consumed primarily in the pulp and paper, metals, chemicals, petroleum refining, stone, clay and glass, plastic, and food processing industries. These businesses account for over 84 percent of all industrial natural gas use.Natural gas is also used for waste treatment and incineration, metals preheating (particularly for iron and steel), drying and dehumidification, glass melting, food processing, and fueling industrial boilers. Natural gas may also be used as a feedstock for the manufacturing of a number of chemicals and products. Gases such as butane, ethane, and propane may be extracted from natural gas to be used as a feedstock for such products as fertilizers and pharmaceutical products.

Natural gas has long been considered an alternative fuel for the transportation sector. In fact, natural gas has been used to fuel vehicles since the 1930’s! There are about 110,000 NGVs on U.S. roads today and more than 12 million worldwide. There are about 1,000 NGV fueling stations in the U.S. – and about half of them are open to the public.Most natural gas vehicles operate using compressed natural gas (CNG). This compressed gas is stored in similar fashion to a car’s gasoline tank, attached to the rear, top, or undercarriage of the vehicle in a tube shaped storage tank. A CNG tank can be filled in a similar manner, and in a similar amount of time, to a gasoline tank.

Natural gas, because of its clean burning nature, has become a very popular fuel for the generation of electricity. In the 1970’s and 80’s, the choices for most electric utility generators were large coal or nuclear powered plants; but, due to economic, environmental, and technological changes, natural gas has become the fuel of choice for new power plants.

Generation of Electricity by Fuel Source 1996-2009
Historical Eletricity generation by fuel source