Revisiting the role of natural gas as a transition fuel


The objective of this paper is to assess the potential of natural gas as a transition fuel towards a low- and zero-carbon economy. We use the previously established global energy market model (GEM) to first provide a close match of the historical energy mix and the associated carbon levels. The model is then used to make simulations of how the energy mix and carbon quantities would evolve in the long distant future—the year 2150—if past dynamics were an indication of the future. A similar GEM modeling exercise was carried out in a previous work, using historical data up to the year 2005, showing that natural gas would help slow global carbon growth in the next 50–100 years, thus paving the way towards a low carbon future dominated by non-fossil energy use. The present study uses the most recent statistics, from 2005 to 2017, to verify the accuracy of the original GEM projections. Our findings show continued penetration of natural gas in the energy mix until the mid-twenty-first century and an eventual reduction of carbon levels starting around that time.

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  1. 1.

    The concept of including those renewables in the gases category was introduced by Hefner III (2002, 2009) and was explained as follows: “The Earth’s atmosphere is a gas and wind is driven by the Earth’s daily heat from the sun. The sun is mostly burning hydrogen gas and each day the Earth is bathed in virtually limitless solar energy.”

  2. 2.

    For gases, the parameter values generated by the model are as follows: α = 0.057, β = −8.1, ψ = 0.052, ys = 4, and S = 1.3. For the solids, they are α = −0.0519, β = 5.6278, ψ = 0.029, ys = 0.25, and S = 1.6.

  3. 3.

    Despite the inclusion of wood in Figure 3, wood burning is sometimes considered to be carbon neutral, since presumably the resulting emissions have been sequestered previously in the wood.

  4. 4.

    Carbon can be easily converted to CO2 emissions by multiplying the carbon value by 3.66 (the grams of CO2 associated with a gram of carbon—considering carbon has an atomic mass of approximately 12 units, while CO2 has about 44 units).


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This paper is dedicated to John E. Tilton, PhD supervisor of Roberto F. Aguilera at the Colorado School of Mines in the mid-2000s. The paper is based on: Aguilera, R.F. and Aguilera, R., 2012, “World Natural Gas Endowment as a Bridge towards Zero Carbon Emissions”, Technological Forecasting & Social Change, vol.79, pp. 579-586 (copyright clearance was granted). The authors are grateful for the support of Curtin University Oil and Gas Innovation Centre, Australia; Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary; and Servipetrol Ltd.

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Correspondence to Roberto F. Aguilera.

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Aguilera, R.F., Aguilera, R. Revisiting the role of natural gas as a transition fuel. Miner Econ 33, 73–80 (2020).

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  • Natural gas
  • Bridge fuel
  • Transition
  • Energy mix
  • Carbon
  • Emissions