Natural gas liquids are light hydrocarbons composed entirely of carbon and hydrogen molecules. They are dissolved in associated or non?associated natural gas in a hydrocarbon reservoir. The chemical composition of natural gas liquids (NGLs) is similar to molecular composition of natural gas and crude oil. Natural gas liquids are produced within a gas stream. They are utilized in a variety of industries and in different applications. Natural gas liquids are commonly used as inputs/feedstock for petrochemical plants, fuel source for space heat and cooking, and are also blended into vehicle fuel.
The natural gas liquids market is segmented on the basis of type into ethane, propane, normal butane, isobutane, and pentanes plus. The chemical composition of these hydrocarbons is similar, yet their applications vary widely.
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Ethane dominates the market with the largest share of natural gas liquid field production. Ethane is most commonly used to produce ethylene. Ethylene is used to manufacture different kinds of plastics. Propane is burned for heating and cooking applications. It is most commonly used as a feedstock for petrochemical industries. A blend of propane and butane, referred to as autogas, is a common fuel in some parts of Europe, Turkey, and Australia. Natural gasoline (pentanes plus) can be blended into various kinds of fuel for combustion engines, and is useful in energy recovery from wells and oil sands. Butane is commonly used as fuel in lighters.
Most natural gas liquids can be removed using an absorption process, which comprises passing mixed gases through a pool of gas-absorbing oil that catches the heavier hydrocarbons but allows methane to move through. However, light hydrocarbons such as ethane are tougher to recover. Small amounts of these light hydrocarbons can be left in natural gas with no ill effects. If larger quantities are present, however, they can be removed using a process called cryogenic expansion.
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A cryogenic process takes place at very low temperatures. In cryogenic expansion, a powerful fan blows cooled gas from a narrow pipe into an expansion chamber. This reduces the vapor pressure of the gas, which has the effect of further reducing the gas temperature to approximately -120 F. At this temperature, methane remains a gas while other hydrocarbons transform into liquid and can be removed. The collected natural gas liquids are then separated using another temperature-based process. Each type of hydrocarbon has a unique boiling point – the temperature at which it converts from liquid to vapor. Recovered natural gas liquids pass through a series of progressively warmer chambers, each heated to a temperature that will vaporize a specific hydrocarbon from the remaining liquid. Natural gas liquids are mostly produced by a process called fractionation in gas processing plants. Natural gas liquids can also be processed and produced at refineries. Around 60% of global natural gas liquids are produced at gas processing plants while remaining 40% are processed and produced at refineries.
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On the basis of geography, the natural gas liquid market is classified into North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. The Middle East had the largest production of natural gas liquids, followed by North America and Europe in 2015. The U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Canada, and the UAE were the leading countries in these regions with respect to natural gas liquids production. Europe, Africa, Latin America, and Asia Pacific also had significant natural gas liquids production in 2015. These regions are expected to increase natural gas liquids production during the forecast period owing to rising demand.
Increasing use of natural gas liquids (NGL) in petrochemical applications and growing use of shale gas resources have boosted the production of natural gas liquids across the globe. However, the growth of natural gas liquid market is hampered by increasing use of alternatives of natural gas liquids (NGL) such as naphtha. Decreasing natural gas prices would provide a potential opportunity for the growth of natural gas liquid market in the next few years.
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