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Natural gas: Why it's important and what you need to know

Cameron Davidson | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images

As the world looks to diversify its energy mix one source, natural gas, is becoming increasingly important.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that natural gas is viewed "as a good source of electricity supply" for a range of reasons.

According to the IEA, natural gas is seen as "lower carbon" relative to other fossil fuels. In addition, it takes around two years to build gas plants, which is seen as being relatively quick, while its share of the global energy mix is increasing at two percent annually until 2020.

For its part, the U.S. Department of Energy has described natural gas as playing a "vital role" in the U.S. energy supply. The DOE says that natural gas consumption is set to hit 26.6 trillion cubic feet by 2035, up from 24.3 trillion cubic feet in 2011.

Downsizing

One way to transport natural gas is by cooling it and turning it into liquefied natural gas, or LNG.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration says that, in its liquid state, the volume of natural gas is "about 600 times smaller than its volume in its gaseous state."

The U.S. gets most of its LNG imports from Trinidad and Tobago, which accounted for 78 percent of imports in 2015.

Building bridges

Liquefied natural gas, or LNG, is seen by some as a bridging fuel, but what does that mean?

"It's all about really moving away from dirty fossil fuels and into clean renewable energy," Chong Zhi Xin, principal analyst at Wood Mackenzie, told CNBC's Sustainable Energy.

"So if we look in the past, a lot of base load power really came from coal as well as oil, and we're looking at a future where you're looking at zero carbon emissions from solar, from wind," Xin added.

"But in order to get there it is difficult today, you can't completely switch your industries to using renewables. And that's where gas really comes in as a bridging fuel: it is clean, and it can provide base load power."

A range of uses

Wood Mackenzie's Chong Zhi Xin went on to tell Sustainable Energy that natural gas had a range of uses.

"Natural gas can… be used in the power sector, it can also be used in industries for heat generation, it can be used in the fertilizer sector to create ammonia, and lastly it can also be used in the transport sector, as CNG (compressed natural gas), or in LNG for long haul trucks."

The transport sector was another avenue of interest.

"I think a lot of economies around the world… (are) really looking at EVs (electric vehicles) as the way forward for transport, but more importantly I think natural gas can really work to support these EVs," Zhi Xin said.

"EVs really require power from the grid, and that's where natural gas being used in the power generation sector could support the development of all these electric vehicles," he added.