Methane is a chemical compound detected on other various planets with the chemical formula CH₄ has implications for astrobiology research. 

A group-14 hydride, methane, is the simplest alkane and the mass constituent of natural gas. Abundantly found in the earth, the compound is an economically attractive fuel. 

Under the standard temperature and pressure conditions, the mixture behaves as a gas; thus, there are technical difficulties in capturing and storing it. 

Formed by geological and biological processes, methane occurs naturally below and under the seafloor. The largest methane reservoir is under the seafloor as Methane Clathrates. 

When it reaches the atmosphere, methane is known as atmospheric methane. Since 1750, the earth’s atmospheric methane concentration has increased by about 150%

As per the EPA, methane accounted for 10% of the USA’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. 

Table of Contents

Physical and chemical properties 

Molecular structure of methane | Diagram Credit: Nice PNG

Methane has four C-H molecules that make it a tetrahedral molecule. The electronic structure of methane is four bonding molecular orbitals resulting from the overlapping of valence orbitals on C and H. 

Usually, methane is colorless and odorless gas at room temperature and pressure. Methane’s boiling point is −161.5°C at normal atmospheric pressure.

The density of gas differs according to the temperature. Its density is 0.656 kg·m−3 at 25 degrees celsius, while its density is 0.717 kg·m−3 at 0 degrees celsius.

The total amount of energy required to produce a unit change in its temperature is 35.7 J (K·mol)−1

Currently, nine solid methane exists in several modifications. If methane is cooled at normal pressure, it forms into methane I. 

Methane I is also known as plastic crystals because the position of hydrogen atoms is not fixed.

Uses of methane

Methane as biogas | Illustration Credit: Technology Student

Methane has a myriad of purposes in day-to-day life. Firstly, methane is used in industrial processes. Methane is transported refrigerated liquid (often known as LNG). 

At standard temperature, the gas is lighter than air; however, the refrigerated liquid containers are heavier than air because of the increased density of the cold gas. 

Fuels are produced from methane gas. The powers run machines such as ovens, homes, water heaters, kilns, automobiles, turbines, and other things. 

The primary source of rocket fuels is methane when combined with liquid oxygen. Electricity is generated by burning it as fuel in a gas turbine or steam generator. 

Compared to any other hydrocarbon fuel, methane is proven to emit less carbon dioxide gas in the environment.  

Another use of methane gas is to produce hydrogen gas. Hydrogen is produced on large scales at industry levels. 

Steam methane reforming is the term given for the standard industrial method of producing commercial bulk hydrogen gas.

The 70 million metric tons of hydrogen gas produced every year are used for petroleum refineries. The rest is used in chemical production and for food processing. 

Methane is also used to produce sanitizing products. It is also a common ingredient in fumigation activities. 

Methane’s effects

Methane is undeniably a beneficial compound. However, with excessive use of methane over time, methane has become a severe threat to the environment and humans.

Methane contributes to the development of ground-level ozone. It is a hazardous air pollutant and greenhouse gas likely to cause one million premature deaths.

Over 20 years, the gas became 80 times more potent at warming than carbon dioxide. 

According to recent data by the United States national oceanic and atmospheric administration, even carbon dioxide emission decelerated during the lockdown of 2020, but atmospheric methane proliferated. 

Excessive exposure to methane can cause some serious problems for human health. 

In some cases, it can result in mood changes, slurred speech, vision problems, memory loss, nausea, vomiting, facial flushing, and headache. It may even lead up to death. 

Methane is the second most abundant anthropogenic after carbon dioxide gas. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is highly responsible for greenhouse effects. 

A greenhouse gas absorbs and radiates energy within the thermal infrared spectrum. The methane causes global warming, increasing the planet’s surface temperature above usual.

Methane emitters 

US methane emitters of 2019 | Piechart Credit: US EPA

Methane is produced in various ways. Some of the leading methane emitters are China, the United States, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, Mexico, etc. 

The production of anthropogenic methane varies from country to country. The key source of methane in China is coal production. In Russia, most methane is produced from the natural gas oil system. 

The state produces the highest methane from human activities: its sources are oil and gas systems, livestock enteric fermentation, and landfills. 

India’s most significant production of methane is its agriculture sector. Research shows that 63 percent of India’s agricultural methane emission comes from livestock, while rice farming contributes nearly eleven percent. 

Indonesia’s methane emission is growing at a rate of 1.80%. The primary methane emission sources are the production, handling, transmission, and burning of fossil fuels. Mexico emits methane as a byproduct of its robust oil and gas industry.

Global warming effects

What is it about global warming that we fear the most? Let’s discuss it. Global warming is known as human-induced warming of the earth system. Methane gas is a significant driver of the cause of global warming. 

The rising temperature is conducive to disastrous weather. Storms, heat waves, floods, and wildfires are the effects of global warming. 

As per the National oceanic administration, in 2021, there were twenty weather and climate disaster events in states alone. It caused a 145 billion dollars loss. 

Another effect is the higher death rate. From infants to the elderly, everyone is suffering the wrath of global warming. 

As temperature spikes, the illness among people increases. Many succumb to death with no facilities such as air conditioning to cope with the heat. 

With the methane gas abundant in the atmosphere that leads to global warming, the air worsens more. 

More pollution in the air means more susceptibility to diseases among people. Species may go extinct if we do not control the use of methane and bring it under control. 

With increasing temperature, some species may find it hard to acclimatize to abrupt environmental changes. The coastal system and low-lying areas can get underwater by 2100. 

The arctic’s temperature rises twice as fast as elsewhere on earth. It is speculated that the ocean levels may increase to two to three feet.

Methane and Global warming 

Industry producing fumes of methane and other GHGs | Photo Credit: India Spend

Global warming is an issue to be reckoned with. We should tackle this nascent problem immediately; otherwise, we and the whole world are doomed. 

Although the causes of global warming are many, methane gas is one of the rising and predominant causes. 

When the light hits the earth’s surface, usually, most light bounces back off from the earth’s surface. 

However, due to the proliferating amount of methane and other air pollutants in the atmosphere, the gases, typically known as greenhouse gases, trap the heat and render the planet hot. 

The planet’s scorching because of the trapped heat is global warming. It has profusely affected every single existence on the earth. 

The earth’s present climate is very different from 800,000 years ago, primarily due to human activities like burning fossil fuels.

Amendments for excessive methane use 

With known ramifications of excessive methane use, No country is willing to use methane if it’s too detrimental for the environment. 

There are rules mandated here and there, but no law has been enough to eradicate the use of methane worldwide wholly. As no progress is made promptly, the improvement is evident slowly and steadily. 

One example of such amendments is the many countries around the globe that came and formally committed as a part of the 2015 Paris climate agreement

The main motto of the agreement was to lower the emission by setting new standards and crafting new policies to exceed those standards. 

According to research, if we can reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030, we can avoid climate change’s worst impacts. 

China, one of the leading methane emitters globally, mentioned in its five-year plan to cut methane emissions for the first time.

Last year, the European Commission agreed to use a methane strategy mentioning new emissions policies across the European Union.

The Biden administration agreed to reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gas, including methane. Immense industries have decided to follow the rules and help produce fewer methane emissions.

A new way to harness wastage methane 

Harnessing methane from landfills | Diagram Credit: Diamond Scientific

Wastage methane causes a malicious threat to the environment; however, there may be a solution. 

MIT chemistry professor Yogesh Surendranath and his three colleagues have developed an idea to use electricity from renewable resources to convert methane into methanol derivatives.

The method is frugal and can produce low-cost fuels for automobiles and various chemical products. The research team included some of the veterans from MIT’s chemistry department. 

The proposal was accepted and supported by Italian energy company Eni Spa Throughout the MIT energy initiative. 

How can we control methane use?

Without a doubt, to stop global warming is to stop the usage of methanol. For that, we should immediately halt the burning of fossil fuels. We must start to use another source of resources. 

There is a type of bacteria that feeds on methane. The bacterias can be used to absorb methane from the atmosphere. However, the process can get quite costly.

From an individual standpoint, we can do so much more. We should conduct our activities meticulously. 

From what we eat to how much waste we produce, it all can help to fight against global warming. We must look after our carbon footprint to decrease the emission of greenhouse gases. 

Wrapping up 

Finally, the world is aware of methane and its repercussions, i.e., global warming. Although it has already afflicted the whole ecosystem, we can still solve it. 

With rules being made and people acknowledging it, we will see global warming as an obsolete issue soon. 

(Last Updated on May 11, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Saurav Khadka, with his A levels in computer science from Saipal Academy, owns a keen desire to know more about the environment. He wants to preach his knowledge to others by learning through his hobbies; reading, writing, traveling, and watching movies. He believes sharing his insight regarding a sustainable environment will undoubtedly generate positive perceptions in the people.