26 Sep Who Was The First To Liquify Natural Gas?
Whilst to the uninitiated it can sound like an oxymoron, liquefied natural gas is an essential part of the commercial gas trade, and many industries take advantage of its benefits either directly or indirectly.
Because liquefying natural gas makes it 600 times smaller, it makes it significantly less expensive, easier and safer to transport, as long as a suitable tanker or pipeline is used that can keep the gas at -162 degrees Celsius.
So even if your business does not take advantage of LNG directly, there is a significant chance that at some point in the supply chain, you will experience the benefits of LNG.
However, as with all industrial and scientific discoveries, there was a pioneering person or group of people who discovered the principle and then proved it was possible and practical.
The journey from concept to wide application ultimately took over two centuries.
The Long Road Taken
The first step towards LNG is the discovery of the potential for gases to be compressed in the first place.
The first person to make the discovery that makes the entire process possible is Robert Boyle, who posited in what has since become known as Boyle’s Law, which posited that controlling for all other variables, volume and pressure are inversely proportional to each other.
This means that if there is less volume, there is more pressure, and vice versa.
This, on its own, is important but not key to the development of LNG, but the discovery by Guillaume Amontons of a correlation between temperature and gas pressure, albeit through somewhat questionable means, suggested that freezing was a potential option for liquefying gases.
This led to a race to try and prove that all gases could be liquefied, which included famed scientists such as Michael Faraday and William Thomson, more commonly known as Lord Kelvin.
They wanted to prove universally that every substance had a solid, liquid and gaseous state, and the scientist who made the first and boldest attempts to do so was Louis-Paul Cailletet.
Mr Cailletet was the first person to liquefy oxygen in 1877, although he only managed to demonstrate small droplets in a dramatic form. It was more of an oxygen vapour than an oxygen liquid.
However, his first attempt to liquefy methane was aborted due to an inability to purify the gas he was using, which is still a major part of the liquefaction of natural gas to this day.
The scientists to take the challenge were the Polish team of Zygmunt Wróblewski and Karol Olszewski, who in 1883 became the first people in the world to liquefy oxygen in a stable state.
Mr Wróblewski and Mr Cailletet were both pioneers in the world of liquefaction and high-pressure science, but both could not be more opposite in terms of their methods and this led to considerable conflict when the latter started to claim the former’s achievements.
Methane was at the centre of this issue, although not initially due to its liquefaction but instead its use as a powerful refrigerant to allow for larger quantities of liquid oxygen to be produced.
Mr Wróblewski suggested methane, but Mr Cailletet attempted to take credit for its use, even producing a sealed document describing experiments that, according to Mr Wróblewski, could not have taken place when he had claimed they had.
This was both because he lacked the means to do so, but also because had they been completed successfully, he would have proof that he could liquefy oxygen in a stable form.
Ultimately, Mr Wróblewski’s scientific partner Mr Olszewski became the first to liquefy methane and with that came the potential to create LNG.
However, it would take decades before it would be used practically.
Godfrey Cabot patented a Thermos-inspired design that allowed for liquid gases to be stored at low temperatures, whilst Lee Twomey patented a process that allowed for LNG to be created at a large enough scale to be practical.
By 1940, the first full-scale commercial LNG plant had been developed, primarily as a form of natural gas storage. As it was 600 times smaller in liquid form, a 63-foot diameter sphere of LNG could hold the equivalent of 50m cubic feet of natural gas.
Whilst this initial plant in Cleveland Ohio eventually suffered a failure in 1944, it led to improvements in insulation and low-temperature alloys, and since the 1960s, LNG has been a vital part of gas use, storage and transportation.
Many people will experience the benefits of this either directly or through the gas supply chain, as it allows for cheaper and safer transportation of natural gas into the UK.