In developing countries the main benefits of LNG/LPG are in helping people to switch from unsustainable biomass use to a clean and safe cooking fuel. This provides enormous health benefits helping to avoid the 1.6million deaths/y from respiratory problems caused by smoke and other pollutants released by inefficient biomass burning in enclosed spaces (Warwick and Doig, 2004). It also releases women and children from the drudgery of collecting firewood and health problems associated with carrying heavy bundles long distances. There are also benefits for the local ecology and biodiversity. The UN Millennium project recommends that globally the number of households using non-sustainable biomass for cooking should be halved by 2015.
LNG and LPG provide a ‘clean’ burn with almost complete combustion of the fuel so that there are only low pollutant emissions from NOx and very low particulate or other hydrocarbon emissions. There are no quantitative figures for the overall amounts of pollutants reduced by LNG and LPG, but considering the 2.5 billion people who currently rely on biomass-based fuels in the developing world, the potential for reductions in local smoke and volatile organic compound pollution is very large.
In order to get an overall perspective of the environmental benefits of LNG/LPG, a whole life cycle assessment is needed to consider the supply chains for the fuels. The supply chain for LNG requires pipelines for the gas, liquefaction plant, port facilities, and cryogenic tankers to transport the LNG where the gas is onshore. If the gas is offshore or where port facilities are not available, then floating liquefaction plants can be built. LNG plant design and LNG shipping are the other key links in the chain. The LNG is loaded directly onto ships from the production platform.
However, LPG is not commonly found in rural areas where biomass use tends to be highest and where the health effects of smoke are also highest. Nonetheless, it is used amongst middle or high income groups in urban areas of developing countries. The high initial cost of purchasing appliances and cylinders, the relatively complex technology, irregularity of supply and risk of explosion mean that it is not widely used in the majority of poorer areas of developing countries (IEA, 2006). The LPG supply chain is not practical for the poor as cylinders are usually exchanged at filling stations. Since there are not many of these in rural areas and since transport is poor, access to LPG is very difficult.
India has had an aggressive LPG promotion campaign for years and announced in February 2010 that there will be a program to provide free stoves to households below the poverty line (Energy for Development, 2010).
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