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A very important hydrocarbon.

Recently, there has been much mention of methane being found on Saturn's moon Titan as well as on the planet Mars. What is important about this finding is that the methane could either have been created by biogenic (living) sources such as bacteria or by abiogenic (non-living) sources such as volcanoes. Either source has its very own significant scientific importance. If the methane is biogenic, it would prove that there is life somewhere else besides on earth. If the methane is abiogenic, it would prove that methane can come from something non-living instead of living. Thus, any outcome from Titan and/or Mars is important.    

Methane is pure natural gas. Methane (CH4) is a hydrocarbon (hydrogen and carbon) compound with four hydrogen (H) atoms that are attached to one carbon (C) atom. It is a colorless, odorless and flammable gas that burns with a blue flame. It is the simplest, lightest, cleanest and most abundant hydrocarbon found in nature. It is also the only hydrocarbon that is a renewable resource when it is biogenically (naturally) made by methanogenic (methane producing) bacteria that decompose organic matter under anaerobic (oxygenless) conditions.

Besides natural gas, methane is found in biogas, swamps, coalbeds, landfills, hydrates, shales and sandstones. Reserves of methane hydrates alone account for a very great and astounding 400,000,000,000,000,000,000* cubic feet of methane gas worldwide compared to reserves of 5,000,000,000,000,000* cubic feet of natural gas worldwide (*U.S.D.O.E.). Methane (CH4) is also the main source of commercial hydrogen production since it contains twice as many hydrogen atoms per molecule than water (H2O). Methane is also being used in vehicles for fuel as compressed natural gas (CNG) and as liquefied natural gas (LNG) since it burns cleanly only producing carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O). It is also being used for making low sulfur synthetic fuels through the process of liquefaction (changing a gas into a liquid). Methane is an important feedstock in the petrochemical industry for making organic chemicals such as methanol (CH3OH), formaldehyde (CH2O), nitromethane (CH3NO2), chloroform (CH3Cl), carbon tetrachloride (CCl4), etc.

Given all of the above facts, methane can only increase in importance since many believe that methane is one of the most practical, flexible and viable alternative fuels.

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