Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Electricity Generated from Conventionally Produced Natural Gas: Systematic Review and Harmonization

Patrick R. O'Donoughue, Garvin A. Heath, Stacey L. Dolan, Martin Vorum

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Summary: This research provides a systematic review and harmonization of the life cycle assessment (LCA) literature of electricity generated from conventionally produced natural gas. We focus on estimates of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted in the life cycle of electricity generation from natural gas-fired combustion turbine (NGCT) and combined-cycle (NGCC) systems. The smaller set of LCAs of liquefied natural gas power systems and natural gas plants with carbon capture and storage were also collected, but analyzed to a lesser extent. A meta-analytical process we term "harmonization" was employed to align several system boundaries and technical performance parameters to better allow for cross-study comparisons, with the aim of clarifying central tendency and reducing variability in estimates of life cycle GHG emissions. Of over 250 references identified, 42 passed screens for technological relevance and study quality, providing a total of 69 estimates for NGCT and NGCC. Harmonization increased the median estimates in each category as a result of several factors not typically considered in the previous research, including the regular clearing of liquids from a well, and consolidated the interquartile range for NGCC to 420 to 480 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour (g CO2-eq/kWh) and for NGCT to 570 to 750 g CO2-eq/kWh, with medians of 450 and 670 CO2-eq/kWh, respectively. Harmonization of thermal efficiency had the largest effect in reducing variability; methane leakage rate is likely similarly influential, but was unharmonized in this assessment as a result of the significant current uncertainties in its estimation, an area that is justifiably receiving significant research attention.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)125-144
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Industrial Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2014
Externally publishedYes

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-61229


  • Combined cycle
  • Combustion turbine
  • Fossil fuels
  • Industrial ecology
  • Life cycle assessment (LCA)
  • Meta-analysis


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