What’s All The Fuss About Gas Cooktops, Ranges, And Ovens?

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My gas cooktop is my favorite appliance. The kitchen is my favorite room. If you like to cook as much as I do, gas is a serious business. About 40 million Americans agree with me that the instantaneous heat and generous BTUs of gas are the way to go.
My kitchen cooktop has six gas burners and a gas griddle. Separately, I have a gas barbecue and a high-BTU gas burner next to the barbie (for Asian stir-frying). On any given Friday evening most of the indoor burners are ablaze.
Yet all of this could become illegal if a government bureaucrat has his way. The man in question is Richard L. Trumka Jr. He is the commissioner of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission in Washington. He is also the son of the long-serving president of the AFL-CIO labor union. Trumka does not appear to be much of a cook.
In December 2022, Trumka said he might ban gas cooking appliances. They create indoor air pollution and contribute to global warming, he claims. That’s a far different tune from a federal government that pushed and supported gas appliances for most of my childhood. Since I care about my family’s health I inquired.
The issue involves trace amounts of nitrogen oxides and dioxides created from the combustion of methane (known as natural gas to most Americans). Methane is one of the universe’s most abundant compounds of hydrogen.
Methane isn’t the problem. American natural gas manufacturer’s do a great job of purifying methane before it is piped around the country and into our homes.
The issue is how the nitrogen in our ambient air reacts with methane during combustion. At room temperature, nitrogen is mostly inactive, lazy, and antisocial. It does not have any special love for oxygen. But sparks fly between these two atoms when you add energy.
In the presence of a lightning strike or a spark, or very high temperatures, nitrogen combines with oxygen. It forms several different oxides. To be clear, this would occur if we burned anything on the cooktop. It is not specific to natural gas.
So let’s look at the actual environmental impact. A typical cooktop produces between 13.9 and 28.3 nanograms of NOx per hour. That’s such a small amount that it is hard to detect the NOx molecules without sophisticated equipment.
Earth’s far bigger producer of NOx happens to be lightning strikes, not gas appliances. Each strike produces about 7 kilograms of NOx. Accordingly, in the blink of an eye, a bolt of lightning produces 5 billion times more NOx than a full hour of your chili cooking on your stovetop.
I next did the math on this. Every one of America’s 40 million appliances would have to operate 12,589 hours a year to equal the NOx produced by earth’s lightning-generated load of 8.6 billion kilograms per year. I love my kitchen, but I’d wager most Americans cook a few hundred hours a year. And many of the 40 million appliances are not used much at all. So that actual comparison here is, to quote Mark Twain, one between lightning and the lightning bug.
Excuse the pun, Mr. Trumke, but this is a nothing-burger. If you really care about NOx emissions, you should ban lightning.
I next looked at the indoor air quality issue. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is heavier than air with a vapor density of 1.58 compared to 1.0 for standard air. So unless you are lying on the floor of your basement you are unlikely to breathe much of it in.
This entire discussion also does not consider that the alternative to gas – electric appliances – get their energy from local power stations. If anyone really wants to know, I’ll research next whether the 1.5 pounds of NOx emissions per megawatt produced at your local natural gas power station is greater or less than the respective amount of NOx generated by your home’s gas range.
Backlash to Trumka, Jr.’s proposal has been bipartisan. As it should be. This appears to be a bunch of hot air.

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