Did you now that natural gas in and of itself has zero smell? Specific chemicals, authorized by governing authorities, have to be added to give natural gas a distinct odor. That’s the power of mercaptan, or methanethiol when used as a natural gas additive. Along with other compounds within the mercaptan family and different odorant blends, mercaptan is used to give natural gas that “rotten egg” odor, keeping you aware of dangerous leaks.

Did you know that gas companies add a specific chemical to natural gas so that it has a smell? Learn more about mercaptan, the most widely odorant.

Gas distribution companies must adhere to strict regulations to ensure the safe use of natural gas since it is highly combustible and odorless. Mercaptan compounds, tetrahydrothiophene (THT), and dimethyl sulfide (DMS) are among the most popular chemicals added to natural gas. Both the sulphuric elements and versatility of mercaptan make it a highly effective odorant. Learn more about this fuel additive to help you guard against potential gas leaks.

That Rotten Egg Smell

If you regularly work with natural gas, you’re probably accustomed to the “rotten egg” smell of gas odorants. While the specific odor may vary slightly based on the type of odorant, most gas companies strive to create a universal smell. Mercaptan compounds, specifically, contain the sulfur and hydrogen compound, hydrogen sulfide (H2S) to create a distinctive aroma unlike any other. 

Versatility of Mercaptan

Mercaptan is a non-toxic substance that is made of carbon, hydrogen, and sulfur. Because it’s regularly found in nature as a waste product for both animals and humans, mercaptans are also organic and extremely foul-smelling. That being said, mercaptans provide a number of advantages for industrial purposes.

  • Low Requirements – Small amounts, specifically less than one part per million, of mercaptan, are necessary for human detection.
  • High Performance – As a non-corrosive and nontoxic sulfuric compound, mercaptan can be applied in a number of ways.
  • Similar Properties – In a gaseous state, mercaptan has chemical properties similar to natural gas and will evaporate in the same manner.

Other Types of Additives

Depending on your specific application, chemical compounds may be used singularly (like tetrahydrothiophene) or as a mixture with other compounds to create a gas odorant. The types of additives available may vary based on your location and specific industry, but will likely include these compounds:

  • Dimethyl Sulfide
  • Isopropyl Mercaptan
  • Methyl Ethyl Sulfide
  • Normal Propyl Mercaptan
  • Secondary Butyl Mercaptan
  • Tertiary Butyl Mercaptan
  • Tetrahydrothiophene

It’s important to inject the appropriate amount of gas odorant to give natural gas a detectable smell. A small concentration of mercaptan compounds could put your safety at risk and excessive levels may result in costly service calls for suspected leaks.

Pro Tip: Not all gas odorants smell the same, making it essential for manufacturers to install a complete gas detection system to monitor concentration levels.

Safe Gas Odorant Monitoring

If you are a gas company that regularly distributes natural gas streams to homes or businesses, it’s crucial to have a reliable monitoring system. GDS Corp offers a number of natural gas odorant monitors to help you maintain optimal levels of mercaptan and THT odorants in your gas streams.

Connect with our sales team to find a gas distribution solution to meet your specific needs and applications.