(EnergyAsia, December 17 2012, Monday) — Natural gas will surpass coal as the world’s second most popular fuel after oil by 2025, predicts ExxonMobil in its latest long-term forecast to 2040.

Coal demand will start declining after peaking around 2025 while natural gas will continue to surge as more countries consume cleaner-burning fuels to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

New technologies will help develop new sources of reliable and affordable energy as well as new uses to support economic growth, with North America leading the way.

Natural gas will be key, its global demand seen rising by about 65% through 2040 while coal use will slide by 10% between 2025 and 2040, said ExxonMobil.

“Demand for coal, on the other hand, will peak around 2025 and then decline, as improved efficiency couples with a shift to less carbon-intensive energies, particularly in the electricity generation sector.

“This shift will be led by the OECD, but even China, which today accounts for close to 50% of global coal demand, will see its coal usage fall by more than 10% through 2040. This would mark the first long-term decline in global coal usage since the start of the Industrial Revolution,” said the US major.

North America will account for 20% of global natural gas production through its application of new technology to exploit its vast shale and other unconventional sources. The abundance of shale-based oil and gas will become help revitalise old world energy-intensive industries such as energy, chemicals, steel and manufacturing.

“These resources will also create new opportunities for global trade with countries in Europe and the Asia Pacific region, which are reliant on international markets to meet domestic energy requirements. The changing landscape and resulting trade opportunities will continue to provide consumers with more choices, value, wealth and good jobs,” said ExxonMobil.

In its annual forecast, the US major said global energy demand will expand by about 35% between 2010 and 2040.

Future energy needs will be supported by more efficient energy-saving practices and technologies, increased use of less-carbon-intensive fuels such as natural gas, nuclear and renewables, and the development of unconventional energy sources that were previously inaccessible without technology advances.