Thursday, March 17, 2005

More Energy Than All The Oil in The World: Methane Hydrate

I am reading my Scientific American and they are talking about the warming of the arctic region and how it will cause the permafrost to melt, and they casually mention that this warming could release methane hydrate. Oh, and by the way there is more energy held in methane hydrates then all the known oil and natural gas in the world. Wait, back up the bus, what the heck is methane hydrate? And why have I never heard of it?

So I do a little research here. (Oh and by the way he won the award in 2001 not 2002. Geesh, you would think he could at least figure out what year he won a Science in Society writing award.)

Beneath permafrost alone, the resource ranges from 5,000 to 12 million trillion cubic feet (tcf).

For comparison, the United States uses about 22 tcf of natural gas per year, and the global gas resource is about 13,000 tcf. (In geo-speak, "resource" is the amount of a material thought to exist in the Earth; "reserves" can be economically extracted at present. Higher prices make it feasible to spend more for extraction, so reserves in the ground -- not to be confused with reserves in tanks and ships -- reflects the price of the commodity.)

The real bonanza, however, is under the ocean, with a wild estimate ranging from 30,000 to 49 million tcf.

Add it up, and the gas hydrate resource could exceed 60 million trillion cubic feet of gas -- almost 5,000 times the conventional natural gas resource. That number is also 730,000 times annual gas consumption for the globe -- which equaled 82 tcf in 1998.
This graphic shows gas hydrates have twice the carbon as all fossil fuels.

Then I am reading Wired today and by some cosmic coincidence they are writing an article on it as well.
An estimated 200,000 trillion cubic feet of methane hydrates exists under the sea, and the Department of Energy has a major research program under way that could result in commercial production starting by 2015.

In cold, high-pressure environments at depths of 1,000 feet and more, individual methane molecules get trapped in ice-like cages of frozen water -- methane hydrates.

When they are brought up from the sea floor, the ice cages fizzle and decompose, releasing the trapped methane. Put a match to the decomposing ice and voilĂ : Ice that literally burns.

Japanese and Canadian research in the Arctic has proven that economically viable quantities of methane can be obtained from onshore hydrates, he said. While Alaska's land-based Arctic methane hydrates are limited, the amount of offshore marine hydrates there and elsewhere is far greater.
Those are some serious numbers behind the hydrates. If we could economically harvest this it will give the world lots of energy for the future. Of course there are some serious greenhouse gas issues that need to be looked at as well. But definitely something to keep my eye on.

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