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Methane Hydrate : Dirty Fuel or The Answer?

A new energy source could well hold the key to the future when it comes to global gas supply, but there is much debate as to whether it is a dirty fuel rather than the long term answer. Love Energy Savings investigates the viability of what is being referred to as ‘Fire Ice’…

It is no secret that the planet is highly addicted to the use of hydrocarbons. Their thrifty nature, abundant volumes and ease of retrieval have made them a big favourite around the world and as such, they have been pivotal for industrial development on every continent. However, we are all now well aware that their side effects have the potential to be truly devastating. Global warming is now no longer a lingering issue, but a hugely important one that could get out of hand pretty quickly.

These worries and the fact that traditional fossil fuels have become increasingly more difficult to access have spurred governments around the word to find alternatives. Not only does this allow for energy independence, but also boosts the production of the energy in the long and short term.

So, it must be music to the ears of environmentalists and governments alike, that we have found a new energy source in the shape of Methane Hydrate or Fire Ice? Stored deep below ocean beds and arctic frost, this hydrocarbon is highly intensive as a fuel source. The problem is, we know next to nothing about the substance.

What Is Fire Ice?

Methane Hydrate or Fire Ice looks just like ice crystals but inside is trapped invaluable natural methane gas which can be used to fantastic effect. Low temperatures beneath the sea and in the Polar Regions, coupled with high pressure allow for the formation of this energy source which can primarily be found on the edge of continental shelves. It is here that the seabed falls sharply away into the deeper ocean and makes for optimum conditions.

Experts are currently of the opinion that there could be vast amounts of this compound present. In fact, Chris Rochelle of the British Geological Survey has stated that there could be more Fire Ice available that all the gas, oil and coal added together.

"Estimates suggest that there is about the same amount of carbon in methane hydrates as there is in every other organic carbon store on the planet," Rochelle commented.

Once the compound has been retrieved and the pressure lowered, or alternatively the heat increased, the Methane Hydrate reduced into water and an incredibly large amount of methane. A cubic metre of Methane Hydrate releases roughly 160 cubic metres of gas. Due to the ease of retrieval and the abundant reserves available all around the planet, it is hardly surprising that several governments are getting more than a little bit excited about the prospect of Fire Ice as an energy source.

What Are The Drawbacks to Methane Hydrates?

There are unfortunately some serious technical challenges when it comes to accessing useable levels of Fire Ice. The process obviously involves getting right below the sea bed, which has obvious environmental connotations. Sourcing the compound would also involve operating at extremely low temperatures and at high pressure, which has the potential to be fraught with dangers. Unsettling the seabed could also result in submarine landslide, which would surely incur the wrath of environmentalists.

Methane escape has also been highlighted as a major risk and could be severely damaging when it comes to global warming. Recent studies have suggested that Methane Hydrate could be up to 30 times more damaging to the environment than CO2. These dangers are widely regarded to be the main reasons for Fire Ice not being adopted as an energy source on a wide scale.

World Powers

This said, a number of countries are looking into how these dangers can be avoided in order to create a brilliant source of energy. The USA, Japan, South Korea, India, China and Canada have all embarked on research projects and invested millions of dollars into the concept of Fire Ice. In fact, it is thought that the USA first started to look into this energy source as far back as 1982.

global methane hydrate

Of all these nations, Methane Hydrate is thought to be of the greatest importance to Japan. They import more gas than anywhere in the world and as such, have the highest gas bill. It is thought that Japan is investing around $120 million into research every year as they look to attempt implementing Fire Ice as a viable energy solution.

Slow Progress

Other nations seem to be less keen to push the exploitation of Methane Hydrate. The USA and Canada are in the middle of a shale gas boom and the UK does not seem to have pursued the energy source whatsoever. Russia still has massive gas reserves at its disposal and China and India are thought to be well behind when it comes to the Fire Ice efforts. Indeed, the IEA has not included gas hydrates in its global energy projections for the next two decades.

Environmental Concerns

The overall implications for the environment could well what is holding many nations back from exploiting gas hydrates. The idea of pumping CO2 back into the earth to replace the Methane Hydrate has been suggested but the compound is still a hydrocarbon and will create vast amounts of CO2. So, although Fire Ice could have many advantages for the planet’s energy security, it will surely add to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The counter to this is that eventually, we may have no choice but to pursue Methane Hydrates as an energy alternative. If global warming continues as it is doing resulting in warmer oceans and melting permafrost, these gases may be released naturally anyway. This could result in the planet starting to resemble that of a Mad Max movie.

So, the debate is likely to develop in the coming years. Is capturing and burning Methane Hydrate a better idea that allowing it to be released naturally? Could we better use this compound by extracting it and using it more effectively? We will be monitoring the Fire Ice issue very closely here at Love Energy Savings and would love to hear your thoughts.

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