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Here the methane hydrate trapped within the muddy sediment is showed fueling a golden flame. Methane hydrate resources are estimated to surpass coal, oil, and natural gas supplies combined.  (Source: Spiegel Online)

Japan's Chikyu research drilling vessel is the largest research drilling vessel in the world.  (Source: Spiegel Online)

There are rich deposits of methane hydrates surrounding much of Asia.  (Source: Spiegel Online)
China, India and numerous other developing nations bet on new carbon fuel to complete their ascent to economic dominance

China may just be a lot closer to writing a ticket to free itself from foreign oil.  Faced with an eventual power crisis when the nation's coal and oil resources run out, the world's top CO2 emitter, is scrounging around looking for new energy sources -- be they "clean" or "dirty."

Chinese scientists with the Guangzhou Marine Geological Survey have made a major discovery which may provide a major source of future fuel.  When dig a core sample out of the ocean floor in the deep waters of the South China Sea.  The scientists were astonished when they held a small flame to the sample and it ignited, burning with a yellowish-red flame.

The leaders of the expedition Shengxiong Yang and Nengyou Wu realized were all smiles when they returned to port an announced their discovery -- a wealth of sea floor methane hydrate. 

Methane hydrate is a flammable fuel, which consists of methane trapped within a crystal lattice of water.  On the earth it forms in small quantities in permafrost and in substantial quantities on the deep sea floor, either on continental shelfs or in deep semi-enclosed seas (like the South China Sea).  The methane hydrate discovered by the expedition was part of a 15 to 20 m layer of sediment which included a large amount of mud and silt.  These soft sediments should allow for easily drilling, which is an encouraging sign to fossil fuel companies.

China, India, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan all are expressing a large interest in and financial commitment to developing a harvesting infrastructure for this promising resource.  While the west has only expressed marginal interest in it, these Asian nations see it as an invaluable tool to pass their western competitors which they are fast approaching in terms of economic power.

China in particular has shown the largest desire for growth, each year upping its power consumption by an amount that approximately equals the total yearly power consumption for France.  Despite its superpower status, China is legally treated by the Kyoto treating as a developing nation and is free to run rampant with carbon emissions, which some fear will cause significant global warming damage.  China has pledged to try to reduce them and is apparently making some initial steps to back up its talk.  China's Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao used the terms "pollution" and "environment" 48 times in his address to the National People's Congress this year and said that China refused to repeat the mistake of "polluting first and cleaning up later."

Despite its vocal promise of reform, China has showed no intention of slowing its accelerating fossil fuel consumption.  China is thrilled about the prospect of using its neighboring sea's rich methane-hydrate resources.  Fossil fuel prospecting companies are considering using drilling and heating pipes to melt the crystals and release the methane, which will be subsequently captured.

China is not alone in its zealousness for the fuel.  Japan built the world's largest research drilling ship to aid in its prospecting chances and India has invested almost 300 million USD to begin a national program of methane prospecting and harvest.  India has achieved a significant early success, discovering an extremely thick 132 m methane-hydrate containing layer of sediment has been found in the Krishna-Godavari Basin in the Indian Ocean. 

German researchers have proposed a solution which may take away some of the environmental fears of harvesting this fuel source.  When a certain amount of pressure is applied to the methane-hydrate's crystal lattice and it is exposed to carbon dioxide, the methane is freed and up to five CO2 molecules take its place.

The Chinese and Indian governments have expressed wariness at the researcher's efforts though, as they see the process as potential attempt by the west to stifle and slow their growth by temporarily preventing them from exploiting this resource.

People must face that it is a reality that we live with every day that China and India are on a rampant and frantic pace of growth which affects our lives in many ways.  From the possible eventual loss of economic world dominance by the U.S. and its ramifications to concerns about quality of China's massive manufacturing infrastructure, these growing pains are effecting American lives more and more. 

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Not Any Closer To Getting It To Work.
By OSD237 on 12/14/2007 6:25:07 PM , Rating: 5
Just discovered is stretching it a bit. These fields/hydrate complexes have been known since the 1970s. Many major companies have spent alot of money and time on trying to get these extracted quickly and cost effectively. To my knowledge none have succeeded. The only field that operates using methane hydrates is in Russia called Messoyakha. It was actually an accidental production. There was a gas field on top,which was depleted,but the pressure wasnt going down as quickly as expected, there were hydrates underneath and the engineers concluded that the hydrates must be breaking down. However the entire field produces less than 1million cubic feet of gas a day, hardly stellar. The only really effective way of boosting production was to inject methanol.

So whilst China and India are looking into this, I suspect they are some way off finding an answer. Whoever does find the answer will be much richer than Bill Gates.

Lastly the question hasn't been asked about if we need hydrates now? Russia is bringing on the Yamal peninsula sometime in the 2010's (budget pending), Qatar is opening up the largest gas field in the world (North Pars) and is in a fine position to corner the LNG market. And lastly in Russias far east new developments (Sahkalin 1,2 and the ex BP TNK field Kovykta) have also started production. Although some of the infrastructure would need to be built to allow the gas to get to China.

RE: Not Any Closer To Getting It To Work.
By derdon on 12/15/2007 6:16:17 AM , Rating: 2
Isn't methane also a greenhouse gas? My main concern with a new energy source such as this: Will it be cleaner than what we have now?

By Etsp on 12/15/2007 9:07:31 AM , Rating: 3
During perfect combustions Methane is converted into one CO2 and two H2O... however, perfect combustion is also only theoretical, so there will be other gases released, such as CO... It also happens to be the main component of natural gas...

RE: Not Any Closer To Getting It To Work.
By meepstone on 12/15/07, Rating: -1
RE: Not Any Closer To Getting It To Work.
By murphyslabrat on 12/15/2007 11:12:27 AM , Rating: 2
While I agree about the validity of CO2 induced global warming, that doesn't give free license to pollute. It is still irresponsible to dump (?)vast(?) amounts of man-made gasses into the environment, despite the immediate repercussions.

Here's to hoping for a cheaper fuel source, if only to reduce the imagined fuel crisis in America.

RE: Not Any Closer To Getting It To Work.
By TomZ on 12/15/07, Rating: -1
By NT78stonewobble on 12/17/2007 10:33:06 AM , Rating: 2
/me dumps 1.000.000 liters water a day on your house and property...

Don't worry... It won't do any harm its perfectly clear water only!.

In addition to the point "too much of anything" you don't really have any concrete answer to what will happen due to manmade co2 "pollution"...

RE: Not Any Closer To Getting It To Work.
By sweetsauce on 12/15/2007 12:22:52 PM , Rating: 2
alternative fuel development
Every time i see that, i think in my head "THAT COMPANIES CAN PROFIT FROM" Don't think for one second there hasn't been proven alternative sources of energy, just none that won't eliminate our need for an energy infrastructure.

By Eris23007 on 12/15/2007 12:41:51 PM , Rating: 5
NEWS FLASH: "That companies can profit from" is a politically charged code phrase for "that society can produce in a sufficiently sustainable fashion such that it actually has any prayer of displacing the current approach to fuel sources."

Someday I hope and pray that the "CORPORATIONS ARE EVIL" crowd will figure out that profits are the market economy's method of incentivizing sustainability - and the best possible thing society can do is to figure out how to better incentivize LONG TERM sustainability. The biggest problem our system faces right now is that there are competing incentives to maximize short-term sustainability vs. long-term sustainability.

By Ringold on 12/15/2007 4:45:47 PM , Rating: 3
Will it be cleaner than what we have now?

Who cares? We're just tired of rice paddies. You greens go ahead and worry about that; you're just giving us market share!

Signed with love,

(Brazil, Russia, India, China)

By mmcdonalataocdotgov on 12/17/2007 8:14:37 AM , Rating: 2
Stretching it a "bit"? Not only are methane hydrates, their formation processes (two students just created a method for trapping greenhouse gases into hydrates using beach sand posted on DailyTech) general locations and total global quantity known, there are already doom-vendors out there showing that global warming could result in the wholesale release of methane in hydrates that would kill off all the surface dwelling animals on the planet. But way to go China, for catching up with the 1970's and making it into the news. And way to go Mick, for... well, for generating a lot of posts. How much did this bit of ignorance earn you?

Sound like all you need is...
By Hawkido on 12/14/2007 6:37:08 PM , Rating: 5
A giant sized pup tent and a waterproof space-heater.

There is a specific frequency of radiation will sublimate this stuff right out of the silt, combined with sonic vibration for churning. Once in gas form it will rise to be caught in the "Pup tent" and continue up till it enters the pipeline at about 1000 feet below surface where it is still greatly pressurized due to water pressure, there it will be pressurized into liquid form and pumped back to shore via pipeline or stored in sub-oceanic tanks till a supertanker can arrive to offload the liquid methane for refining elsewhere.

Intellectual Property of Craig Jarvis.

RE: Sound like all you need is...
By Captain Orgazmo on 12/14/2007 8:45:22 PM , Rating: 2
I have thought of that before, and I am sure it has been thought of before that. But practically, it isn't that likely to work. If the gas could be released (which is a problem in itself... building off-shore steam injection facilities would be too much of a capital expense, and the reserves are too thinly spread) I think it would remain in liquid phase due to the pressure of the water column (depends on depth and water temp).

I'm a petroleum engineering student, and we study some unconventional hydrocarbon sources like oil shale, cbm, and tarsands but basically the view is hydrates have been known about for 30 years or more, and it it'll probably be another 30 till they are profitably recoverable (just like the Athabasca Oilsands: people have known about them for years, but it took 30 years of government subsidized production before rising oil prices made them profitable... and natural gas is priced damn low right now).

RE: Sound like all you need is...
By Ringold on 12/14/2007 9:32:57 PM , Rating: 2
I'm a petroleum engineering student

Well, you won't have any problem with the ladies. You'll probably spend most your life setting your own pay grade there's such a shortage! Probably the number one complaint for oil firms of all stripes is the impossibility of finding sufficient skilled labor. Nice pick for a focus. :)

By Captain Orgazmo on 12/15/2007 12:58:45 AM , Rating: 2
Well kind of a no-brainer: Here in Alberta we have as much oil (in the form of bitumen) as the Saudis, and 40,000 unfilled jobs (to be 80,000 in another decade). As the profs said during first year orientation, our job will be to pump money out of the ground so we can afford our Lamborghinis and trophy wives :P

Last paragraph, last article
By piotrr on 12/15/07, Rating: 0
RE: Last paragraph, last article
By Ringold on 12/15/2007 5:01:22 PM , Rating: 2
The author of the article was just pointing out the economic facts. By sheer demographics alone, it's inevitable, unless a lot of them die and a lot of us have babies. The author didn't attach opinion, such as "this is good" or "this is bad", simply pointed out that readers should recognize the fact.

Sorry if projections showing China's GDP surpassing our own bothers you, I don't like it either, but don't find fault in people reporting it. The sooner we adjust to the issue, the better off we'll be. To attach my own opinion to it, we don't necessarily have to fear it; it can be delayed quite a long time through pro-growth leadership, encouragement of fertility, and bad luck on China's part (their one-child policy has them suffering, and their population is grey), and even once we're surpassed, Russia and even Cuba and Venezeula prove that politically adept smaller states can exert influence fay beyond what their size may suggest.

RE: Last paragraph, last article
By luhar49 on 12/16/2007 2:37:42 AM , Rating: 2
The real problem will be when Chinese and Indian citizens aspire for a standard of living on par with a developed nation. Its a distinct possibility in next 30 years. The amount of energy they would then require is certainly going to strip away world's natural resources at an astounding pace.

Apart from the acceleration of greenhouse gas emission, it would also send price of oil/coal shooting up.

In those circumstances all alternate sources of fuel(including those mentioned in this article) will become economically viable to extract. So its good that someone is trying to find newer sources of energy.

By serouscipher on 12/17/2007 3:05:14 PM , Rating: 2
Well lets not get ahead of ourselves. You presume that Indians and Chinese will gobble up the energy resources of the world in years to come, I say we will be already using alternate sources of fuel by then and thus the developed nations do not need to worry. to quote an example - New Delhi (indian capital) has all its public transport on clean fuels (CNG), and many other Indian cities are following suite. And besides I think America will finish petroleum long before us.
Besides the way the price of the oil barrel is being controlled by western countries its going to become near impossible to buy any more petroleum products by the general Indian population. Its a nice way to keep developing countries to continue 'Developing' and never become 'Developed'.

RE: Last paragraph, last article
By osalcido on 12/16/2007 4:20:01 PM , Rating: 3
Sheer numbers does not increase GDP output significantly.... Take a look at all those African countries predicted to overtake many other western nations in population but still be dirt poor.

Back in the 1950s-1960s, the Soviet Union had GDP growth rates far larger than China today or the USA then. Too large to be sustained, in fact. The economy became mismanaged and the country collapsed.

This could easily happen again in China. I remember reading about how so many Chinese are now in debt to the bank of China because they make 500 dollars a month and took out a 10 thousand dollar loan to buy a car, just cause their neighbor had one.

Also, every couple of months you hear about a certain town rising up and then being sacked by Beijing. The country is in political chaos right now (why do you think they are doing a 180 on environmental issues? the people are sick of it)... there's reason to think that the Chinese will be in the same place as Russia currently is in 30-35 years.

Overspent, overextended, and in poverty

RE: Last paragraph, last article
By luhar49 on 12/17/2007 2:58:48 PM , Rating: 2
This could easily happen again in China. I remember reading about how so many Chinese are now in debt to the bank of China because they make 500 dollars a month and took out a 10 thousand dollar loan to buy a car, just cause their neighbor had one.

You probably also read about ongoing saga about all the Americans who took loans to buy houses because their neighbours owned one and then one day realised they couldnt pay the mortgage.

No idea where you got the 50-60s GDP figures for USSR. At that time you could hardly find any information coming out of there which wasnt thoroughly massaged.

Chinese will be in the same place as Russia currently is in 30-35 years.
Overspent, overextended, and in poverty

Is this wishful thinking on your part or is it based on any facts ? Russian economy is doing quite well right now, largely due to their mineral/oil wealth. And this time they look to be spending it more wisely than those "image building" communist days.

Interesting picture
By Polynikes on 12/14/2007 10:24:23 PM , Rating: 2
If I had to bet, I'd say that first picture is NOT of the actual flame. That doesn't look right to me.

RE: Interesting picture
By BrownTown on 12/14/2007 11:32:58 PM , Rating: 2
I'm pretty sure its real, just remember that the stuff he is holding isn't what it is burning, it is the methane that is floating up from the muck that is burning.

RE: Interesting picture
By CrystalBay on 12/14/2007 11:36:34 PM , Rating: 2
LOL at the first pic ,looks exactly like a Tweeker would do to light their pipe...

RE: Interesting picture
By djkrypplephite on 12/16/2007 3:04:24 PM , Rating: 2
lol, Crystal Methane.

By gerf on 12/15/2007 10:54:37 AM , Rating: 2
People must face that it is a reality that we live with every day that China and India are on a rampant and frantic pace of growth which effects our lives in many ways.

Should be affects. I never understood the stereotype that engineers are bad at grammar and spelling. You'd think instead they'd be perfectionists who want to do things correctly.

RE: Grammarified!
By FITCamaro on 12/15/2007 11:45:43 AM , Rating: 1
You'd think, but no. Some of the worst English I've ever seen outside of the web has been from engineers.

Their saving grace is that they don't use L337 speak or text speak. At least not at work.

RE: Grammarified!
By Master Kenobi on 12/15/2007 1:25:19 PM , Rating: 5
Engineers can't be bothered by something as illogical as the English language.

Oil-Pipe Dream
By Captain Orgazmo on 12/14/2007 6:16:10 PM , Rating: 2
There are two very good reasons why nobody is trying to recover this stuff: Firstly, it is a technical challenge, because it does not flow, and does not reside in geological traps. That means it needs to be heated to gain flow, and then an artificial trap structure needs to be invented to catch it once it does. To make things worse, it is under the ocean. Secondly, all these extra steps needed to recover, plus of course the cost multiplier that is off-shore, will make it more expensive to produce than any other hydrocarbon, and by a huge margin.

RE: Oil-Pipe Dream
By AlabamaMan on 12/14/2007 6:30:49 PM , Rating: 2
To me it looks like the sediment mud could easily be pumped, have the gas extracted and than be dumped overboard.

RE: Oil-Pipe Dream
By OSD237 on 12/14/2007 6:52:53 PM , Rating: 2
The sediment can be pumped but the hydrates are solid and can be very large blocking the well. The larger problem is that methane hydrates arnt stable at room temperature, apparently they can set off undersea landslides, this would also release methane directly into the atmosphere (when methane is about 100 times more insulating than CO2, this becomes an issue).

By someguy743 on 12/14/2007 9:39:38 PM , Rating: 2
You know what would be REALLY huge would be if somebody found a huge, 100,000 year supply of helium-3 that could be used for the new fusion reactors that might come online in the next 10 years or so.

Nothing like harnessing the same kind of energy that powers all the stars in the universe. That would DEFINITELY revolutionize the world. Nearly unlimited, dirt cheap energy for everyone. Ultra low power bills. Everything would get MUCH cheaper. Fusion has very few nuclear waste issues too I hear. It's just damn hard to get the fusion reactions going. Helium 3 is supposed to make it a lot easier and more efficient.

I saw an episode on the Science channel called "race to the moon" or something where it said that China and other countries want to go to the moon again mainly to mine it for this helium-3. No joke. The Chinese are hungry for energy supplies. The major energy companies need to search the world for this helium-3. If they can't find much on terra firma, maybe we'll have to send some astronauts to the moon again ... or automated mining machines or something. Maybe we should get some Google or Apple guys to start thinking about this stuff. They think big. They'll make things happen pretty quick probably. :)

By BrownTown on 12/14/2007 11:32:06 PM , Rating: 2
Helium 3 is just an idea made up by sci-fi enthusiasts to try to make some sort of legitimate sounding excuse why going to the moon could ever be useful. It does have some advantages over D+T fusion, but they are sorta outweighed by the fact that mining the moon for resources is impossibly expensive. At whatever point in time we advance to the place where setting up mining operation on the moon is physically possible we will already have discovered much much easier ways to just use good old D + T fusion, maybe even D+D. Fusion reactors do not require any sort of exceedingly rare isotopes or space travel to obtain them. There is more then enough in the worlds oceans to provide all the energy this world could ever need for millennium.

By masher2 on 12/15/2007 1:06:21 PM , Rating: 2
> "we will already have discovered much much easier ways to just use good old D + T fusion"

He-3 isn't about "ease of use"; it's substantially harder to fuse than D+T. The appeal stems from the fact that its primary fusion reaction is aneutronic. Even D+T fusion generates a substantial neutron flux, which means radioactive byproducts.

He-3 It's certainly not some idea "made up" by sci-fi enthusiasts. However, to the OP who claimed we'd be using it commercially in 10 years, its just not possible. We're further than that from commercialization of D+T fusion. Realistically, the use of He-3 is a minimum of 30-50 years out.

By Goty on 12/14/2007 8:41:09 PM , Rating: 3
And all those people said crystal meth was bad for me!

RE: Heh
By Captain Orgazmo on 12/14/2007 8:48:27 PM , Rating: 2
What happens if you fart in space (without a suit on)? Crystal methane!!!


By SiliconAddict on 12/14/2007 6:56:20 PM , Rating: 2
Sadly that map gives a pretty good idea.

By Ringold on 12/14/2007 8:14:30 PM , Rating: 2
How so? Looks to me like everybody has some reserves.

Grammar as usual
By Bremen7000 on 12/14/2007 10:19:09 PM , Rating: 4
"When dig a core sample out of the ocean floor in the deep waters of the South China Sea." ...huh?

By dare2savefreedom on 12/16/2007 11:34:28 AM , Rating: 4
Tiberium is the best fuel source.

By someguy743 on 12/17/2007 4:19:37 PM , Rating: 2
I think every country in the whole world ought to chip in some money for more FUSION ENERGY research. That's what you call true "sun energy". Build your own "mini-sun". Get a big fusion reactor built and TRY to make it work.

Fusion energy breakthroughs would definitely make the rich oil companies and the other dirty energy industries like coal nervous. VERY nervous. Fusion energy would put them out of business. Ultra cheap electricity means hydrogen and electric cars everywhere ... or whatever future technology emerges.

Mother Earth will be proud of us when we get there. The energy might be cheap enough to convert sea water into fresh water just as cheaply. Earth would get a lot greener. Plenty of good food for humans and the whole ecosystem. If we don't nuke ourselves, we just might get a little closer to Utopia in 100 years. Who knows? Too bad I'll be dead and can't see it.

I hear that they are making decent progress on fusion actually. New advancements in lasers could be used to fire them at deuterium and tritium pellets in order to get a fusion reaction going. It's just a matter of time before the scientists figure out how to do it. I would just like for them to get around to mastering the technology in MY lifetime instead of 2-3 generations from now. They will be the ones to enjoy ultra cheap energy. Fusion is much safer and environmentally responsible than fission nuclear energy. It's darn near impossible to have a "reactor meltdown" or whatever with fusion and there's very little or no nuclear waste.

By bldckstark on 12/18/2007 1:16:02 PM , Rating: 2
All this fusion stuff sounds great until you realize we will all have to implant mechanical arms directly into our brains, and grow giant man boobs in order to control the power. Then we have to worry about all those genetic freaks trying to stop us from saving the world with their "webs" and wall crawling habits.

wow crystal meth ummm....
By wetwareinterface on 12/15/2007 6:56:27 PM , Rating: 3
so the guy down the street from me who stays up all week with his garage door half open is going to be an energy broker now?


they should have put the crystal meth in a stripped out light bulb for the demonstration like any tweaker would.


extraction difficulties?
china should just hire half of central california and most of arkansas and move them to the south china sea. they'll get at that crystal meth no matter what it takes.

By jtemplin on 12/14/2007 11:47:53 PM , Rating: 2
Methane hydrate is a flammable fuel

I am aware that the classification as a fuel does not necessary imply combustion, but that just tickled me =D

By White Widow on 12/15/2007 12:28:06 AM , Rating: 2
"...a ticket to satisfy its unquenchable thirst for power to fuel its thirsty growing economy."


Fake Flame
By Cygus on 12/15/2007 2:36:50 AM , Rating: 2
is it just me or does that flame in the pic look very photoshopped?

Crystal Meth?
By Screwballl on 12/15/2007 1:22:12 PM , Rating: 2
I tried it but I didn't inhale

Mass is the problem
By BaronMatrix on 12/15/2007 3:02:57 PM , Rating: 2
There is a finite amount of mass created by the planetary process and this would just replace digging for one thing for another. Solar, wind and nuclear power are the best sources for new power.
Of course this requires infrastructure changes, like perhaps using solar panels optionally on Hybrid cars or using wind power storage with quick charge battery units.

More research could definitely be done into extracting power from nuclear sources using EM fields.

Here we go again
By puckalicious on 12/17/2007 3:28:11 PM , Rating: 2
Investing billions in a finite resource, only to transfer trillions of years of carbon from the earth's crust into the atmosphere.

Why can't we spend billions to research RENEWABLE energy???

By marsbound2024 on 12/18/2007 7:02:26 PM , Rating: 2
Crystal meth huh? Neat.

Is English your second language?
By Hacp on 12/15/07, Rating: 0
"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home

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