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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
quote:
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
quote:
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,
BRIC

(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?


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