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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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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.

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