Chinese authorities have said that the country has now been successful in extracting natural gas from methane hydrates, which are also known as flammable ice – and which hold huge reserves of this particular commodity.
Mining and extraction of gas from this particular source – which is a frozen mixture of gas and water – is very difficult, with many countries including Japan and the US even now working on how these reserves can be tapped, the BBC reports.
It’s thought that flammable ice is an essential resource for the global energy supply in the future. It was first discovered in the 60s in the north of Russia but research into how the gas could be extracted has only really been going on for the last decade or so. Japan has been leading the way because of its lack of natural energy resources, while other nations also pioneering this particular mining process include South Korea and India, both of which are also lacking in their own oil reserves.
Methane clathrates or hydrates, as flammable ice is official known, are formed at low temperatures and under high pressure, found in sediments beneath the ocean floor or beneath permafrost on land. The hydrates are flammable and if a lighter is held up to them, the gas in the ice will catch fire. If you increase the temperature or lower the pressure, the hydrates will break down into water and methane.
Speaking to the news source, Praveen Linga – associate professor from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the National University of Singapore – said: “It looks like ice crystals but if you zoom in to a molecular level, you see that the methane molecules are caged in by the water molecules.”
It’s thought that these methane hydrates could revolutionise the energy sector, providing future energy needs and being the last big source of carbon-based fuel the world has to offer.
Commenting on the news coming out of China right now, Mr Linga said: “Compared with the results we have seen from Japanese research, the Chinese scientists have managed to extract much more gas in their efforts. So in that sense it is indeed a major step towards making gas extraction from methane hydrates viable.”
Earlier this month, Japan also appeared to strike gold, finding flammable ice at its test well in the Nankai Trough, off the country’s coast. According to the Financial Times, this is the nation’s first experiment with these hydrates since its first test back in 2013.
If this new test site can keep the gas flowing for a month, it would mark an important step towards extracting the huge gas reservoirs that are trapped beneath ocean floors around the world. The news source noted that that the gas in these ice crystals would give Japan at least ten years of domestic gas reserves – important since it currently relies on imported energy.
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