Methane hydrate, colloquially known as Fire Ice, is being discussed as the energy of the future that will render peak oil and all the other expiring fossil fuel sources irrelevant. BBC News investigates the pros and cons of what is, after all, another hydrocarbon:
The world is addicted to hydrocarbons, and it’s easy to see why – cheap, plentiful and easy to mine, they represent an abundant energy source to fuel industrial development the world over.
The side-effects, however, are potentially devastating; burning fossil fuels emits the CO2 linked to global warming.
And as reserves of oil, coal and gas are becoming tougher to access, governments are looking ever harder for alternatives, not just to produce energy, but to help achieve the holy grail of all sovereign states – energy independence.
Some have discovered a potential saviour, locked away under deep ocean beds and vast swathes of permafrost. The problem is it’s a hydrocarbon, but unlike any other we know.
Otherwise known as fire ice, methane hydrate presents as ice crystals with natural methane gas locked inside. They are formed through a combination of low temperatures and high pressure, and are found primarily on the edge of continental shelves where the seabed drops sharply away into the deep ocean floor, as the US Geological Survey map shows.
Methane hydrate deposits
And the deposits of these compounds are enormous. “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,” says Chris Rochelle of the British Geological Survey.
In other words, there is more energy in methane hydrates than in all the world’s oil, coal and gas put together.
By lowering the pressure or raising the temperature, the hydrate simply breaks down into water and methane – a lot of methane.
One cubic metre of the compound releases about 160 cubic metres of gas, making it a highly energy-intensive fuel. This, together with abundant reserves and the relatively simple process of releasing the methane, means a number of governments are getting increasingly excited about this massive potential source of energy…
[continues at BBC News]
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