China, Japan extract combustible ice from seafloor

By Matthew Brown

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When is the world going to learn that dependence upon fossil fuels is going to eventually come to an end. We have a responsibility to the world and future generations to find renewable sources of energy and not waste money on something that "might" be of a benefit in a few decades.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

I agree, but until we find a permanent and alternate fuel source, the world will continue to use fossil fuel, that's just how it's going to be. It's going to take time until then the world needs to function.

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

This is not good news at all. Methane hydrate is 100 times stronger greenhouse gas than CO2. It has already started seeping from the permafrost areas in Canada, Russia and some parts of the ocean floor due to the effects of global warming. This is also an extremely volatile gas that ignites when exposed to air in large quantities. If you thought that nuclear power was playing with fire, this stuff is a thousand times worse.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

Will the self-destructive madness never end?

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Sounds like frozen tritium. Even though tritium is hard too freeze

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I'm not taking sides, as I am not well versed on this subject, so I don't think I can have a real opinion.

After doing a tiny bit of reading about using this "combustible ice" from the sea floor, would it in theory be better for the environment than the burning of coal?

Apparantly it does not release harmful substances into the air, but only CO2 and water.

In places like Canada it's a problem as the gases in the water makes the coastline collapse. When it does, the trees fall into the water and it the gases can be trapped under the ice and then it forms. Global warming will release large quantities of this now harmful gas into the atmosphere.

The video of the scientists burning the ice is quite amazing.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Better to stay with renewable energy methinks......

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Agree with you kurisupisu

But we aren't really sticking to something if it hasn't already happened yet.

We are pretty much poisoning ourselves at the moment.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

bass4funk Today 07:12 am JST

I agree, but until we find a permanent and alternate fuel source, the world will continue to use fossil fuel, that's just how it's going to be.

The news is not whether we will use or not, this is about research and investment, the funds for which should not be going into further fossil fuel extraction but rather into renewable energy.

2 ( +3 / -1 )


From what I see in Japan, solar is going well and wind power is on the up too.

Germany produces most of its energy needs from renewables so I think that methane hydrate should stay in the ground where it belongs..

If we really want to produce CH4 as a commercial venture then changing our waste system to collect solid fecal matter would solve that problem without digging up the seabed for it......

0 ( +1 / -1 )

If we really want to produce CH4 as a commercial venture then changing our waste system to collect solid fecal matter would solve that problem

This is actually already being done at Tokyo sewage treatment center from 2010.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Germany produces most of its energy needs from renewables

It still has some way to go to reach that target. (Currently about 30% of electricity consumed, about 15% of total energy consumed.)

Until we have a viable way to store electricity from renewables, there will continue to be a need for backup. Considering Japan and China's lack of conventional fossil fuels, it's not hard to understand the eagerness to use methane hydrate. I don't think the environmental factors are any worse than using natural gas. (I.e. generally better than burning coal.)

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Germany produces most of its energy needs from renewables so I think that methane hydrate should stay in the ground where it belongs..

If I recall Germany buys a sufficient amount of energy from France's nuclear energy grid.

Here is the present break down.

Basically Germany is reliant on neighboring nations for energy generation, something not possible for Japan.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I like this better than nuclear, which I hate. "Ethyl! Plug in the hot pot!"

1 ( +1 / -0 )

First of all, let's shoot the author for trying to get this "combustible ice" simile into wider usage. That is like calling coal "burning rock" or calling oil "sludge you can light." Let's not be actively trying to make people dumber than they already are, m'kay? It is methane hydrate.

I see a lot of hillbilly green in the posts above. "I don't know what this newfangled ice is, but ahm agin' it! Sounds like nukular to me!" Apparently someone thinks methane hydrate must be dangerous because a carbon with two extra hydrogen molecules.... well that is like a hydrogen with two extra neutrons, right? Taint nachural!

So many opinions are offered by people who have so little knowledge! Why does that surprise me?

Here is the deal. The world has a lot of methane. And a whole lot of it is trapped in bubbles under the ground, under frosty ice, in the stomachs of cows, and in your intestines, and under mud in lakes all over the world. That is all gas. It bubbles up from them all the time. That is going to come out into the atmosphere and nothing can stop it. Global warming, your steaks, and Taco Bell are all going to make that worse.

Today, from most oil production, and gas production, a lot of methane leaks into the atmosphere and it is often not economical to capture that gas. It is too bad, but energy companies block legislation to limit those leaks all the time. There is one gas complex in California that is THE WORST offender and nobody does a thing about it.

Now compared to THAT, the hazards posed by methane hydrate are minimal, like nonexistent, because hydrates are NOT gas. The only way that methane hydrate can become a gas is when it is processed by reducing pressure and increasing temperature. Think of it as dry ice that will STAY dry ice until you are ready to take it from under the ocean floor. You can monitor and control methane emissions easily because it does not become a gas until you want it to become a gas.

So the downside could be classified as nonexistent unless somebody is brutally reckless, as I suspect some Chinese operators might be. But maybe not. Let's try to remember that huge amounts of capital and technology are involved. One would suspect that these operations will get a lot of regulation. And the resource itself will be expensive. Why waste the methane once it is processed?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Methane hydrate is not new research at all. The Japanese effort is probably two decades old, if not older, but it has moved along slowly because there has always been a better resource grabbing more attention. The Chinese effort has moved quickly because they can throw huge amounts of money at stuff like this and copy the progress of leaders in the field. It also gives them an excuse for claiming and defending all of their ocean areas. So there is a lot of politics there.

The upside is huge. Before anyone gets too jealous and angry at the Chinese, people should stop to realize that there is, probably almost literally, enough methane hydrate to go around for a long time. Japan has enough, just in its coastal waters, to last for a thousand years or so. Russia and Canada have HUGE resources in their arctic areas. Given those huge resources, they will likely be developing and selling them to everyone else at rock bottom prices. Which is good....

Because methane is four hydrogens and a carbon. Remember that coal is a carbon and that oil is a lot of carbons and a few hydrogens. The more hydrogens you use, the more water you make and the less CO2 you make. Got it? So burning methane is A LOT better than burning oil and TONS better than burning coal. Or you can use the methane to produce hydrogen for use with fuel cells, and you can put away the carbon instead of letting it get into the air altogether.

Chinese efforts have not broken any new ground, but if China pushes everyone else along a little faster, it is going to make us ALL better off. Capitalism does a great job of innovation in most cases, but China is doing a lot of things just to brag about doing them... like the US going to the moon... and that will have good effects for all humans.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

In a recent renewables debate, there was an opinion that "Japan should not be importing hydrogen from someplace else because reasons." Well, here is a case, and probably the ONLY case whereby Japan has enough resources that can be accessed to provide self-sufficiency.

It will probably never NEED to do so, but given a large enough scale of methane hydrate production, Japan has the technology to use this hydrogen resource and various renewables to supply all or almost all of its energy needs.

This is an important effort.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Why take substantial risks when there are other safer and cheaper alternatives?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Why take substantial risks when there are other safer and cheaper alternatives"

I don't understand the question. What do you consider a "substantial risk" and what is a safer and cheaper alternative?

I will make the guess that you think methane hydrates are dangerous somehow and that you think that the world will never change.

Let's start here: what did people burn in lamps before they started burning this brown icky fluid that came out of the ground in Pennsylvania? Whale oil. And in fact the Japanese whaling industry got a HUGE boost from harpooning whales and selling to Perry-era America just so Americans could stop reading by candle-light. That's right. Today the US is pressuring Japan to stop whaling, but 150 years ago, the US was egging Japan on to kill more whales than all the buffalo on the great prairie.

How "fortunate" we and the whales were that chemists figured out the Petroleum thing in time to leave a few whales for people to bicker over. In much the same way, humanity appears to need to move on from petroleum, which is a dirty fuel that produces a lot of CO2. Methane simply produces a lot less CO2. Japan is fortunate to have a methane resource that is accessible, and it might wish to use it. Other countries will too.

But it is bigger than that. Economic theory holds that the discovery of this resource is likely to lower prices for all fuels, which might force out the use of fuels that have high social costs. Does that ring a bell? We can argue all day whether solar can end the use of coal or not, but expanded use of hydrogen, or even just methane, can DEFINITELY end the use of coal.

Those are a few reasons "why." You can probably think of more.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Actually there is a small risk in causing a tsunami by extracting too much methane hydride from one location since the ground above the ice is not stable unlike a rock bed on top of a oil deposit, so it may collapse by creating a void underneath the sea bed above.

It's a very small but a risk none the less. The reason why Japan hesitating in extracting the material was to do research on how to extract it with minimal damage to the eco-system.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Actually there is a small risk in causing a tsunami by extracting too much methane hydride from one location si"

Yeah. Seriously? You mean like all the tsunamis caused by all the underwater oil and gas drilling taking place worldwide? Those tsunamis? Rock dome or no, the extraction process takes enough time that subsidence is likely to occur slowly, not all at once. You could even pump sea water or sludge into the cavity if you wanted to. The pressures at such depths will probably do it anyway. You are leaving, at worst, a vacuum in any extraction, but much more likely that sludge or seawater or other sediments are going to push in on the extracted area.

There ARE examples of dome collapse after oil and gas extraction, and they killed nobody and devastated nothing.

One liter of methane hydrate gives 160 liters of methane gas, so you are not even talking about huge volumes of extraction to get a meaningful benefit.

Look. I get that you are desperately searching for some reason that this must be a bad idea. I get it. Just like people desperately want to justify Japan's use of coal instead of nuclear power.

Such concerns are a hill of beans. Your last sentence should probably be

"The reason why Japan is hesitating in extracting the material is that they were forced to do research on how to extract it by a bunch of worry warts with minimal knowledge who are content to let Japan damage the eco-system by continuing to burn coal from Australia."

China is not similarly constrained. Isn't that wonderful?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This is not a personal speculation but what some geologist suggest as seen below.

Many geologists suspect that gas hydrates play an important role in stabilizing the seafloor. Drilling in these oceanic deposits could destabilize the seabed, causing vast swaths of sediment to slide for miles down the continental slope. Evidence suggests that such underwater landslides have occurred in the past (see sidebar), with devastating consequences. The movement of so much sediment would certainly trigger massive tsunamis similar to those seen in the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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