Japan extracts gas from methane hydrate, ‘Flammable Ice’

Hiroko Tabuchi at the Times reports that Japan has successfully extracted gas from offshore deposits of methane hydrate, also referred to as “flammable ice.” The breakthrough is hailed as a possible step "toward tapping a promising but still little-understood energy source." The extraction from a deep-sea bed hydrate reservoir is believed to have been the world's first, and "could provide an alternative source of energy to known oil and gas reserves." [NYT]



  1. Isn’t that the same shit that’s supposedly going to doom the earth from global warming when it gassifies out of the arctic ocean floor and the permafrost? So we’re supposed to burn it for fuel instead? This global warming shit is pretty damned confusing, if you pay attention.

    1. Well if we extract it and burn it for energy and release it as CO2 we’re better off than it there’s a catastrophic methane release event (or trigger one while mining it) … but all in all we’re far better off if we keep the buried carbon where it is

      Time to stop recycling that newspaper and start tossing it down old coal mines – to encourage people to grow more trees

  2. You’d think that people could connect the smoggy skies of Beijing with all the coal that the U.S. is selling them. You’d think that permafrost melting and starving polar bears might influence people’s choices about drilling for oil on the north slope. You’d think that the life support value of clean water might outweigh the convenience value of frakked natural gas.

    Naturally, you’d be wrong.It’s getting so that any time there’s a new scientific breakthrough with a possibility of misuse, I assume the 1% are going to have the final say in what happens.

    Inventing a new way to release carbon into the atmosphere does not qualify as an “advance”.

    1. I would consider it an advance in that it is one step of an iterative process that will hopefully lead to a plentiful carbon neutral energy source.
      Hydrates are funny things.  They are only stable at high pressures and low temperatures (i.e. continental shelf or permafrost environments).  So the way to “mine” them is to basically put the entire sediment formation under a vacuum.  This dissociates the hydrate by moving them out of their stability field, releasing pure methane gas and a little fresh water.  The thermodynamics are a little more complicated than that, but that is basically all the is occurring.

      So why do I feel that is just one step to a carbon neutral system?  Methane hydrate is a clathrate, which is basically a small gas molecule (usually methane) that is surrounded by a cage of water molecules.  The neat thing is that the trapped methane molecule can be replaced by a number of other small gas molecules, for instance carbon dioxide.  So there is currently research being done to see how to make carbon dioxide take the place of methane in the clathrate cage.  The end result would be a carbon neutral energy source, for every carbon atom in methane taken, you are replacing it with a carbon atom in carbon dioxide.

      Lastly, most places where you find concentrated methane hydrate formation, you find seafloor methane gas seeps.  This is methane that is being vented to the ocean, and may be finding it’s way to the atmosphere.  In the process of extracting the methane you are slowing the natural venting of methane (you are extracting the methane before it has a chance to reach the seafloor).  If you are able to extract methane through carbon dioxide replacement, and slow the seafloor venting of methane, you actually create a carbon negative energy source.

      I am not saying we are there yet, or that we will even get there eventually.  But this is not necessary just another way to pillage the earth and destroy the environment.  Shades of grey and all that.

      1. So there may be a clean way to use these resources. But will that be the *cheapest* way to exploit their energy? Because if there’s a cheaper way to reap a profit, and if that method is riskier for the environment, then that’s what’s going to happen. Nuclear power is plenty clean as long as you ignore waste disposal.

        1. Is your point that businesses tend to be profit driven?  Alright, sure.  I am not sure what that has to do with a research ship testing the feasibility of methane extraction from a novel reservoir.

          1. I implied that the risks associated with these technologies (obvious though they may be) will be completely ignored when it is profitable to do so. You’ve illustrated my point by missing it.

  3. I’m sure releasing methane gas into the atmosphere is completely harmless and there’s no way it could possibly affect the climate or human health.  Hooray for progress!

  4. Just as an aside… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permian%E2%80%93Triassic_extinction_event#Methane_hydrate_gasification

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