Burning Ice: The Next Energy Boom? - Miller-McCune
Oil companies and governments around the world are examining how to uncage huge amounts of methane gas locked up in undersea ice.
Set a lighter to an icy block of methane hydrate, a naturally frozen combo of methane gas and water, and flames spew forth at random.
However unlikely this fluke of nature may appear — burning ice — it could hold the keys to a vast wealth of untapped, clean-burning methane gas thought to exist deep beneath the outer margins of most continental shelves.
Its contribution may be peripheral to the immediate needs of Western Europe and North America, currently drowning in cheap natural gas, but it present a potential lifeline to resource-poor nations like Japan, which already imports more than 90 percent of its fossil fuels.
Although successfully created in the laboratory as early as the 1800s, gas hydrates were only discovered in nature in western Siberian permafrost in the late 1960s. And their structural vagaries, capable of trapping this frozen methane in molecular, lattice cages, are only now being fully appreciated under natural conditions. It is known, however, that these methane hydrates typically form only at low temperatures and under high pressure in rock sediments, usually hundreds of feet or more below the ocean surface.
Such hydrates garnered some notoriety in 2010, when their presence stymied efforts to seal the blown Macondo well during the Gulf oil spill.