Fossil Fuels

Published on August 23rd, 2011 | by Glenn Meyers


The Remarkable Energy Potential of Methane Hydrate

August 23rd, 2011 by  

Wally the Crawler is being used to search for methane hydrate on the floor of the ocean.

According to Department of Energy (DOE) research, methane hydrate is a cage-like lattice of ice inside of which are trapped molecules of methane, the chief constituent of natural gas. Here is what is most promising about methane hydrate: when brought to the earth’s surface, one cubic meter of gas hydrate releases 164 cubic meters of natural gas.

Translated into the perspective of a clean-burning fuel, the DOE opines, “the energy content of methane occurring in hydrate form is immense, possibly exceeding the combined energy content of all other known fossil fuels.”

Hydrate deposits occur in two types of settings: Arctic permafrost and beneath the ocean floor. Scientific estimates show hydrate deposits may be several hundred meters thick. To date, however, future production volumes are considered to be only speculative because methane production from hydrate has only been documented in small-scale field experiments.

Even so, the potential of such a vast fuel resource has led the DOE to launch methane hydrate program to allow environmentally safe methane production from Arctic and domestic offshore hydrates.

This program includes R&D concerning:

  • Production Feasibility
  • Research and Modeling
  • Climate Change
  • International Collaboration

If interested in the potential fuel source, there is much to learn from the methane hydrate newsletter, Fire in the Ice. This quarterly publication reports on the latest R&D developments taking place. The reference to ice is because methane hydrate is “a cage-like lattice of ice” containing trapped molecules of methane.

The newsletter now reaches an estimated 1300 scientists and other interested individuals from 16 countries.  To subscribe to Fire in the Ice send an email to the DOE.

More interesting information concerning methane hydrate can be found at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL)

According to NETL, gas hydrates are a naturally occurring combination of methane gas and water that form under specific conditions of low temperature and high pressure. “Once thought to be rare in nature, gas hydrates are now known to occur in great abundance in association with arctic permafrost and in the shallow sediments of the deep-water continental shelves.”

NETL oversees the Methane Hydrates Program, whose purpose is to advance the scientific understanding of gas hydrates as they occur in nature.

We know that renewable energies like solar and wind at this point in time are not capable of addressing the world’s total energy demands. Should international R&D efforts prove successful – both from climate and production standpoints – methane hydrate may one day have a major role as a fuel for the future.

Photos: DOE 

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About the Author

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

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  • Brad Arnold

    There is a new clean energy technology that is 1/10th the cost of dirty coal: LENR using nickel. Look for it to emerge onto the US market this October. Here is a video of a Nobel prize winner explaining:
    By the way, if the Swedish Skeptics Society thinks it is legitimate, then I urge you to at least keep an open mind:
    Bottom line: it blows every other energy technology out of the water. One gram of nickel yields about 1.7 billion calories.

    • Anonymous

      Sorry, Brad. There’s nothing to LENR. Rossi has failed to prove his device, he won’t even let it be subjected to an objective test.

      To date all the ‘heat and steam’ output is what one would expect from the electrical input to the system.

      • Stefanbanev

        Wow!! It is such a nonsense Bob, anyway everybody gets what deserves…

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  • Chris72L

    Has anybody read the novel “The Swarm” by the german author Frank Schätzing? Highly recommended… besides other phenomenons of nature rising against mankind, he describes the problems which arise when methane hydrate is released uncontrolled.

    • Anonymous

      We’re starting to get data about what seems to be increases of methane bubbling out of Arctic waters.

      The problem is that we do not have the baseline data to show if this is an increasing amount of methane release or normal. It will take a few years to gauge rate.

      If we warm up the far north and oceans enough to cause significant methane release then it’s “game over” for us.

  • Anumakonda Jagadeesh

    Good post on Methane Hydrate.

    One potential alternative fuel that produces greenhouse gas but may be an oil alternative is methane hydrate. This substance is located in vast supplies deep in the ocean in a frozen state

    Two main extraction methods have been successfully tested at an experimental site on Canada’s Mackenzie Delta. The first, called depressurization, involves drilling a hole into the hydrate layer to draw down the pressure, causing hydrates to dissociate and gas to flow up the pipe. Thermal injection, the second technique, destabilizes hydrates by pumping hot water into the deposit. Because depressurization requires less energy, Wilson calls it the “lowest-hanging fruit.”
    A third method appears promising, too, but has so far only been tested in a lab. Injecting carbon dioxide into a hydrate formation displaces methane, and has the added benefit of locking away an abundant greenhouse gas.

    According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), 100,000 to 300 million trillion cu. ft. (tcf) of methane exists globally in hydrate form–most of it in the ocean floor. “There’s more energy potential locked up in methane hydrate formations across the world than in all other fossil energy resources combined,” according to Brad Tomer, director of the Department of Energy’s Strategic Center for Natural Gas and Oil.
    Up to 200,000 tcf of methane is in hydrates in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. Two Rhode Island-size areas in the Blake Ridge, east of the Carolinas, contain a total of more than 2012 tcf–110 times the country’s annual natural gas consumption.

    But a caution: If methane gas escapes directly to the atmosphere–as a byproduct of extraction, an earthquake or warming ocean waters–the consequences could be dire. Methane is a greenhouse gas 21 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Today, 3000 times more methane exists in hydrate deposits than in the atmosphere. Releasing even a fraction of this amount would amplify global warming(Source: Popular Mechanics,October 1,2009).

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
    Wind Energy Expert

    • Glenn Meyers

      Thanks for your astute comments. And yes, should this energy source be used, immense care is required on the management of methane.

    • Anonymous

      No. It’s a terrible idea.

      All this would do is to increase our global warming problem.

      This is sequestered carbon. Leave it where it is or further risk making our planet uninhabitable for life as we know it.

  • When are we going to Stop using fossil fuels ?

    • Anonymous

      When we use them all up, or at least to the point that alternatives are considerably cheaper (because we are already close to equality in many technologies).

      • Anonymous

        Just about right. We’ll stop using fossil fuels over a couple of decades or so as renewables become cheaper for individual uses and situations. Renewables won’t have to get extremely cheaper, businesses pay a lot of attention to numbers and just a percent or two can make a big difference to the bottom line.

        Electric vehicles are already incredibly cheaper than liquid fuel vehicles to operate. Let their range climb a bit and prices come down (as they should with increased manufacturing levels) and we’ll quickly flip off of gas for the majority of our driving.

        There’s another factor that may come into play – a demand by the majority of people that we do something about climate change. Already a large majority of Americans recognize that climate change is real and a majority want something done, even if it costs them some money.

        We’re watching the Arctic melt this summer, almost certain to set a new ice volume record and fairly likely to set an extent record. If things continue as they have been going we could see a summer melt-out within the next few years. That and a couple more years of extreme weather events like we’ve been experiencing could create an acceptance for a carbon tax or other mechanism that would make fossil fuel use more expensive.

  • Anonymous

    “We know that renewable energies like solar and wind at this point in time are not capable of addressing the world’s total energy demands.”

    Bull. Shit.

    How can someone writing for this site make such a stupid statement?

    Read this…

    • Glenn Meyers

      Use you mathematical brain instead of a foul tongue. Have you conducted any mathematical calculations on the amount of energy the largest solar and wind plants produce? That pales in comparison with the amount of energy that is actually required. One day we may get there for COMPLETE RENEWABLE ENERGY INFRASTRUCTURE but it’s not going to be in the near term!

      • Anonymous

        Read the paper!

        Jacobson and Delucchi have laid out the solution for you in very plain English. All you have to to is to click on the link and read.

        They have shown how we can get to an essentially 100% “COMPLETE RENEWABLE ENERGY INFRASTRUCTURE” in 20 years if we develop the political will to do so.

        Your post is foul. You give us a way to make our future even worse. There is no way that we should be looking for more ways to increase our global warming problem.

      • Anonymous

        I think the problem here is that you say clean energy cannot fulfill our needs AT THIS POINT IN TIME, but then this methane hydrate option can’t either. and we could be renewable energy powered by the time it would be ‘useful’.

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