The Remarkable Energy Potential of Methane Hydrate

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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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Glenn Meyers

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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