Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Japanese test coaxes fire from ice

First attempt to extract methane from frozen hydrates far beneath the ocean shows promise.

  

Methane being burnt off at sea after a team in Japan extracted the gas from frozen offshore deposits.

Methane flowing from beneath the sea floor has buoyed Japan’s hopes for securing its own plentiful energy source. A pilot project 80 kilometres off the country’s shores produced tens of thousands of cubic metres of gas — and reams of useful data — before a clogged pump brought the project to an abrupt end last month.

Reservoirs of methane hydrates — icy deposits in which methane molecules are trapped in a lattice of water — are thought to hold more energy than all other fossil fuels combined. 

The problem is extracting the methane economically from the deposits, which lie beneath Arctic permafrost and seafloor sediments. But some scientists and policy‑ makers in energy-poor, coast-rich Japan hope that the reservoirs will become a crucial part of the country’s energy profile.

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