Sustaining Future

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Next Oil - Burning Ice

from China and India Exploit Icy Energy Reserves

According to Spiegel Online International's article, "methane, trapped in an icy cage of water molecules, occurs in permafrost and, in even greater quantities, beneath the ocean floor. ... World reserves of the frozen gas are enormous. Geologists estimate that significantly more hydrocarbons are bound in the form of methane hydrate than in all known reserves of coal, natural gas and oil combined.



The itching question any climate-aware citizen will ask is the impact of this resource on global warming. Scientists at the Institute for Marine Research (GEOMAR) based in the northern German seaport of Kiel envision a method whereby the flammable gas would be extracted from the sediment with the help of carbon dioxide. Quoting from Spiegel Online International's article:

"The carbon dioxide could be obtained from the exhaust gases of coal power plants, for instance," says Klaus Wallmann, the direct of a research project known as SUGAR, which was recently formed to study the issue. What he proposes sounds almost too good to be true: producing fuel while sequestering greenhouse gas deep beneath the ocean floor -- eliminating energy bottlenecks while simultaneously putting the brakes on global warming.

Wallmann and his colleagues base their theories on a reaction scientists noticed more than a decade ago. When a certain amount of pressure is applied to the cage-like crystal structure, carbon dioxide can penetrate the layer of ice, at which point it displaces the methane. Then a new cage of frozen water molecules forms around the carbon dioxide. "This behavior has already been demonstrated in laboratory experiments," says Wallmann.

He is also impressed by the ratio at which the gases are exchanged. For each dissolved molecule of methane, up to five molecules of carbon dioxide disappear into the ice cage.

In addition, says Wallmann, the ice encases the CO2 in a more stable manner than it does the methane.


Is it too good to be true? We shall wait and see. At the meantime, let the scientists do their job.

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