Earlier this week, Japan announced that they were able to extract the so-called “flammable ice” gas from offshore methane hydrate deposits. Since the country is one of the biggest importers of gas, exploring such resource could be the key to resolving Japan’s energy problems.
Flammable ice is a valuable replacement of oil and gas for energy production. The breakthrough comes at the most appropriate time when the country’s officials are planning to resume the operation of nuclear power plants.
According to experts in the field, the amount of carbon that can be extracted from the new offshore source is at least double the quantity of the element in fossil fuels. The technique of extraction of flammable ice from onshore sources has already been successful tested by scientists.
Although there is still quite a lot of research left to be done in order to understand fully the properties of the hydrates and their possible influence on the environment, Japan has already spent millions on exploring the resources.
Finding alternative energy sources is quite an important task for the current government, because of the heated public debates after the Fukushima disaster and the reduced supply of energy from nuclear.
As announced by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, the explorations of offshore gas from hydrate deposits has already started in the Pacific Ocean earlier this year. Using advanced instruments and techniques, the team that is leading the mission is now able to separate methane and ice, extracting the much needed alternative energy source. The trail is going to continue for the next few weeks, when the quantity of extracted gas will be estimated.
The process is still considered technologically challenging and difficult. in addition, it is still questionable whether methane will be released in the atmosphere through the process of extraction, contributing to Japan’s emissions or quantity of greenhouse gases. However, it is clear that natural gas is the much better and cleaner alternative to fossils, and it could help the country meet their energy needs.
An independent survey by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, estimated that the amount of gas that could be extracted from the methane hydrate resources in the waters of Japan, should be sufficient to meet the countries demands for the next 100 years.
It is already established that there are large deposits of gas hydrates in the seabed of the Arctic, which could be explored, but the challenge has always been to extract the gas from such depth. The Japanese scientists decided to use hot water to warm the methane and lower pressure in order to separate the molecules.
According to Ryo Matsumoto, a professor in geology at Meiji University in Tokyo who has led research into Japan’s hydrate deposits, the potential of gas hydrates as an alternative energy source has been known for a long time. It has only been a matter of time to find a way to extract it.
Other major offshore deposits are found in the area of North Carolina and South Carilina, Canada, China and Norway. It is important to remember, however, that the environmental effects of drilling are still not fully understood.