Methane Hydrate: A New Source for Japan’s Energy?

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Methane Hydrate: A New Source for Japan’s Energy?

Japan recently announced that a team of research scientists managed to successfully extract natural gas from an offshore deposit of methane hydrate. Methane hydrate, also known as clathrates or, more colloquially, as flammable ice, is a sherbert-like substance that forms when methane gas is trapped and pressurized in ice below the seabed or in ice below arctic areas. Of course, extraction processes for on-shore drilling have already proven to be successful – after all, both Japan and Canada have managed to extract methane gas from hydrate deposits trapped in permafrost. It was only offshore drilling that proved difficult, at least until now. The breakthrough extraction technique, which decreases the local pressure of the extraction site in order to separate methane from ice, finally make methane hydrate a potential energy source in the future.

Observers of Japan’s energy plan are far from surprised by the country’s breakthrough. Indeed, Japan has already invested hundreds of millions of dollars (US) into methane hydrate extraction since the early 2000s. For over a decade, one of Japan’s alternate energy plans has always been the extraction of offshore methane hydrate from the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan. One might even say that the purpose of these extraction plants was to generate energy that Japan can call its own – to finally be able to generate a fuel that it does not have to import from other countries. If the tests continue to be successful, then Japan really can find an independent fuel source that it can call its own – with an estimated 1.1 trillion cubic metres of methane hydrate found in its surrounding waters, Japan has enough untapped hydrate to power itself for the next few decades.

Of course, we should still recognize that this new breakthrough into a powerful and promising energy source comes at an opportune time for Japan. Dissent against nuclear power has been on the rise since the Fukushima Disaster, forcing Japan’s government to adopt initiative that effectively shut down their once-expansive nuclear energy program. To put it simply, Japan is starved for energy, and the country is truly paying the price for this change through expensive fossil fuel imports. With the recent breakthrough in methane hydrate extraction, which is expected to be commercially ready in a few years’ time, as well as the recent push for renewable energy development, Japan may very well be on its way to becoming a leader in new and emerging energy source.

Despite the progressive façade of Japan’s recent breakthrough, I do express doubts about the direction of the research. Methane hydrate is still a new and little-known energy source – an alternative energy that is only now gaining spotlight because the traditional source are drying up. Simply, I hope that the Japanese researchers – and those who will follow their lead and attempt methane hydrate extraction in their own seas – will treat these next few steps very seriously. A lot of damage to the environment can occur as a result of “efficient” drilling practices or shortsighted procedures. Let’s hope that they are conscious of the environment and are aware of sustainable extraction techniques now, when they are still creating the new protocols for methane hydrate extraction. It just might make this the next big, safe energy source.

 

Jerico is an English and Creative Writing student at the University of Toronto. He believes strongly in technology’s potential to reverse the damage that’s been done to the environment – if we can only cooperate as a global community! He hopes that, by writing progressive and informed articles, he too can make a difference in his community.

  • How_delightful

    Its a good step for Japan (I guess the production method is patentable?). It is a good option for other countries also (to buy Japanese associated `production` equipment).

    However; what I find most odd about Japans energy policy is its near vaccum in developing geo-thermal energy, as it seems to be an ideal location to tap staggering ammounts of energy (the USA has Yellowstone).

    As a former engineer, and now as a current conceptual designer, I have written to the `Energy Ministry here (in Japan) and Tepco; but they never respond. I have even given a lecture on geothermal production, prior to the big earthquake 2-years ago (as I invented a number of concepts to vastly improve geo-thermal energy acess and production [by-passing the usual issues of `scaling-up` traditional methods encounter (concepts still secret)]).

    Inventors/conceptual designers are given short-shrift; not just in energy, but also in industry in general (as all companies do not use any “Freelance” concepts whatsoever [they only use `In-house` designs; or bust (hence a potential reason for the STAGFLATION of such countries)]).

    A talk on TED (google it) explains why `money` as a `motivator` causes company employees to `create` less rather than more. essentially, it explains that `Inspiration` comes from thinking INDEPENDENTLY.

    Freelance Inventors/conceptual designers need backing; without getting ripped off continually over the decades when sharing concept information to `clever` people; as we are not all astute businessmen and cannot all afford to fight patent infringements when you have to share your concepts that they can change concepts just enough to steal your idea and make a bundle.

    N.B.

    There is no international (affordable) patent for anyone `freelance`, even all these decades on.

    Lives will be lost without inventors being supported. Sometimes it may effect millions or billions of people.

    Sample?

    Thirty-years ago I designed a sole for (waterproof) boots that pumps Fresh-air between your toes as you walk along. I have a hundred inventions since (from a silent propulsion system for ships, to a far better `Fly paper` to turing Yellowstone park into a geo-thermal power station with all the equipment underground after completion (including power supply cable); to keep the toursits satisfied for a few hundred years…so many, and so little trust or help.