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Japan Extracts Natural Gas from Frozen Methane Hydrate

Methane hydrate burningJapan says it has successfully extracted natural gas from frozen methane hydrate off its central coast, in a world first.

Methane hydrates, or clathrates, are a type of frozen “cage” of molecules of methane and water.

The gas field is about 50km away from Japan’s main island, in the Nankai Trough.

Researchers say it could provide an alternative energy source for Japan which imports all its energy needs.

Other countries including Canada, the US and China have been looking into ways of exploiting methane hydrate deposits as well.

Pilot experiments in recent years, using methane hydrates found under land ice, have shown that methane can be extracted from the deposits.Methane Hydrate Fire Ice

Methane Hydrate, Fire Ice

  • Hydrates, or clathrates, are a frozen mixture of water and gas, primarily methane
  • The methane molecules reside inside a water molecule lattice
  • The methane will ignite in ice form – hence the “fire ice” moniker
  • Clathrates tend to form under frigid temperatures and high pressures
  • They are found in ocean sediments and under the permafrost on land
  • Vast deposits are thought to exist, rivalling known reserves of traditional fossil fuels

Offshore deposits present a potentially enormous source of methane but also some environmental concern, because the underwater geology containing them is unstable in many places.

“It is the world’s first offshore experiment producing gas from methane hydrate,” an official from the economy, trade and industry ministry told the AFP news agency.

A survey of the gas field is being run by state-owned Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC).

Engineers used a depressurisation method that turns methane hydrate into methane gas.

Production tests are expected to continue for about two weeks.

Government officials have said that they aim to establish methane hydrate production technologies for practical use within five years.

A Japanese study estimated that at least 1.1tn cubic metres of methane hydrate exist in offshore deposits.

This is the equivalent of more than a decade of Japan’s gas consumption.

Japan has few natural resources and the cost of importing fuel has increased after a backlash against nuclear power following the Fukushima nuclear disaster two years ago.

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Ron Wagner's picture
Ron Wagner on Mar 14, 2013 3:11 pm GMT

Great news! I hope this is even cheaper to extract than shale gas. The whole world will have cheap clean fuel, and people the world over will have a greatly enhanced lifesyle. Of course conservation should be used, and best practices in extraction. Improvements in scavenging heat form internal combustion engines deserves a priority in research efforts. Heat can be transformed into electricity, and the electricity can be stored and used. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 14, 2013 3:11 pm GMT

Successful? In the sense of successfully flushing climate down the toilet, I'd have to agree.

Methane hydrates from the ocean floor are at least as old as the last ice age, and deeper ones probably go back to the Permian-Triassic extinction event. Just like fossil fuels, they are sequestered carbon that, when liberated, will change our climate forever (I'm taking liberties with the word, but if you want to try to put a prettier face on "at least 100,000 years", have at it).


Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 14, 2013 3:53 pm GMT

Ronald, I have to wonder how you can fail to draw a line between liberation of this sequestered carbon and its effect on global warming. Your sanguine assessment is, quite frankly, remarkably naive.

Japan's Frozen Gas is Worthless if we take Climate Change Seriously

Ron Wagner's picture
Ron Wagner on Mar 14, 2013 4:19 pm GMT

Bob, I am interested in really helping people, not patting myself on the back for being a super green extremist. Manmade global warming is by no means a proven fact, and even if it were, life must go on. I have commented that best practices and energy conservation are important. That is because people like you, are all too willing to demonize practical people who disagree with your extreme views. 

Climate cycles have been going on since the earth was created. Here are some of my links:

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 14, 2013 4:35 pm GMT

Ronald, the science of global warming is not far behind the science of the Earth being round - about as factual as it gets. Out of 13,950 peer-reviewed articles on global warming, exactly 24 denied it had an anthropogenic component:

That speaks volumes about whose view is extreme here. If you disagree that it's worth preserving the world as we know it (and most of the species alive today) for a quick prosperity fix, then that's a value judgement that I disagree with, but so be it. If you agree, and are truly interested in helping people, you would take the time to educate yourself.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Mar 14, 2013 4:44 pm GMT

I am a little bit concerned with this development. To the extent that Natural Gas is not leaked into the environment and is being used to displace Coal, it could be a good thing.

However I am concerned that:

1) We won't be able to mine Methane Hydrates effectively while keeping raw methane from leaking into the atmosphere in quantities that are deliterious.

2) Methane Should not be used as a substitute for non-Carbon energy. I am worried that tat is exactly what will happen.

Methane hydrates should not be seen as a solution to Energy delivery. It could play a part in displacing Coal fired plants while further research and development is being done to arrive at a better long term solution which for me means Fourth Generation Nuclear power like LFTR.

Ron Wagner's picture
Ron Wagner on Mar 14, 2013 4:55 pm GMT

Replacing coal, non farmed wood, date palm plantations etc. are an important goal. I would also add replacing any desire for nuclear generation.  I will be dead when all that is accomplished. I am now 67, and that would take over thirty years. I would also like to replace dirty diesel and a lot of gasoline. 

My hope is that gasoline and diesel will be forced to come down in price to about one third of their present price. Watch this trend. I just saw one analysts prediction that we will soon be seeing $75 oil. It has been way beyond that in price. 

LNG is making it possible to replace dirty diesel fuel used in ships, and will do the same in trains, over time. It can also be used in purpose built aircraft and greatly lower fuel costs.  See Boeing's "Sugar Freeze" plan:

This is a very exciting time in energy. Highly efficient natural gas turbines can fully support wind, solar, hydro, and other intermittent energy sources. We are highly blessed. Remember the "energy crisis".


Ron Wagner's picture
Ron Wagner on Mar 14, 2013 4:59 pm GMT

Bob, you need to learn to be less reactionary, and a more discriminating reader. I said manmade global warming. Anyway, the trend may be turning toward a new ice age, if it hasn't already. No one really knows for sure. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 14, 2013 6:24 pm GMT



Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 14, 2013 6:28 pm GMT

Ronald, "anthropogenic" is synonymous with "manmade".

There is indeed a natural cooling trend, which is being dwarfed by the warming trend induced by manmade greenhouse gases. This from 6 days ago:

A new study looking at 11,000 years of climate temperatures shows the world in the middle of a dramatic U-turn, lurching from near-record cooling to a heat spike.

There is a difference between being reactionary, i.e., stirring the pot, vs. trying to convey a sense of urgency about what some of the smartest people alive - much smarter than I am - are saying about the crisis we face in the next 50-100 years. This is one which the general public is generally clueless about. As someone who is aware of energy issues, I'd be very interested to know your opinion of this video which appeared on TEC last week. Is Nobel prizewinner Stephen Chu lying, misinformed, exaggerating?

Another video, with a similar perspective, from a petroleum engineer:

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Mar 14, 2013 10:55 pm GMT

I'm afraid to say you should brace yourself forgreat  dissapointment. Safe and advanced fourth generation nuclear power gneration technology is well on the way and you, your children, and your great grand children will enjoy the power that it will produce for centuries to come.

If you want to know more Google China and Fourth Generation Nuclear power. 

Paul Ebert's picture
Paul Ebert on Mar 15, 2013 3:00 am GMT

Why is "extracting" the methane presented as such a big deal?  All it takes is to allow the ice that contains the methane to melt.  We're not talking any kind of innovation here.

Methane hydrates are an incredibly effective sink for carbon.  Given that we so desparately need to find ways to sequester CO2, why would we want to release the carbon from such an effective sink?  The only way this isn't absolute insanity on the order of a human race death wish would be to only harvest that methane that is already escaping from the permafrost and sea beds and burning that.  Better for that to be burned to CO2 than remain in the atmosphere as methane.

Not only is there the risk that methane will leak out in the process of its capture, but there is also a risk of destabilizing the hydrate deposits resulting in huge amounts of carbon being released.

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