The new fuel is called methane hydrate or fuel ice and China managed to extract it from a depth of 1,266 meters in the South China Sea, a place whose sovereignty is still in dispute between China, Vietnam and the Philippines. Beijing claims its absolute sovereignty, and therefore claims to have the rights to exploit all the nature reserves hidden under its surface.
This discovery may be historic in terms of energy because it is an excellent substitute for oil and gas in the future.
What are methane hydrates
Methane hydrates were discovered in northern Russia in the 1960s and are classified within the so-called unconventional gases. They are a solid substance with the appearance of ice, which traps methane molecules inside it, the majority component of the natural gas that we usually use.
Methane hydrates have different names: gas hydrates, methane clathrate, methane ice, combustible ice, flammable ice, etc. They have been formed from methane originated after the anaerobic decomposition by bacterial action of organic matter deposited on the seabed and due to the combination of high pressures and low temperatures.
"They look like ice crystals, but when you look closer, at the molecular level, you see the methane molecules locked inside water molecules"explains Praven Linga, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the National University of Singapore.
Most of the methane hydrate reserves are found on the ocean floor, at depths greater than 500 meters and at low temperatures, the part corresponding to the Arctic regions being a minority, guarded under the permafrost, the permanently frozen layer of soil.
Methane hydrates were discovered in northern Russia in the 1960s, but it was not until 10-15 years later that research began to extract gas from marine sediments.
Japan, due to the lack of natural energy sources, it waspioneer in this field.
Other leading countries in fuel ice exploration are India and South Korea, which also do not have their own oil reserves.
While the United States and Canada are also active in this regard, the focus of their explorations has been on methane hydrates under permafrost in northern Alaska and Canada.
It is estimated that world reserves of this fuel far exceed those of conventional gas. The volume of fuel ice found in reservoirs is even believed to be greater than coal, oil, and gas combined.
Its energy potential is very high: a cubic meter of combustible ice can release about 160 cubic meters of methane.
Potentially, methane hydrates constitute a future energy source of enormous importance, capable of replacing other sources of fossil energy. For example, only in the Nankai Trench (Japan) are sufficient reserves estimated to supply Japan's gas demand for a decade. According to various estimates, methane hydrate reserves could satisfy global gas demand for 800 years at current consumption rates.
Linga clarifies that any operating company must face aextreme care, to avoid damage to the environment.
The potential danger is methane escaping, and that could haveserious consequences for global warming, since it is a gas with a potential impact on climate change much higher than carbon dioxide.
The trick is to extract it without letting it run off.
With information from: