China and India have reported massive finds of frozen methane
December 14, 2007 8:10 AM   Subscribe

China and India have reported massive finds of frozen methane clathrate off their coasts and, along with Japan and other countries, are spending large sums to develop it into a new source of fossil energy. This is important for developing countries as there may be more frozen methane in the world than all the oil, gas and coal combined, and it is available right off their coasts. Some believe it can be extracted in a carbon neutral manner, but methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and the scarily named clathrate gun hypothesis provides some fuel for thought about digging this stuff up.
posted by stbalbach (31 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
The world GDP has been growing at about 3% per year over the past 5 years mainly because of the high growth of China and India. A growth rate of 3% means economic activity doubles in 23 years. As well, each successive doubling period consumes as much resource as all the previous doubling periods combined. In other words, if the world economy grows at 3% a year between now and 2030, the world will consume economic resources equivalent to all that was consumed since humans first stood on two legs (source)
posted by stbalbach at 8:12 AM on December 14, 2007


The problem with clathrates is that they're only stable at high pressure and lower temperatures. At atmospheric pressure, the molecular structure is unstable and natural gas boils off in very large quantities. It's very easy for accidents to occur. Extraction is challenging and very dangerous, not only to the extractors, but also in term of greenhouse gas and large releases of pure methane.

One of the more credible theories of the Mystery of the Bermuda Triangle is that it's a large clathrate field that periodically "errupts" giant bubbles of methane.
posted by bonehead at 8:22 AM on December 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the post.

That sequestration technology sounds really cool, but I don't get how you could break even or go negative emissions wise.
posted by phrontist at 8:24 AM on December 14, 2007


We need to find more deposits of fuel for thought.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:30 AM on December 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


That sequestration technology sounds really cool, but I don't get how you could break even or go negative emissions wise.

If you can store an equal or greater global-warming-ratio of carbon dioxide molecules in exchange for methane molecules you pull out of the ice, you have a neutral or decreased effect on global warming.

It's not 1:1 because methane has a higher impact than carbon dioxide: you have to sequester a great deal more CO2 than CH4. But from reading the article, it looks like they can, in theory at least, store four or five CO2 per CH4 extracted.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:48 AM on December 14, 2007


Else we run out of fuel for thought?!
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:48 AM on December 14, 2007


Frozen undersea beds of Methane Hydrate also has a tendency to make things disappear.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:53 AM on December 14, 2007


Interesting. Obviously it would be good if people dug up and burned all that methane before global warming causes it to melt and be released into the atmosphere, since it's 72 times more powerful (over a 20 year period, according to the IPCC) as a greenhouse gas. And it seems like it would be crazy costly, given that you have to dig it up from the ocean floor and then keep it frozen the whole way.
posted by delmoi at 8:54 AM on December 14, 2007


Ah, Ergo Proxy.
posted by mr_book at 9:05 AM on December 14, 2007


Thanks for the post; this is very interesting. It will be interesting to see if this can be pulled off.
posted by never used baby shoes at 9:36 AM on December 14, 2007


given that you have to dig it up from the ocean floor and then keep it frozen the whole way.

Well, no. What's illustrated is a way to burn it in place, way down there, and just transport the heat energy from there; the resulting CO2 is then pumped back down to replace the methane, and keep it out of the atmosphere.

If this is for real, it's a good thing, whether it's carbon-neutral, or not. In the end, we're not going to win the race against global warming, anyway. I think we will end up putting reflective strips into orbit to deflect sunlight, or some such solution.
posted by beagle at 9:59 AM on December 14, 2007


Frozen undersea beds of Methane Hydrate also has a tendency to make things disappear.
posted by y2karl at 10:10 AM on December 14, 2007


Of course, all of this bleongs to the things that live down there, and they're going to be pretty pissed at us when we mess with it.
posted by Artw at 10:23 AM on December 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


OH, EXCELLENT! THIS WILL PROBABLY SOLVE ALL THE WORLD'S PROBLEMS!
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:48 AM on December 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


The methane created by the 1.3 billion cattle on Earth account for a mind blowing 18% of greenhouse gasses. Why don't we put them under the ocean, burn them, and exchange their volume for chicken tacos?
posted by parallax7d at 11:07 AM on December 14, 2007 [6 favorites]


Fortunately methane is shorter lived than other greenhouse gases, and breaks down after 10 years or so. Unfortunately it breaks down into carbon dioxide.
posted by Artw at 11:38 AM on December 14, 2007


we will end up putting reflective strips into orbit to deflect sunlight, or some such solution

Nah, they'll be reflective planetary police tape to deflect aliens from an accident scene. Nothing to see here! Move along, galactic citizen!
posted by dhartung at 11:57 AM on December 14, 2007


I think the methane clathrates were what was responsible for the massive badness that occured in John Barnes' Mother of Storms.
posted by Justinian at 11:58 AM on December 14, 2007


I thought that was caused by the writers interest in cramming in as many sex scenes as possible?
posted by Artw at 12:38 PM on December 14, 2007


The biggest problem with Methane clathrates is they're kind of hard to pronounce.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:23 PM on December 14, 2007


How soon can I use this to power my SUV and 60" plasma TV?

actually has neither

cries
posted by davejay at 1:26 PM on December 14, 2007


Weird coincidence, Clathrate gun hypothesis was the name of my band.
“Are you ready to ROCK!?”
Boom!
*cough*cough*cough*cough*aaak*choke*
posted by Smedleyman at 5:48 PM on December 14, 2007


When are you Americans going to ratify Kyoto, or at least make some pretence of giving a shit?

he says smugly, having ousted fascist dictatorship at recent election
posted by strawberryviagra at 7:19 PM on December 14, 2007


When are you Americans going to ratify Kyoto, or at least make some pretence of giving a shit?

Jesus personally assured W that we didn't need to worry about global warming because he would come back just as soon as we bring democracy to Iraq. Besides the pope says global warming is a myth and that pouring huge amounts of our national treasury into supporting a myth is foolish.
posted by humanfont at 9:38 PM on December 14, 2007


Oh thank Jeebus. I was running out of world-ending disaster hypotheses to keep me awake at night.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:23 AM on December 15, 2007


Pouring huge amounts of your national treasury (assuming there are huge amounts remaining; I suspect it's actually in a deficit position right now) into education and research into global warming and solutions thereof would be the best thing the USA could do for itself right now.

It'd be the millenial equivalent to the Space Race, which was largely responsible for the immense technological lead the US once had on the rest of the world.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:24 AM on December 15, 2007


Besides the pope says global warming is a myth

Actually, humanfont, the Pope doesn't say that at all. I mean, I'm all for making fun of religion, but let's be fair about it.
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:35 PM on December 15, 2007


I wonder if one could Sterling-engine the methane energy. Extract the energy difference between combusting methane and ice-cold ocean water.

We could do that with a few thermal vents, too. Red-hot lava versus ice cold water, lots of energy to be extracted there!
posted by five fresh fish at 2:02 PM on December 15, 2007


A lot of folks are saying that the Pope is now a global warming skeptic. Even though his enclyclical is a bit vague. Whatever he meant to say, he has set back the battle for mindshare by a decade.
posted by humanfont at 1:23 AM on December 16, 2007


The last great land rush on the planet will be at the bottom of the ocean.
posted by homunculus at 5:27 PM on December 28, 2007


The Pope as "it isn't getting warmer" or the Pope as "it isn't man's fault"?

There's a vast difference between the two. The former contradicts what seems to be factual: the earth is getting warmer. The latter could well be true: there are cyclical changes that might explain what is happening.

The causes may be disputable. That we're gonna have to deal is a fact.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:50 PM on December 28, 2007


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