Reserves of Frozen Fossil Fuel “Combustible Ice”

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Commercial development of the globe’s huge reserves of a frozen fossil fuel known as “combustible ice” has moved closer to reality after Japan and China successfully extracted the material from the seafloor off their coastlines.

Combustible ice is a frozen mixture of water and concentrated natural gas. Technically known as methane hydrate, it can be lit on fire in its frozen state and is believed to comprise one of the world’s most abundant fossil fuels.

Methane hydrate has been found beneath seafloors and buried inside Arctic permafrost and beneath Antarctic ice.

Estimates of worldwide reserves range from 280 trillion cubic meters (10,000 trillion cubic feet) up to 2,800 trillion cubic meters (100,000 trillion cubic feet).

By comparison, total worldwide production of natural gas was 3.5 billion cubic meters (124 billion cubic feet) in 2015, the most recent year available.

That means methane hydrate reserves could meet global gas demands for 80 to 800 years at current consumption rates.

Latest Developments:

The fuel was successfully mined from beneath the South China Sea. Chinese Minister of Land and Resources Jiang Daming declared the event a breakthrough moment heralding a potential “global energy revolution.”

A drilling crew in Japan reported a similar successful operation on May 4 along the Shima Peninsula.

For Japan, methane hydrate offers the chance to reduce its heavy reliance on imported fuels. In China, it could serve as a cleaner substitute for coal-burning power plants and steel factories that have polluted much of the country with lung-damaging smog.

There are also environmental concerns. If methane hydrate leaks during the extraction process, it can increase greenhouse gas emissions. If it can be used without leaking, it has the potential to replace dirtier coal in the power sector.

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