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Japan Extracts Natural Gas From Frozen Methane Hydrate

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the burning-more-of-the-planet dept.

Japan 154

ixarux writes "For the first time ever, a Japanese company has successfully extracted natural gas from frozen methane hydrate off its central coast. The Nankai Trough gas field, located a little more than 30 miles offshore, could provide an alternative energy source for the island nation, reducing its dependence on foreign imports. 'A Japanese study estimated that at least 1.1tn cubic meters 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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Seems like a good step (2)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152137)

But I don't understand why Japan doesn't perfect Deep water cooling [wikipedia.org] technology, using heat exchanges and thermocouples to generate energy. Or is the Inland Sea not deep enough?

Re:Seems like a good step (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152185)

That seems better. "More than a decade" sounds too short term of an investment.

Re:Seems like a good step (5, Informative)

starless (60879) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153013)

That seems better. "More than a decade" sounds too short term of an investment.

According to the NY Times, the overall gas available may be more like 100 years' worth:

Jogmec estimates that the surrounding area in the Nankai submarine trough holds at least 1.1 trillion cubic meters, or 39 trillion cubic feet, of methane hydrate, enough to meet 11 years’ worth of gas imports to Japan.

A separate, rough estimate by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology has put the total amount of methane hydrate in the waters surrounding Japan at more than 7 trillion cubic meters, or what researchers have long said is closer to 100 years’ worth of Japan’s natural gas needs.
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/13/business/global/japan-says-it-is-first-to-tap-methane-hydrate-deposit.html?hp [nytimes.com]

Re:11 years or 100 years (3, Insightful)

helobugz (2849599) | about a year and a half ago | (#43154713)

Huge difference between looking at estimated recoverable vs. estimated total quantity. Just because we know an energy source exists doesn't mean it will ever be worthwhile to spend the energy required to recover it. eg, Helium-3.

Shall beds are geographically huge, but note how they have so far only been drilled in the thickest portions and only the shallowest formations have been actively pursued (marcellus vs. utica). It takes a lot of energy to get a gas well to produce, sometimes more than it will ever be capable of producing.

Re:Seems like a good step (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43152329)

This is an extremely foolhardy step. All that carbon is sitting down there, nicely stored away, not hurting anyone. Now Japan is going to convert it into CO2 and spew it into our atmosphere. You think the climate predictions so far have been extreme? Just wait.
Pretty soon, our atmosphere will be nothing but carbon dioxide. Although, we'll be well and truly cooked long before that stage.

Re:Seems like a good step (5, Interesting)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152489)

Eh, depending on some variables maybe it isn't that bad.

1. Assuming that they'd burn coal if they didn't use the methane.
2. Assuming the energy released from burning the methane is similar to the energy released from burning coal (I don't know)

then burning something that is inherently unstable like the Methane Hydrates in the oceans is far better than burning the coal. The coal is a nice stable solid at every human habitable temperature. They Hydrates aren't. If the ocean warms too much, the hydrates will just bubble out and poof, LOTS more methane in the atmosphere that didn't provide us anything useful - and we have the CO2 released from burning the coal.

So the devil is in the details, and the best solution is burning neither methane nor coal, but if you have to pick, choose the one that isn't likely to spontaneously turn into another form thus making your situation much much worse.

Re:Seems like a good step (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152543)

meh, choose the one that IS likely to...

Re:Seems like a good step (5, Insightful)

d34thm0nk3y (653414) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152639)

If the ocean warms too much, the hydrates will just bubble out and poof, LOTS more methane in the atmosphere that didn't provide us anything useful...

Additionally, methane is 25 times more potent as a grennhouse gas. So converting that to energy and CO2 gives you energy and a net reduction in the greenhouse effect.

Re:Seems like a good step (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43152765)

Globally, there is more than 250 times that quantity (~1,000,000 tcf). It's a virtually untapped resource that will disappear if not used soon. It's enough to run the whole planet for about 30 years if everyone had the consumption level of Japan.

Re:Seems like a good step (1, Insightful)

rpresser (610529) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153231)

This only makes sense if the warming is unstoppable and there's no way to prevent the bubbling. Taking methane out from the continental shelf and burning it ADDS greenhouse gas. It only makes sense if doing nothing would allow all the methane to escape anyway.

Re:Seems like a good step (4, Informative)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year and a half ago | (#43154175)

Taking methane out from the continental shelf and burning it ADDS greenhouse gas.

Not if it displaces burning coal. Per Kw, methane generates half as much CO2 as coal. Since AGW became an issue in the 1990's, the lion's share of CO2 reduction has been because of moving from coal to gas. Coal-to-gas isn't perfect, and it isn't a long term solution, but it works, it is cost effective, and it is actually happening in a big way . No other method of CO2 reduction even comes close. Don't make perfect the enemy of good. [wikipedia.org]

Re:Seems like a good step (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43154697)

I see you can't answer to your punk ass bitch claims about panspermia, ShitballBill. What a fucking fraud you are.

Re:Seems like a good step (0)

quenda (644621) | about a year and a half ago | (#43155403)

Per Kw, methane generates half as much CO2 as coal.

Convention methane does, but non-conventional sources can be worse due to the energy needed for extraction, and leakage to methane to the atmosphere.
Unless they can find a cheap, efficient way to get this methane, it will be worse than coal.

Re:Seems like a good step (1)

dryeo (100693) | about a year and a half ago | (#43154723)

The choices are currently limited. Coal which others have pointed out is stable where it is and when burnt releases much more carbon or methane. With methane we could get it out of the ground where it is currently stable and needs disgusting methods such as fragging to extract or from the continental shelf where it is not very stable and probably cleaner to extract.
Ideally is to have renewable energy supplying the bulk of energy but we're not there yet and there is likely to always be the odd time where the renewable sources aren't enough. Where I live close to a 100% of electricity comes from hydro-electric but there are still some natural gas generators that operate an average of a couple of days a year (cold-snaps mostly)

Re:Seems like a good step (2)

jafac (1449) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153529)

There was an article a few months back by an arctic scientist outlining a method using high-frequency radio waves to break-up released methane in the atmosphere. The end product was going to be water and carbon dioxide (of course). Both of those are greenhouse gasses, but not as bad as methane.

His take on it was that we're seeing catastrophic releases of methane NOW, so we need to take action to break this stuff up now, before too much floats too high into the atmosphere (out of range of the transmitters, which is only about 50 miles). I *do* support burning the stuff if only to prevent releasing it as methane - but only if we're going to use the energy to capture carbon and sequester it somehow. I don't know how we could possibly mine and burn enough of it on a large enough scale to make any kind of difference.

methane has shorter lifetime (5, Informative)

peter303 (12292) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153583)

Methane is less stable than CO2. Its lifetime in normal atmoshperic sunlight is about two decades. CO2 stays for thousands of years.

Re:methane has shorter lifetime (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43155161)

Yes, But what do think happens to the carbon and hydrogen in methane? It converts to C02 and H20, so better to to that today and get energy while avoiding to decades of Green House Gas 10x

Re:Seems like a good step (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152985)

You can fix that by planting a rain forest or six.

Re:Seems like a good step (-1, Troll)

Eunuchswear (210685) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152509)

you hve got to be joking- a good step?

Sounds like the fuckking stupidest idea after coal.

Re:Seems like a good step (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43152623)

Sorry, apparently Slashdot ate the part of your post where you backed your statement with some manner of logical discussion or something to make you not look like another boring troll. You're going to have to repost that part.

Re:Seems like a good step (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43152703)

well the 2nd stupidest ides is a step better than the stupidest idea.

Re:Seems like a good step (2)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153021)

Converting Methane (a greenhouse gas 25 times as dense as CO2) to CO2 and energy is a bad idea how?

Especially given that global warming is now a runaway process.

Still, I'd say that deep water cooling would be a much better tech to develop for the long run.

Re:Seems like a good step (2)

rpresser (610529) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153255)

Converting methane at the bottom of the ocean to CO2 in our air is a bad idea. The only way it's a good idea is if you assume the methane would end up in the air anyway, which is only true if warming is unstoppable (in which case the hydrates are doomed to melt by themselves). So, if you argue burning hydrates is a good idea, you've implicitly accepted that warming is real and unstoppable. Which is something most "drill, baby, drill" folks tend to deny.

Re:Seems like a good step (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153659)

But that methane doesn't *stay* at the bottom of the ocean:
http://www.neatorama.com/2010/08/08/bermuda-triangle-mystery-solved/ [neatorama.com]

Especially with global warming in process, this will only accelerate, and is in fact a navigational hazard.

And yes, I do accept that global warming is real, and unstoppable. I have some doubts that humans caused it entirely, but the facts that it is occurring and that we may well have played some role in making it worse are undeniable. But it's far too late for the blame game. The only real solution is to start planting more food.

Re:Seems like a good step (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43153745)

I have some doubts that humans caused it entirely

You should, because no one has made that claim that I know of. The scientific consensus is that humans are the significant source of green house gasses and warming, not entirely, 100.0% the cause. For reasons that should be obvious, entirely causing warming is unlikely.

Re:Seems like a good step (2)

HunterZero (102709) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152709)

The Inland Sea (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seto_Inland_Sea) is not deep enough.

Re:Seems like a good step (1)

nojayuk (567177) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152951)

The Seto is not much more than a hundred metres across in places. The Onomichi ferry is 100 yen one way if you ever want to cross the Pacific on the cheap. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAR69cmBEr4 [youtube.com]

Re:Seems like a good step (2)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153067)

Thank you, right information, just from wikipedia articles alone.

Yours:
"The average depth is 37.3 m (122 ft); the greatest depth is 105 m (344 ft)."

Mine:
"To obtain water in the 3 to 6 C (37 to 43 F) range, a depth of 66 m (217 ft) is required."

Looks like it is possible, but only certain cities could do it.

Re:Seems like a good step (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152961)

But I don't understand why Japan doesn't perfect Deep water cooling technology

 
Because deep water cooling is an air conditioning system - not a power generation system. Anyhow, the problem with thermocouples (other than not being particularly efficient) is generally getting the hot leg hot enough, not cooling the cold leg.

Re:Seems like a good step (2)

dunkelfalke (91624) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153377)

Well, it is actually strange. Japan ought to be the perfect place for geothermal, tidal and wind power.

Clarity (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43152235)

For the first time ever, a Japanese company has successfully extracted natural gas from frozen methane hydrate off its central coast.

Despite the crappy writing this isn't just the first time a Japanese company has done this, it's the first time anyone has.

Re:Clarity (1)

omnichad (1198475) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152293)

Couldn't have said it better myself, AC.

Re:Clarity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43152371)

Unless Japan convinces a lot of other countries around the world (third world countries) to sell off their frozen methane deposit mining rights, just like they did with fishing rights.

Re:Clarity (1)

j00r0m4nc3r (959816) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152393)

Don't encourage him.

Re:Clarity (0)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152311)

For the first time ever, a Japanese company has successfully extracted natural gas from frozen methane hydrate off its central coast.

Despite the crappy writing this isn't just the first time a Japanese company has done this, it's the first time anyone has.

On planet Earth, in recorded history, if you insist on being a stickler for accuracy.

Re:Clarity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43152347)

Shhh... we're not supposed to talk about the Permian-era extractions. Let the talking monkeys have their moment - they'll find out soon enough that this is a bad idea.

Re:Clarity (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152503)

Madame Vastra, you're being mean!

Re:Clarity (1)

don depresor (1152631) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152661)

reply to undo wrong moderation

Re:Clarity (4, Informative)

Ol Biscuitbarrel (1859702) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152331)

Not quite. This is the first offshore demonstration of extraction, but it's been carried out successfully onshore before.
Methane Hydrates and the Future of Natural Gas - MIT Energy.

To date, these permafrost-associated deposits are the only places
where production of gas from verifiable dissociation of gas hydrates has ever been documented.
Short-term (i.e., several days) production tests were carried out at the Mallik well in the
Mackenzie Delta area of Canada in 2002 and 2007 (Dallimore and Collett, 2005; Hancock et al.,
2005; Takahisa, 2005; Kurihara et al., 2008) and at the Mt. Elbert (Milne Point) site on the
Alaskan North Slope in 2008 (e.g., Hunter et al., 2011).

Offshore extraction of NG from hydrates for Japan will be a tough pill to swallow for people whose country was recently trashed by tsunamis, as hydrates are associated with prehistoric massive seabed slumping. Read more here: DOE Meeting Summary: Catastrophic Methane Hydrate Release [global-war...eering.org]

Re:Clarity (1)

Ol Biscuitbarrel (1859702) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152343)

I should clarify that you were perhaps specifying that this is the first successful offshore test of hydrate extraction.

Re:Clarity (1)

flayzernax (1060680) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152453)

Really nice link, its almost enough to make the argument that nature is going to do it for us eventually anyway though. Might as well harness it and put it to good use.

Re:Clarity (4, Informative)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152597)

Offshore extraction of NG from hydrates for Japan will be a tough pill to swallow for people whose country was recently trashed by tsunamis, as hydrates are associated with prehistoric massive seabed slumping. Read more here: DOE Meeting Summary: Catastrophic Methane Hydrate Release [global-war...eering.org]

Also known as Clathrate gun [wikipedia.org]

Re:Clarity (1)

anagama (611277) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152939)

It's either crappy writing, bad googlefu on my part, or plain old ignorance on my part, but I just don't understand this:

1.1tn cubic meters

For "tn" I get:

terraNewtons
tons
and a bunch of stuff about Tennessee

But not a lot of stuff directly related to volume.

Re:Clarity (1)

MiniMike (234881) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153407)

Trillion.

1.1 trillion cubic meters

See this list [wikipedia.org] for a sense of how this compares to known reserves.

The Duh Factor (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43152251)

I live within eight miles of a nuclear reactor and for the life of me I can not understand putting a nuke on a beach just as we have done here. Areas that have earth quakes, high energy storms and beaches need to not have nuclear reactors as they are now designed. In addition large population areas are also not a great idea as wars do occur and terror attacks can and have taken place. I am aware that the concrete domes are built to take quite a hit but to me that is about like saying that bank vaults are secure against burglars. Obviously even multimillion dollar vaults get penetrated from time to time.
                        I do wonder why safety is such a lost notion on our leaders.

Re:The Duh Factor (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152299)

Are now designed or were designed?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pebble_bed_reactor [wikipedia.org]

There are a LOT of better designs out there now that in a really severe earthquake or storm, would self-compartmentalize.

Re:The Duh Factor (1)

Medievalist (16032) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153213)

Are now designed or were designed?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pebble_bed_reactor [wikipedia.org]

I think the other poster was looking for designs that actually work in practice, not theories that haven't panned out yet or tests that were shut down due to failure to perform.

There are a LOT of better designs out there now that in a really severe earthquake or storm, would self-compartmentalize.

Perhaps someday one of them will be economically feasible. At the moment, it would have to be cheaper than coal, since we idiot humans seem to be unable to stop burning the stuff.

Re:The Duh Factor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43152615)

In my opinion, we simply do not have enough safe nuclear reactors. Enough with the rhetoric that nuclear power is the bane of all evil. After all we drive automobiles which kill hundreds of people daily and we're perfectly ok with that. We consume fossil fuels as if we are expecting to breathe CO2 in a few hundred years. We're just not going to evolve fast enough.

Clearly there's a petroleum industry bias feeding the negativity of alternative power sources, including nuclear. Let's not buy into this. Safe, sustainable and cost effective nuclear power is not only possible but should be our priority!

Re:The Duh Factor (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153343)

Safe, sustainable and cost effective nuclear power is not only possible but should be our priority!

I'm not suggesting we not use Nuclear power more, we should, but I think there are limits to what Nuclear can do for us at this point. Electricity is not easily stored, in fact, it must be generated the instant it is used. Our electrical consumption varies a lot by the time of day, the season, and location. But Nuclear reactors are not easily throttled up and down on such short cycles. Usually it takes days to plan for and bring a nuclear plant from a low power output up to full power and days to efficiently throttle back down. During some phases of the fuel cycle (towards the end mostly) this is the most trouble and more than one reactor has been unexpectedly out of service for refueling due to throttling down to fast (as in a SCRAM event).

I bring this up to simply point out that you will still need fossil fueled plants to handle the peak loads, because nuclear plants have their limits.

Re:The Duh Factor (1)

gewalker (57809) | about a year and a half ago | (#43154083)

A better nuke design would allow for much faster adjustments to the power, but since nuke plants are typically run as base load (as they are cheap to run if you consider fuels costs only) it really does not matter until you get to very high percentages of your electricity from nukes. If you went hog wild with nukes, you would still need demand power via natural gas turbines, hydro, or pumped-water storage, etc.

Coal plants are not good choices for demand load, and oil-fuel plants use very expensive fuel compared to natural gas.

Look at the recent power plant choices, Mostly natural gas, a small amount of wind, just a little nuke and that is about all. I.e., Just about all of the recent fossil fuel electric grid additions are natural gas.

Re:The Duh Factor (2)

bobbied (2522392) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152767)

Obviously even multimillion dollar vaults get penetrated from time to time.

I don't think your comparison is valid. What is inside (say money or gold) is desirable enough somebody will risk life and limb break in. Breaking into a Nuclear reactor containment structure, while possible, is not going to contain much in the way of desirable things to take and the risks to life will be pretty high. How many folks would want to break into one, hit their lifetime radiation exposure limits in seconds, and attempt to steal what's inside? And what will they get? Miles of radio active copper wire? Radiation sources which are extremely easy to track along with the people carrying them? My point is that nobody really wants to break into a containment structure, while a bank vault has stuff they want.

So the real question is how often will the containment structure be compromised though accidental means? So far, out of thousands of years worth of reactor operating experience, we've only seen two contaminant structure failures. One killed a handful of people (between 100 and 200) and released quite a bit of radiation in Russia and eastern Europe and was caused by a seriously stupid operational error compounded by a reactor design that was nearly as stupid. The two stupids added up to one big stupid mess. The second containment breach event was caused by an extraordinary natural disaster which was outside of the design limits coupled with some seriously poor contingency plans, but hasn't killed anybody. All in all this doesn't seem too bad of a record to me.

It's safer per operating hour than riding in an automobile, or going on a commercial fight.

Thorium is the answer (1)

SampleFish (2769857) | about a year and a half ago | (#43154975)

If we converted all of our nuclear sites to run on Thorium it would become a non-issue. Nuclear energy could be clean and safe but it would be harder to make atomic weapons.

http://energyfromthorium.com/ [energyfromthorium.com]

3 days (0, Troll)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152269)

Before a environmentalist article is posted on Slashdot, telling us that children, baby seals, puppies, and rainbows will all perish if we extract this natural gas.

Re:3 days (1, Troll)

KiloByte (825081) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152351)

Because they will perish. ANY source of energy other than fossil combustibles deserves to be promoted.

The fossil fuel mafia is second only to big finance, so the amount of propaganda and misinformation against nuclear or geothermal energy is astounding, and these are the two cleanest and most realistic sources we currently have.

Re:3 days (1)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152397)

How do fossil fuels cause rainbows to perish? All you need is humidity and a light source.
I can make a rainbow in a cave 3,000 feet underground.
I can make a rainbow on Mars.
I can make a rainbow while eating green eggs and ham said Sam I Am

Re:3 days (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152643)

How do fossil fuels cause rainbows to perish? All you need is humidity and a light source.

"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"
(what good would it be the rainbow if we're not going to see it?)

Re:3 days (1)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152907)

Arguing philosophy and perceptions of reality is a very poor fallback argument in this case. Did the universe exist before you were born?

Re:3 days (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43153171)

Did the universe exist before you were born?

It's even more recent than that. [urbandictionary.com]

Re:3 days (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153593)

(ummm, perception you say.... A funny thing this perception...)
My point wasn't at all philosophical: I was just pointing out that a potential catastrophic [wikipedia.org] release of methane from the sea bed could mean every human may have totally other priorities than to admire rainbows (if they'd be able to have priorities at all, I imagine that a dead person couldn't care less about either rainbows or survival).

Here's an analogy: suppose you have a glass of water slowly warming in the sun. Everything is nice and dandy, the system is close to a thermal equilibrium at any moment; would you live inside the glass, you'd have time to adapt to the warming
Now, imagine that you drop a red-hot piece of metal inside the glass. Suddenly, for a good period of time what happens inside the glass is catastrophically far from an equilibrium even if, eventually, a new equilibrium would be reached.

Do you think you would be able to survive the transient chaotic period? Even if you do, would you be inclined to have aesthetic feelings caused by eventual rainbows? (highly likely a rainbow may be a sign of a super-storm that just passed, or is about to begin or you're just in the storm's eye).
You have a better perception on my point now?

(BTW: Mother of Storms [wikipedia.org] made an enjoyable reading for me).

Re:3 days (1)

wierd_w (1375923) | about a year and a half ago | (#43155363)

Make a rainbow under an impenetrable cloud canopy that causes massive light ray diffraction before interacting with your mist layer?

Eg, what will happen to earth once enough CO2 is in the atmosphere, since a good deal of water vapor will join it as global temps rise, until cloud cover reaches such a density that the albedo of the clouds causes temps to drop.

Eg, during the ensuing iceage, your rainbows will be a very very rare thing.

Re:3 days (1)

j00r0m4nc3r (959816) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152421)

ANY source of energy other than fossil combustibles deserves to be promoted

How is combusting methane better than combusting other hydrocarbons?

Re:3 days (1)

KiloByte (825081) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152621)

That's what I meant.

I see I used a wrong word, though - it turns out in English "fossil fuel" is narrower than what I thought, referring to long-dead organisms only rather than any historic deposits. That's a consequence of learning stuff in a different translation, my bad :/

Re:3 days (3, Informative)

IdolizingStewie (878683) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153251)

How is combusting methane better than combusting other hydrocarbons?

Apparently not what the gp meant, but combusting methane (CH4) is, in fact, better than ethane (C2H6), which is better than propane (C3H8), etc. As the chain gets longer, the ratio of C/H gets higher, resulting in more CO2 being released for the same amount of energy produced.

Re:3 days (1)

Ukab the Great (87152) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152407)

Frozen methane is already melting due to global warming and is theorized to greatly accelerate the global warming process. Making using of the stuff and burning it is probably more environmentally friendly than just leaving it there.

OH NOES THE ENVRONMENT!!!!11 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43152273)

Just thought I'd get that out of the way.

I methaned. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43152285)

I methaned.

Article sucked (4, Interesting)

gurps_npc (621217) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152301)

The article says Japan "extracted" the methane. But it says nothing about how they extracted it. By extraction they could simply mean melting the ice. Which is worthless. What we need is a way to transport it from the frozen bottom of the sea to the room temperature power plants

The problem is transporting it. Transporting liquids (oil) is easy, you pump it through pipes to tanks. Transporting gas is slightly harder as you pump it in air-tight pipes to air-tight tanks.

Transporting room temperature solids is a moderately hard, you shovel it and truck it.

But frozen methane is the worst. It is solid when left alone, but turns to gas at room temperature. Worse, it is almost always at the bottom of the ocean.

If they solved this problem, great. But we don;t know they did that, because they were not very clear at all.

In my experience there is a simple explanation for that lack of information - very bad translation from a foreign language. Someone probably solved a rather minor technical issue about removing the frozen water, leaving the gas, but it probably did NOT solve the major 'do it underwater, at huge depths, at freezing cold temperatures, by robot' problem.

Instead of explaining that it was a minor technical victory, they left out all the details and claimed translation issues.

Re: No... you can't read (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43152575)

It specifically says they used the "Engineers used a depressurisation method that turns methane hydrate into methane gas."... google it... and find: http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methane_hydrate

Re:Article sucked (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43152685)

The problem is not extracting methane from ice or mining it at the bottom of the ocean. The problem is that these deposits are highly unstable, prone to spontaneous emissions and landslides. It is extremely unstable terrain.

You can't even put a ship above a major deposit and just start digging whatever you want. If you screw up and methane bubbles up, the bubbles will sink the ship - Bermuda Triangle and all that is prime example of how ships can just "disappear" because of methane releases from these "fire ice" deposits. One minute your ship is buoyant, the next it sinks..

Everyone knows how to extract this methane. Dig up the ice, melt it/mash it, and boom, you have gas. The problem is that when you start digging, you can cause a major problems, including tsunamis from underwater landslides and loss of equipment as it gets buried under a few million tons of rock.

As for deposits on land, they are spread out over large areas. It is like mining a garbage dump for gas - you don't get much gas from it before you have to move on.

Re:Article sucked (4, Informative)

bored_engineer (951004) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152757)

The article really sucked, so I went looking for another [telegraph.co.uk] , even though it was only slightly better.

The major improvement is in depressurizing the hydrate so that the gas will boil off. They don't have a robot at those depths, the work is done at the end of a drill string

Re:Article sucked (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152881)

Transporting liquids (oil) is easy, you pump it through pipes to tanks.

Note political issues getting in the way, with the exact same result as technological ones: nothing happens (save a different set of pockets being lined).

Memes adopting the cloak of real engineering difficulties.

Re:Article sucked (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153175)

By my reading of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methane_clathrate [wikipedia.org] one can extract the gas by heating the stuff to a specific point at which point the ice melts. You can also lower the pressure enough and the methane will exit on its own. I'm guessing they will do a little bit of both, some fracking followed by pumping out the fluid. Then nature will take its course and gas will rise to the top. The trick will be trying to control the pressure in the well because I understand the liberation of the gas can happen quickly and be hard to stop at times.

Methane Hydrate highly pressurized (2)

peter303 (12292) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153627)

Drillers intentionally avoid it because it blows up wells and catches fire. Thats what happened three years ago for the Mocando Deep Horizon Well. (regular overpressured methane, not hydrate)

Scientists have a pretty good idea now how to detect it on a conventional seismic section, whether they want to avoid it or drill for it. Its seems to be in continental shelves over much of the world.

Watch out for Nankai megathrust earthquakes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43152305)

I'd proceed very cautiously, given that the area has a history of earthquakes [wikipedia.org] and we've already seen how oil/gas extraction can give raise to earthquakes or other movement of geological structures.

Are They CRAZY???? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43152339)

They are sure to awaken Godzilla.

This is madness! Madness, I tell you.

Re:Are They CRAZY???? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43152659)

Johnny Socko and his Giant Robot, or Ultra-Man, will handle that.

Re:Are They CRAZY???? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43152677)

They are sure to awaken Godzilla.

This is madness! Madness, I tell you.

Look, the nuke plant didn't do it, and there was a tsunami with that one to boot! Dude's a heavier sleeper than you think.

Re:Are They CRAZY???? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43154227)

you mean, Zilla1, don't you? (and yes, there is a Zilla2); also kinda makes you wonder how the methane hydrate got there in the first place, droppings perhaps?

Totally (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43152361)

Cool

What they aren't telling you ... (1)

sunking2 (521698) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152465)

They are using a new substance called Oxygen Destroyer to extract it.

Re:What they aren't telling you ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43152523)

Oxygen Destroyer

That, and puppy grindings.

Could be a death blow for vast areas of the ocean (3, Interesting)

Grayhand (2610049) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152531)

Everyone ignores the obvious downside of hydrates. The are stored in the sands at the bottom of the ocean so it means effectively strip mining huge tracks of the ocean to recover them. The ecosystem of the ocean is dependent on the ocean floor and reefs both of which would be devastated by this kind of exploitation. There's also the issue of the dirt thrown into the water column choking fish. The oceans are badly stressed as it is so dredging most of the remaining ocean could be what collapses what's left of the fisheries.

Re:Could be a death blow for vast areas of the oce (1)

bored_engineer (951004) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152845)

. . .so it means effectively strip mining huge tracks of the ocean. . .

I don't think that they could recover their investment, if this is even technically possible. The extraction is done underground at the end of a drill string. The Nankai Trough is as much as 4000M deep, and the deposits that they're tapping are as much as 7000M below the sea floor. According the Wikipedia article on the Nankai Trough, there's a huge influx of sediment, which would make "strip mining" still more difficult.

Re:Could be a death blow for vast areas of the oce (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43152925)

Hydrates are very rarely exposed on the seafloor, more commonly they are several hundred meters below it. Producing them without suicide means capturing the methane in the subsurface & delivering it to shore. Uncontrolled release, as in "strip mining" would allow methane to come to the surface & (a) kill you with the first spark, (b) make no money. You pick the motivation, both work.

here we go again (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43153335)

Of course, here come the environmental wackos off the sidelines to defend mother earth and her precious ocean. Don't worry Grayhand, nobody is collapsing fisheries by choking fish with dirt.

The problem with your fear is that nobody is talking about digging up anything. Scary calls about strip mining the ocean floor (gasp!) are nothing but nonsense. The methane hydrate is frozen in the water not the soil.

Re:Could be a death blow for vast areas of the oce (2)

pk001i (649678) | about a year and a half ago | (#43154667)

I am not sure there is a sentence of this post that is even remotely correct. Hydrates are not strip mined. With a drill ship, they drill the formation, then apply a vacuum to the drill string. The hydrate dissociates, leaving behind methane gas (which is sucked up the drill string), and a little fresh water. For every cm^3 of hydrate, you get ~164 cm^3 of gas at STP. A drill string, and bottom hole assemble of the research ship Chukyu is not very large, and will likely have no impact on the ocean floor, reefs, etc. There is very little "dirt" being thrown anywhere. Also, there is no dredging.

Re:Could be a death blow for vast areas of the oce (1)

radtea (464814) | about a year and a half ago | (#43155379)

The ecosystem of the ocean is dependent on the ocean floor and reefs both of which would be devastated by this kind of exploitation.

I appreciate your mention of "reefs", as they are completely irrelevant to the depths in question, and make it easy to completely dismiss your cavil as what it is: the persistent whine of the naysayer, who is opposed to everything.

It's really useful for people with the courage to take risks with the future, and therefore make things better, to be able to spot the naysayers, and concern for "reefs" at thousands of feet below the ocean surface is a good way to do so in this case, like concern for "birds killed by windmills" allows us to spot anti-wind trolls and concern for "polar bears on melting ice" allows us to spot climate change trolls.

There are valid concerns on all these topics, but people like you, who contribute only noise to the conversation, need to be screened out if we are to have the conversations that matter. Thanks for making that easy!

"Japan Extracts Natural Gas From Natural Gas" (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152603)

Hmmm...

Re:"Japan Extracts Natural Gas From Natural Gas" (1)

Beorytis (1014777) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152909)

How about: "Japan releases imprisoned natural gas from its icy jail."

Good News Bad News (3, Interesting)

DumbSwede (521261) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152745)

We seem to be having an unprecedented set of advances in extracting hydrocarbon based fuel sources other than conventional oil (and all that implies for the environment).

I support clean energy and would really like to see research expanded into fusion energy. However not a week goes by I don’t see someone preaching doom and gloom about Peak Oil. Even if these methane hydrate deposits don’t pan out (which actually they probably will) Oil Shale deposits have proven reserves of over 1 Trillion Barrels equivalent using current technology (and an insane potential with future advances) and the U.S. has the largest reserves worldwide. This is equivalent to approximately to all the known reserves for conventional oil and we have hardly begun to exploit it. Check out this link on Wikipedia for the numbers : Oil Shale Reserves [slashdot.org] .

Energy may become (slightly) more expensive in the future, there may temporary shocks from transition periods as we go to new hydrocarbon sources, but in the long run usable energy is there for the extraction in an economically viable fashion. If anything all this PEEK-OIL talk over inflates the value of energy. One has to wonder about agendas here. The only thing PEEK-OIL is doing is selling a lot of books for scare-mongers.

Perhaps we should go slow on utilizing these sources because of the environment, but even so I don’t see why prices are so high when every indicator seems to suggest there are massive new sources at hand. On the other hand if prices where low would we continue our slow march toward efficient use of what we have (LED replacement bulbs for instance and better insulated houses).

Re:Good News Bad News (2, Interesting)

TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) | about a year and a half ago | (#43152999)

Wake up earth hugger. Hydrocarbons are the most readily and cheapest available source of energy an compared to all other alternatives.

It would be nice to go all alternative, but for a country like Japan its just not an option. Even if all they did was build solar and wind farms for the next 20 years they still wouldn't have enough.

I tire of the knee jerk reaction from green alarmists that any non-ideal form of energy must instantly be boycotted and just spout off diatribes like "lets all use solar power and just, like, hug the world". There are never any real solutions presented, just senseless idealism. If only we could power the world off green idealism then we would have a million times the energy we need.

Also there is no conspiracy or agenda here, sheesh. You can be rest assured that once it is no longer cost effective or viable to get energy from fossil fuels, people will turn to alternatives. But price per watt output of fossil fuels is still significantly cheaper then all alternatives. You have to spend billions on alternative energy to get a fraction of the power from hydrocarbons.

Bottom line is the world's energy crisis isn't going to be solved just by better insulating homes and using LED bulbs and plugging into a wind farm. Why not wiki up the national requirements for energy of a country like Japan and then wonder why they choose to research into hydrocarbon based energy or use nuclear power in the first place.

BTW, plants and trees fucking love our use of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions.

Re:Good News Bad News (3, Insightful)

EmperorArthur (1113223) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153001)

Supply and demand. It's the same reason why we will never run out of oil.

As oil and other hydrocarbon sources become more rare, the price goes up. As the price goes up, more exotic extraction methods go from too expensive to financially viable. You'll even see an occasional dip in prices as someone discovers a way to preform the extraction cheaper. In the long run, hydrocarbon prices will continue to increase though.

There will never be a day* when everyone stops using gasoline all at once. Instead it will become more expensive, while alternatives become more accessible. People didn't all switch to the car from horses overnight. I mean, it's not like there was a gas station in every town, and you could feed your horse anywhere. /*Insert rant about anti-nuclear people preventing new safer plants from being built here.*/

*I know, never say never and all that.

Re:Good News Bad News (2)

vm146j2 (233075) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153361)

As the price goes up, all of your more exotic extraction methods, which desperately depend on oil, also get more expensive. "Financially viable" requires profit, but more expensive energy just sucks up more resources. You just start shedding infrastructure, and going from cars to horses (or feet) will be a lot faster than the other way around. Things can fall a long time, but the stop is still sudden.

Re:Good News Bad News (3, Insightful)

vm146j2 (233075) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153191)

The reason prices are so high is because the "massive" new sources come with massive new costs to extract. Oil Shale (kerogen) is a great case in point; it is essentially rock with heavy, like waxy heavy, hydrocarbons embedded in it. In theory there is a lot of it, in practice almost no one uses it, because the amount of energy and water needed to dig the rock, cook out the kerogen, crack it into a form usable by the current infrastructure, and transport it to a useful place are extremely high. Every other grand announcement you've been reading follows suit, as does the idea of mining methane hydrates. It is pretty basic math to calculate the amount of recoverable, usable energy from these sources, and you won't be running anything like a developed nation off of it. We will be continuing to move toward less energy use, and there will be nothing slow about it. Less a march than a free-fall.

Elon Musk says lol (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153569)

That is all.

Peak Oil is now in 2030s (1)

peter303 (12292) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153669)

According to USGS and most oil companies. Especially with the production of tight hydrocarbons (fracked). Hydrates could delay the peak another decade, two or three. BUT THERE WILL STILL BE A PEAK. Buys time for alternative energy and efficiency.

Re:Good News Bad News (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43155173)

"Perhaps we should go slow on utilizing these sources because of the environment, but even so I don’t see why prices are so high when every indicator seems to suggest there are massive new sources at hand."

Because it's a myth that these "vast" reserves are easily extractable. The recovery factor (portion recovered versus how much is left in the ground) is worse and the infrastructure investment necessary to extract them is much higher. This is not merely increased prices due to inflation we're talking about, but because it actually does cost more energy and equipment to get a given amount of hydrocarbons out of the ground. To make matters worse, in the case of shale gas there are some signs that each well drilled won't produce as long as a conventional one at useful rates. In a real sense, the energy and material cost has gone up because the easily-flowable conventional reserves are slowly being depleted, and the supply is being backfilled with the more difficult/expensive stuff. It helps, but companies don't start drilling $100 million dollar wells in the deep offshore, processing oil sands, or developing oil shales, shale gas, or other unconventional sources because it's easy. They develop them because the price climbs high enough that these marginal deposits become economic, and because the cheap conventional stuff is already at its max production or dwindling away, or because demand keeps on climbing. In other words, no, we aren't at the peak production yet, but it's obviously on its way soon and the system is struggling to keep up with demand. There are shorter-term market speculation effects, but the fundamentals are ordinary supply and demand. Put massive new deposits on tap? That's great, but that's mostly just treading water. The real difference in the last few years has been the slowdown of the economy since 2008, which gives supply a chance to catch up.

Don't be impressed by vast reserves that are several times more expensive to extract. A reserve means little if you can't efficiently and economically get it out of the ground, and all that extra expense will show up in the price you pay. It's a temporary measure before production really does go into its inevitable long-term decline. That higher price should be as much an incentive to switch to alternatives as it is an incentive to extract hydrocarbons that people wouldn't have bothered with 30 years ago. Taping into oil shale deposits is a *sign* that the cheap stuff is gone.

Better article (4, Informative)

gurps_npc (621217) | about a year and a half ago | (#43153315)

Here is a link to a NYTIMES article (cookie based wall to block users). [nytimes.com]

It explains that the Japanese found a way to send a pipeline down to the hydrates and depressurize them. This caused some of the released methane to travel up the pipeline they had dropped to the surface, where it could be captured as a gas.

Note it does not say how much of the gas is wasted/escapes into the ocean (which might have some very serious effects). On the other hand, they left most of the ocean pressurized (obviously) so it should hopefully re-sublimate back down to a methane hydrate.

It is actually a real breakthrough, rather than a mere translation problem. That said, a lot matters about efficiency. Merely getting a gallon of methane to the surface is not a huge deal if they have to burn 3/4 of a gallon to get it up (let alone transport it to someplace useful via a pressurized gas transport ship/pipeline).

Only a decade? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43153859)

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.

What then? Strap buttered toast to dancing unicorns?

Either we get serious about nuclear energy or we're going to turn the skies grey burning coal.

You require more Vespene gas (1)

SampleFish (2769857) | about a year and a half ago | (#43155093)

Send out the SCV. We can't finish the global command center without more Vespene gas.

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