Methane Hydrates: The Next Big Energy Source or the End of the Environment?
A half mile (800 meters) below the ground at Prudhoe Bay, above the vast oil field that helped trigger construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline, a drill rig has tapped what might one day be the next big energy source … methane hydrate.
The U.S. Energy Department describes methane hydrate as a lattice of ice that traps methane molecules but does not bind them chemically. They are released when warmed or depressurized.
Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity said research money should be poured into renewable resources, not more fossil fuel sources. Methane is 20 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2, though not as long-lived. "Any exploration activities designed to extract methane hydrates run the risk of unintended consequences, of unleashing the monster," he said.
Is it safer, and cleaner, to extract the methane and burn it, or leave it where it is and hope that it doesn't escape into the atmosphere on its own?
Some paleontologists believe that at least one mass extinction event was caused be release of massive amounts of methane from clathrate deposits. Yours is not an idle question!
Interesting post Ulrik. We do need to start looking for alternative sources of fuel as no matter what is reported by the IEA and the advances we are seeing in fossil fuel extraction technology - we are running out of the stuff. Energy production isn't really the problem - the issue lies with liquid fuels and i really don't see how the hydrates could help there (i will be reading up on them shortly) - but looking at the mess and damage we do to everything else we touch this is too delicate an environment for us to go clomping around in. We have done enough damage to the land and oceans. Sadly there still isn't the political will to get serious about alternatives and until we hit a level of pain that is excruciating to us as a society then the easy option will always be taken.
Not always. The easy option would be LFTRs but we still avoid them. I guess that might be because they are also the best option, and heaven fore fend we should ever do what is best!
Methane is already being released into the atmosphere as arctic ice melts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arctic_methane_release
It's an unstable process because obviously more methane means more global warming and therefore more ice melting . . and more methane That is a condition for an exponential increase.
Last edited by Alan; 12-17-2012 at 05:20 PM.
Interesting link Alan - i followed the link and did a bit more reading on the permafrost and have to say it does make you sit up. From Wikipedia: "The most recent work investigating the permafrost carbon pool size estimates that 1400–1700 Gt of carbon is stored in permafrost soils worldwide. This large carbon pool represents more carbon than currently exists in all living things and twice as much carbon as exists in the atmosphere."
KitemanSA, why do you say that LFTR is the easiest and best option? Surely if it were as fantastic as you make out then their would be far more research and attention on it. There must be some drawback, cost of installation, or a lack of technological expertise, etc.
Lack of technical expertise is true. When the Molten Salt Breeder Reactor (old name for LFTR) program was shelved by Nixon in favor of a the more California-centric liquid METAL fast breeder reactor, the technical expertise at ORNL began to attrit. But the expertise was generated in a few years, so I suspect it can be RE-generated quickly too.
The main problem, IMHO, is that there is no Gillette market for them. Once a plant is sold, the utility could buy their thorium from anyone. No fuel pellets or pellet bundles that are plant specific. No continuing income source. What is needed is a new design for a market plan, the plant design is pretty good as it is.
Don't know how long this will be there, but it is pretty good.
Last edited by KitemanSA; 12-18-2012 at 01:50 AM.
It is interesting that you mention the lack of sustainable income, and it led me to a thought. in the future we all dream of an abundant energy source that is cheap to produce, yet we are mostly relying on profit seeking organisations to develop the required technologies.
The problem is that there isnt much profit to be made if huge amounts of energy can be sold at low prices. Their balance sheets will look far more attractive if they continue selling expensive fuel that is in short supply, such as oil. we almost need some form of not-for-profit organisation to take the reigns and drive renewable energy innovation.
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