Wednesday, July 19, 2017

China: Extracts Methane hydrates, aka "flammable ice" from South China Sea

(Beijing) China has managed to extract gas from an ice-like substance under the South China Sea considered central to it future global energy needs.

Methane hydrates, also called "flammable ice", hold vast reserves of natural gas. They are formed at very low temperatures and under high pressure. Usually found in sediments under the ocean floor as well as underneath permafrost on land. By lowering the pressure or raising the temperature, the hydrates break down into water and methane - a lot of methane. One cubic metre of the compound releases about 160 cubic metres of gas, making it a highly energy-intensive fuel.

Japan lacking any form of fuel security was actually the first to make a breakthrough with its pioneering gas extraction from undersea flammable ice in 2013. However, China has beaten them to the holy grail of commercial extraction with the news that their floating gas extraction platform in the South China Sea has borne highly promising results. Engineers drilled to the bottom of the sea and depressurised the hydrates right there, bringing the gas to the surface. Whilst this looks very promising it is still early days and it will be at least another 8 years before the project is up and running full time. If this is rolled out across the world, the Middle East is going to become a lot less important.