Combustible ice has every chance of becoming the fuel of the future

Japanese scientists, together with American geologists and power engineers, are launching a project to develop methane hydrate reserves under permafrost. The venue is Alaska, North Slope region. This is the most northerly, inhospitable and distant part of this state, but so much the better. Here you can conduct ambitious experiments without risking the environment and the population, which the Japanese are deprived of at home - so they are ready to invest generously in the project.

Japan is a country without natural energy raw materials, the world's largest importer of hydrocarbons. At the same time, the Japanese islands are literally surrounded by deposits of methane hydrate known as "combustible ice". This is a combination of water and gas, which was formed under the pressure of a huge mass of water and a temperature of about 0 degrees. It is worth bringing a match to a handful of flammable ice, and it will begin to burn quietly, like ordinary methane. And you can scoop the substance directly from the seabed, where it is extremely abundant.

Problems begin when the question of industrial extraction of hydrate arises. It is extremely unstable, and if you pull the raw materials to the surface at once in cubic meters, a gas leak is likely to occur. It is impossible to extract tons of hydrate from the soil without losing the gas itself and without destroying the structure of the underwater ridge. But we are talking about a seismically active region, and no one needs man-made tsunamis in addition to annual natural disasters. Japanese scientists have a track record of extracting methane, but they do not have a suitable site for experiments.

Methane hydrate

Alaska, with its permafrost, could be an excellent testing ground. It has already been proven that it is most convenient to supply heat into the wells, melt the hydrate there and pump only the methane itself to the surface. The technologies are not very complicated, the tasks of delivering equipment to the icy desert and finding suitable energy sources are also solvable. The question is - what to do if the idea is crowned with success?

It is still impossible to move an onshore drilling station to the seabed without new large-scale studies and improvements - and this is a matter of politics and public trust. The United States will definitely not be allowed to freely extract gas from the United States in Alaska. Of course, the Americans themselves can switch from shale development to methane hydrate development using Japanese technologies. Especially when you consider that it is in combustible ice that almost a third of all carbon in minerals on Earth is contained, the rest is oil, coal and gas. But, again, while there are no methods of industrial production of methane hydrate, it is completely unclear whether this will be profitable from an economic point of view in comparison with traditional gas production.