New Technology Promises To Tap Vast Reserves of Methane — And Sequester CO2

They've done it in a laboratory: Scientists have injected carbon dioxide into the kind of methane ice that underlies vast tracts of permafrost in the Arctic and lurks beneath the deep seafloor throughout the world.
In that experiment, the carbon dioxide exchanged with the methane molecules. While the CO2 was sequestered inside the ice, the scientists extracted an energy source that may exist in nature in greater volume than all other fossil fuels combined.
Now DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory, in partnership with Conoco Phillips, will try to repeat that success on the North Slope of Alaska.
NETL and Conoco Phillips have completed installation of a well they call "Iġnik Sikumi"— using Iñupiaq terms for "fire in the ice"—NETL announced yesterday. The well will be available for experimental operations this winter.
At that time, the scientists will begin injecting carbon dioxide into the well and capturing freed methane.
You may remember methane hydrate as the crystal that formed when methane gas escaped from the damaged Deepwater Horizon wellhead last summer, foiling efforts to cap the well and recapture the gushing oil.
Methane hydrate has also been written about for its potential to escalate climate change if warming seas and thawing permafrost release it to the atmosphere. It consists of methane gas trapped inside a lattice of ice and is believed to line the sea floor below depths of 300 meters in layers several hundred meters thick.
"While global estimates vary considerably, the energy content of methane occurring in hydrate form is immense, possibly exceeding the combined energy content of all other known fossil fuels," according to the Department of Energy.
So far, no commercially viable method has been found to tap that energy. DOE's research and development program has focused on two priorities:
1) the need to detect and quantify methane hydrate deposits prior to drilling, and
2) the demonstration of methane production from hydrate at commercial volumes.
The Iġnik Sikumi project tackled the first of those priorities, documenting the location and concentration of methane hydrate deposits in saturated sandstone beneath the North Slope.
"The data confirm the occurrence of 160 feet of gas-hydrate-bearing sand reservoirs in four separate zones, as predicted, and provide insight into their physical and mechanical properties," DOE stated.
Once extraction begins this winter, the team hopes to tackle the second priority over the next year.
China is also pursuing methane hydrate as an energy source, but through a very different method: constructing a seabase in Qingdao, Shandong Province, to serve a deep-sea submarine that will explore energy and mineral resources on the deep sea floor.

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