China has mined “flammable ice” for the first time from the seafloor of the South China Sea.
Vast deposits of the ice-like substance called methane hydrates exist underneath all oceans around the world, but extracting them poses a lot of technical difficulties.
So it is a breakthrough for China to extract the substance and convert it into natural gas in a stable way.
It’s estimated that the energy released from a cubic meter of the compound is equivalent to that of 160 cubic meters of gas.
A car can run 300 kilometers on 100 liters of natural gas. So if it uses the same amount of flammable ice, it can theoretically run 50,000 kilometers.
As such, the potential commercial value of flammable ice is huge.
If China can master the technology of mining and harnessing the new energy, it might become the leader of a new round of energy revolution, similar to the shale boom in the United States, and can enjoy a considerable edge in the global economic race.
Methane hydrates are formed at very low temperatures and under high pressure. They can be found in sediments under the ocean floor as well as underneath permafrost on land.
Reports said China has around 80 billion tons of oil equivalent of flammable ice deposits.
It’s estimated that China’s reserve of flammable ice is double its combined reserves of conventional gas and shale gas. The nation’s flammable ice reserve will be able to meet its energy needs for nearly 200 years.
China is expected to start commercial production of flammable ice by 2030, or even earlier.
Major technical challenges include reaching them at the bottom of deep ocean shelves, extracting the gas at low temperature and high pressure without causing the breakdown of hydrates and subsequent release of methane in surrounding structures.
Methane hydrates were first discovered in Russia’s northern region in the 1960s. There are over 200 sites where flammable ice deposits have been discovered around the world.
The world’s major economies all are scrambling for a way to make the extraction safe and profitable.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 22
Translation by Julie Zhu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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