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Japan Power

Japan Extracts Natural Gas From Frozen Methane Hydrate 154

ixarux writes "For the first time ever, a Japanese company has successfully extracted natural gas from frozen methane hydrate off its central coast. The Nankai Trough gas field, located a little more than 30 miles offshore, could provide an alternative energy source for the island nation, reducing its dependence on foreign imports. 'A Japanese study estimated that at least 1.1tn cubic meters of methane hydrate exist in offshore deposits. This is the equivalent of more than a decade of Japan's gas consumption. Japan has few natural resources and the cost of importing fuel has increased after a backlash against nuclear power following the Fukushima nuclear disaster two years ago.'"
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Japan Extracts Natural Gas From Frozen Methane Hydrate

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  • But I don't understand why Japan doesn't perfect Deep water cooling [] technology, using heat exchanges and thermocouples to generate energy. Or is the Inland Sea not deep enough?

    • That seems better. "More than a decade" sounds too short term of an investment.
      • by starless ( 60879 ) on Tuesday March 12, 2013 @05:09PM (#43153013)

        That seems better. "More than a decade" sounds too short term of an investment.

        According to the NY Times, the overall gas available may be more like 100 years' worth:

        Jogmec estimates that the surrounding area in the Nankai submarine trough holds at least 1.1 trillion cubic meters, or 39 trillion cubic feet, of methane hydrate, enough to meet 11 years’ worth of gas imports to Japan.

        A separate, rough estimate by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology has put the total amount of methane hydrate in the waters surrounding Japan at more than 7 trillion cubic meters, or what researchers have long said is closer to 100 years’ worth of Japan’s natural gas needs. []

        • Huge difference between looking at estimated recoverable vs. estimated total quantity. Just because we know an energy source exists doesn't mean it will ever be worthwhile to spend the energy required to recover it. eg, Helium-3.

          Shall beds are geographically huge, but note how they have so far only been drilled in the thickest portions and only the shallowest formations have been actively pursued (marcellus vs. utica). It takes a lot of energy to get a gas well to produce, sometimes more than it will ever

    • The Inland Sea ( is not deep enough.

      • by nojayuk ( 567177 )
        The Seto is not much more than a hundred metres across in places. The Onomichi ferry is 100 yen one way if you ever want to cross the Pacific on the cheap. []
      • Thank you, right information, just from wikipedia articles alone.

        "The average depth is 37.3 m (122 ft); the greatest depth is 105 m (344 ft)."

        "To obtain water in the 3 to 6 C (37 to 43 F) range, a depth of 66 m (217 ft) is required."

        Looks like it is possible, but only certain cities could do it.

    • But I don't understand why Japan doesn't perfect Deep water cooling technology

      Because deep water cooling is an air conditioning system - not a power generation system. Anyhow, the problem with thermocouples (other than not being particularly efficient) is generally getting the hot leg hot enough, not cooling the cold leg.

      • Thermocouples isn't the way to do it. Stirling engines are.
        Efficiency is not a serious concern when your energy source is cost free.
        The costs of this problem are all in your equipment to handle the fluids, there is no fuel as such so efficiency doesn't directly matter. What is important is how much your plant costs you to generate X watts. Of course if spending 1% more on the plant to improve efficiency gets you 10% more energy then that's a fine thing to do, but i see no problem with running these plants a

    • Well, it is actually strange. Japan ought to be the perfect place for geothermal, tidal and wind power.

      • Run the numbers. You find that even with very optimistic wave+wind+geothermal you going to a *lot* of money, its going to cost a *lot* to maintain (big seas are good for wave, and bad) and finally a *lot* of time to build. Well not finally because it is truly an enormous undertaking and even then. You still don't have enough energy *when* you need it.
        • Eh, what can I say, most of these points are valid for any project. Look how difficult is to build a bloody airport in Berlin.

  • Article sucked (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Tuesday March 12, 2013 @04:10PM (#43152301) Homepage
    The article says Japan "extracted" the methane. But it says nothing about how they extracted it. By extraction they could simply mean melting the ice. Which is worthless. What we need is a way to transport it from the frozen bottom of the sea to the room temperature power plants

    The problem is transporting it. Transporting liquids (oil) is easy, you pump it through pipes to tanks. Transporting gas is slightly harder as you pump it in air-tight pipes to air-tight tanks.

    Transporting room temperature solids is a moderately hard, you shovel it and truck it.

    But frozen methane is the worst. It is solid when left alone, but turns to gas at room temperature. Worse, it is almost always at the bottom of the ocean.

    If they solved this problem, great. But we don;t know they did that, because they were not very clear at all.

    In my experience there is a simple explanation for that lack of information - very bad translation from a foreign language. Someone probably solved a rather minor technical issue about removing the frozen water, leaving the gas, but it probably did NOT solve the major 'do it underwater, at huge depths, at freezing cold temperatures, by robot' problem.

    Instead of explaining that it was a minor technical victory, they left out all the details and claimed translation issues.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It specifically says they used the "Engineers used a depressurisation method that turns methane hydrate into methane gas."... google it... and find:

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The problem is not extracting methane from ice or mining it at the bottom of the ocean. The problem is that these deposits are highly unstable, prone to spontaneous emissions and landslides. It is extremely unstable terrain.

      You can't even put a ship above a major deposit and just start digging whatever you want. If you screw up and methane bubbles up, the bubbles will sink the ship - Bermuda Triangle and all that is prime example of how ships can just "disappear" because of methane releases from these "fire

    • Re:Article sucked (Score:5, Informative)

      by bored_engineer ( 951004 ) on Tuesday March 12, 2013 @04:49PM (#43152757)

      The article really sucked, so I went looking for another [], even though it was only slightly better.

      The major improvement is in depressurizing the hydrate so that the gas will boil off. They don't have a robot at those depths, the work is done at the end of a drill string

    • By my reading of [] one can extract the gas by heating the stuff to a specific point at which point the ice melts. You can also lower the pressure enough and the methane will exit on its own. I'm guessing they will do a little bit of both, some fracking followed by pumping out the fluid. Then nature will take its course and gas will rise to the top. The trick will be trying to control the pressure in the well because I understand the liberation of the gas can h

    • Drillers intentionally avoid it because it blows up wells and catches fire. Thats what happened three years ago for the Mocando Deep Horizon Well. (regular overpressured methane, not hydrate)

      Scientists have a pretty good idea now how to detect it on a conventional seismic section, whether they want to avoid it or drill for it. Its seems to be in continental shelves over much of the world.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 12, 2013 @04:14PM (#43152339)

    They are sure to awaken Godzilla.

    This is madness! Madness, I tell you.

  • They are using a new substance called Oxygen Destroyer to extract it.
  • by Grayhand ( 2610049 ) on Tuesday March 12, 2013 @04:32PM (#43152531)
    Everyone ignores the obvious downside of hydrates. The are stored in the sands at the bottom of the ocean so it means effectively strip mining huge tracks of the ocean to recover them. The ecosystem of the ocean is dependent on the ocean floor and reefs both of which would be devastated by this kind of exploitation. There's also the issue of the dirt thrown into the water column choking fish. The oceans are badly stressed as it is so dredging most of the remaining ocean could be what collapses what's left of the fisheries.
    • . . .so it means effectively strip mining huge tracks of the ocean. . .

      I don't think that they could recover their investment, if this is even technically possible. The extraction is done underground at the end of a drill string. The Nankai Trough is as much as 4000M deep, and the deposits that they're tapping are as much as 7000M below the sea floor. According the Wikipedia article on the Nankai Trough, there's a huge influx of sediment, which would make "strip mining" still more difficult.

    • by pk001i ( 649678 )
      I am not sure there is a sentence of this post that is even remotely correct. Hydrates are not strip mined. With a drill ship, they drill the formation, then apply a vacuum to the drill string. The hydrate dissociates, leaving behind methane gas (which is sucked up the drill string), and a little fresh water. For every cm^3 of hydrate, you get ~164 cm^3 of gas at STP. A drill string, and bottom hole assemble of the research ship Chukyu is not very large, and will likely have no impact on the ocean floor
    • by radtea ( 464814 )

      The ecosystem of the ocean is dependent on the ocean floor and reefs both of which would be devastated by this kind of exploitation.

      I appreciate your mention of "reefs", as they are completely irrelevant to the depths in question, and make it easy to completely dismiss your cavil as what it is: the persistent whine of the naysayer, who is opposed to everything.

      It's really useful for people with the courage to take risks with the future, and therefore make things better, to be able to spot the naysayers, and concern for "reefs" at thousands of feet below the ocean surface is a good way to do so in this case, like concern for "birds kill

  • Good News Bad News (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DumbSwede ( 521261 ) <> on Tuesday March 12, 2013 @04:49PM (#43152745) Homepage Journal
    We seem to be having an unprecedented set of advances in extracting hydrocarbon based fuel sources other than conventional oil (and all that implies for the environment).

    I support clean energy and would really like to see research expanded into fusion energy. However not a week goes by I don’t see someone preaching doom and gloom about Peak Oil. Even if these methane hydrate deposits don’t pan out (which actually they probably will) Oil Shale deposits have proven reserves of over 1 Trillion Barrels equivalent using current technology (and an insane potential with future advances) and the U.S. has the largest reserves worldwide. This is equivalent to approximately to all the known reserves for conventional oil and we have hardly begun to exploit it. Check out this link on Wikipedia for the numbers : Oil Shale Reserves [].

    Energy may become (slightly) more expensive in the future, there may temporary shocks from transition periods as we go to new hydrocarbon sources, but in the long run usable energy is there for the extraction in an economically viable fashion. If anything all this PEEK-OIL talk over inflates the value of energy. One has to wonder about agendas here. The only thing PEEK-OIL is doing is selling a lot of books for scare-mongers.

    Perhaps we should go slow on utilizing these sources because of the environment, but even so I don’t see why prices are so high when every indicator seems to suggest there are massive new sources at hand. On the other hand if prices where low would we continue our slow march toward efficient use of what we have (LED replacement bulbs for instance and better insulated houses).
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Wake up earth hugger. Hydrocarbons are the most readily and cheapest available source of energy an compared to all other alternatives.

      It would be nice to go all alternative, but for a country like Japan its just not an option. Even if all they did was build solar and wind farms for the next 20 years they still wouldn't have enough.

      I tire of the knee jerk reaction from green alarmists that any non-ideal form of energy must instantly be boycotted and just spout off diatribes like "lets all use solar power a

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

        Okay, here is the practical solution you asked for. It is being installed in Japan right now, with roll out on-going.

        First you save energy. It is cheaper than adding new capacity and improves quality of life. Smart appliances, better insulation. Many new buildings have smart LED lighting that adjusts to keep light levels constant as the sun goes down and turns itself off when no-one is in the room. Similarly aircon units sense people and can cool just the areas where they are, even within a single room. Bli

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Supply and demand. It's the same reason why we will never run out of oil.

      As oil and other hydrocarbon sources become more rare, the price goes up. As the price goes up, more exotic extraction methods go from too expensive to financially viable. You'll even see an occasional dip in prices as someone discovers a way to preform the extraction cheaper. In the long run, hydrocarbon prices will continue to increase though.

      There will never be a day* when everyone stops using gasoline all at once. Instead it w

      • by vm146j2 ( 233075 )

        As the price goes up, all of your more exotic extraction methods, which desperately depend on oil, also get more expensive. "Financially viable" requires profit, but more expensive energy just sucks up more resources. You just start shedding infrastructure, and going from cars to horses (or feet) will be a lot faster than the other way around. Things can fall a long time, but the stop is still sudden.

    • by vm146j2 ( 233075 ) on Tuesday March 12, 2013 @05:22PM (#43153191)

      The reason prices are so high is because the "massive" new sources come with massive new costs to extract. Oil Shale (kerogen) is a great case in point; it is essentially rock with heavy, like waxy heavy, hydrocarbons embedded in it. In theory there is a lot of it, in practice almost no one uses it, because the amount of energy and water needed to dig the rock, cook out the kerogen, crack it into a form usable by the current infrastructure, and transport it to a useful place are extremely high. Every other grand announcement you've been reading follows suit, as does the idea of mining methane hydrates. It is pretty basic math to calculate the amount of recoverable, usable energy from these sources, and you won't be running anything like a developed nation off of it. We will be continuing to move toward less energy use, and there will be nothing slow about it. Less a march than a free-fall.

    • According to USGS and most oil companies. Especially with the production of tight hydrocarbons (fracked). Hydrates could delay the peak another decade, two or three. BUT THERE WILL STILL BE A PEAK. Buys time for alternative energy and efficiency.
  • Better article (Score:5, Informative)

    by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Tuesday March 12, 2013 @05:32PM (#43153315) Homepage
    Here is a link to a NYTIMES article (cookie based wall to block users). []

    It explains that the Japanese found a way to send a pipeline down to the hydrates and depressurize them. This caused some of the released methane to travel up the pipeline they had dropped to the surface, where it could be captured as a gas.

    Note it does not say how much of the gas is wasted/escapes into the ocean (which might have some very serious effects). On the other hand, they left most of the ocean pressurized (obviously) so it should hopefully re-sublimate back down to a methane hydrate.

    It is actually a real breakthrough, rather than a mere translation problem. That said, a lot matters about efficiency. Merely getting a gallon of methane to the surface is not a huge deal if they have to burn 3/4 of a gallon to get it up (let alone transport it to someplace useful via a pressurized gas transport ship/pipeline).

  • could provide an alternative energy source for the island nation... This is the equivalent of more than a decade of Japan's gas consumption.

    So, let's get this straight, the deposit is equivilant to a little over 10 years of Japan's CURRENT gas consumption, and this is being touted as an alternative energy source, especially to combat the loss of energy from loosing two nuclear power plants? Um, okay, not sure how much gas it takes to generate electricity, and not sure how much electricity a gas plant produc

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus