Beijing : China has successfully mined ‘flammable ice’ from under the South China Sea, describing the advance as a major breakthrough and the key to future global energy supply.

The ice-like compounds, called Methane hydrates, hold vast reserves of natural gas trapped in water molecules.

“It looks like ice crystals but if you zoom in to a molecular level, you see that the methane molecules are caged in by the water molecules,” said Praveen Linga, associate professor at the National University of Singapore.

Officially known as methane clathrates or hydrates, they 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. Despite the low temperature, these hydrates are flammable.     One cubic metre of the compound releases about 160 cubic metres of gas, making it a highly energy-intensive fuel.

Methane hydrates were discovered in Russia in the 1960s, but research into how to extract gas from them from maritime sediment only began in the last 10 to 15 years.

The compound is thought to have the potential to be a revolutionary energy source that could be key to future energy needs and likely the world’s last great source of carbon-based fuel.

“Compared with the results we have seen from Japanese research, the Chinese scientists have managed to extract much more gas in their efforts,” Linga was quoted as saying by the ‘BBC News’.

“So in that sense it is indeed a major step towards making gas extraction from methane hydrates viable,” he said. An average of 16,000 cubic meters of gas with high purity have been extracted per day in the Shenhu area of the South China Sea.–PTI

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