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DOE Completes Field Test of Methane Hydrate Extraction in Alaska

Proof-of-concept effort could open the door to massive natural gas deposits

1 min read
DOE Completes Field Test of Methane Hydrate Extraction in Alaska

The Department of Energy, along with the Japan Oil, Gas, and Metals National Corporation and ConocoPhillips, completed a successful field trial of methane hydrate extraction along Alaska's North Slope.

Methane hydrate is basically natural gas locked up in ice. Actual, commercial-scale production of gas from these formations has never been accomplished, but the DOE's success here might open the door to the industry. The method the DOE used was novel: carbon dioxide was injected into the hydrates, where it was exchanged with the methane molecules locked up in the ice. Using this technique, they were able to extract natural gas continuously for 30 days. The previous longest run was six days.

If methane hydrate production becomes cheap and easy, it could change the global energy picture dramatically. The exact amounts aren't totally clear, but around the world there could be more energy locked up in hydrates than in all the rest of the planet's fossil fuels combined. Of course, burning all of it wouldn't be great for the climate, even if natural gas is a bit better than coal in that regard. And some think that methane hydrates might melt on their own as the climate warms, releasing a gas that is more than 20 times as potent as a warming agent than CO2

The DOE says the next step is to test methane hydrate production over even longer periods of time, with the goal of bringing costs down into the economically-viable range. This process, though, "may take years to accomplish." Along with its own tests, the DOE is also offering $6.5 million in funding this year research into methane hydrate extraction technology, and is asking for another $5 million from Congress to add to the effort next year.

Image: USGS

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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