Hydrocarbons like oil, coal and gas are easy to access and plentiful… but they also emit CO2 which is our main culprit in global warming. The search for alternative fuel has been a primary focus for energy experts everywhere – but could another hydrocarbon be the unsuspected answer?
It’s street name is fire ice. Methane Hydrate is crystallized under high pressure and cold temperature. Just one cubic meter of fire ice releases nearly 160 cubic meters of methane gas. They call that “highly energy-intensive”. I call it pretty dang awesome. Better yet, fire ice is abundant and getting gas out of fire ice is simple. It’s a massive potential energy source. “Estimates suggest that there is about the same amount of carbon in methane hydrates as there is in every other organic carbon store on the planet,” says Chris Rochelle of the British Geological Survey. Basically, there’s plenty of fire ice to go around.
So what’s the hold up? Well… Processing fire ice may be easy, but that doesn’t mean the extraction isn’t tricky. Most of fire ice is found at the bottom of deep ocean shelves and reaching it is a challenge itself. To make a hard thing harder, mining fire ice from an ocean shelf could trigger submarine landslides. Also, messing in the ocean shelf could have negative effects on marine life. And did I mention that escaped methane could be 30 times more damaging to our atmosphere than CO2?
Aside from all those hazards, mining fire ice could be one of the only options if we want a feasible substitute for our current energy. “The department continues to do research and development to better understand this domestic resource… [which we see] as an exciting opportunity with enormous potential,” says Chris Smith of the US Department of Energy. The exciting part about fire ice is the clean processing – we just let it melt. In the end fire ice still emits CO2 since it’s a hydrocarbon as, so fire ice might not be the ideal candidate to solve our global warming problem. But the alternative is scarier.
The alternative being that we leave fire ice untapped. Because… global warming might melt our fire ice for us if we don’t extract it first. Ice caps around the world are melting at an alarming rate, and eventually it’ll affect stores of fire ice too. I did mention that methane released from fire ice is 30% more damaging than CO2, right? So as the situation stands this exciting new energy development may be a mandatory one.