China has successfully extracted combustible ice, also know as methane hydrate, from the seafloor in the South China Sea.
Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that the fuel was successfully mined by a drilling rig operating on Thursday with the Chinese Minister of Land and Resources saying the resource had the potential for a global energy revolution.
The mining was reportedly undertaken in an area of the South China Sea southeast of Hong Kong that is not heavily contested by neighboring countries. Engineers extracted gas trapped in ice crystals and converted it to natural gas in a single, continuous operation on a floating production platform, reported the Minister.
Methane hydrate is a cage-like lattice of ice inside of which are trapped molecules of methane, the chief constituent of natural gas. When brought to the earth's surface, one cubic meter of gas hydrate releases 164 cubic meters of natural gas. Hydrate deposits may be several hundred meters thick, they have been found around the world, including inside Arctic permafrost and beneath Antarctic ice. Along with China and Japan, the U.S. and India also have research underway on the fuel.
Japan said earlier this month it had successfully produced natural gas from methane hydrate off its Pacific coast and plans to conduct continuous ship-board production for three to four weeks, reports the BBC.
Gas hydrate activity in the U.S. has focused on the Gulf of Mexico. A 2009 drilling program provided initial confirmation of gas hydrate resources in the basin. The Department of Energy is now partnering with the University of Texas–Austin to confirm resource potential.
Estimates of worldwide reserves range from 280 trillion cubic meters (10,000 trillion cubic feet) up to 2,800 trillion cubic meters (100,000 trillion cubic feet), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The figures indicate that methane hydrate reserves could meet global gas demands for 80 to 800 years at current consumption rates.