China Developing “Combustible Ice” as New Energy Source

by , 03/11/10

combustible ice, natural gas, natural gas hydrate, energy source, low carbon energy source, China, natural gas reserves, clean energy, green design, eco design

Last September, China discovered a large reserve of “combustible ice” on the tundra of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. “Combustible ice” is essentially frozen natural gas – a natural gas hydrate, and is one of the newest energy sources to be discovered. The new reserves found in China reveal a very large supply equal at least 35 billion tonnes of oil, enough to supply China with 90 years worth of energy.

combustible ice, natural gas, natural gas hydrate, energy source, low carbon energy source, China, natural gas reserves, clean energy, green design, eco design

Combustible ice has been found in high altitude frozen plateaus as well as underwater in marine sediments. Natural gas hydrates are essentially just frozen methane and water and can literally be lit on fire bringing a whole new meaning to fire and ice. Researchers still need to get a better understanding of how best to handle the fuel, for it to be commercially exploited. The US DOE is looking into it as well and researchers expect that the hydrate will have to go through a phase change and melt it into methane and water before it can be efficiently combusted. If left to melt on its own as the earth warms though, methane could be released into the atmosphere, and it could cause even more damage than if it were just burned.

One cubic meter of combustible ice contains 164 cubic meters of regular natural gas and is considered to have few impurities, meaning it can burn cleaner with less pollutants. While reserves of combustible ice have been found around the world, China’s discovery is big and estimates say that there is enough energy frozen in the tundra to provide the country with energy for 90 years. Natural gas, which is not a zero emission fuel, can only be considered a “cleaner” energy source compared to oil, but given the alternative of it just being released from melting, it might be wise to continue research on this new energy source.

Via Environmental News Network and Discovery

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  1. trent11 March 18, 2010 at 2:23 am

    I’ll have mine with scotch please…..hmmmm…….a flaming margarita. Light-en up!!! sorry bad pun

  2. seutiago March 17, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    Dear Lord!

    This is not sustainable at all!!!

    It will end a day.

    This carbon is captured in a estable place, once it´s burnt it will return for the amosphere! How can you guys (Inhabitat) post it as something good? I have a huge respect for your work, but honestly I´m disappointed. This energy source is just a substitute for petroil. But results the same global warming!!!

  3. thejobloshow March 15, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Sounds awful for the environment to be honest. The resources used to research combustible ice would probably be better spent on perfecting solar – but I guess that’s hippie talk…

  4. mattihorn March 14, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    another energy source for the world to power struggle over…….

    Damaging to the environment and not renewable…

    Sounds like Armageddon to me…….

    Clueless humans…………..!!!!

  5. Renewable Ray March 14, 2010 at 3:30 am

    To say this is “China”s fuel source is an insult. Just another excuse to piliage the Tibetans.

  6. ian March 12, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Sadly, I’m sure the “estimates” (i.e. fantasies and wishful thinking) of a 90 years supply are wrong. Demand is not static and geological mapping is tricky at best. Of course, it will probably be more than 80 years supply, simply because much of it will not be worth getting so it will remain there forever, much like oil.

  7. atrerus March 12, 2010 at 10:18 am

    It’s actually great news as far AGW goes. We already knew that one of the causes of acceleration is the release of sequestered methane into the atmosphere as the temperature rises. This could make a big difference in evening out the trend as we both reduce the methane release and gain a cleaner form of power.

  8. madchris March 12, 2010 at 7:33 am

    Great! To dig for frozen methan in the tundra, an extremly sensitive environment and postpone the search for a sustainable energy source. What a great idea!

  9. Jean March 12, 2010 at 2:30 am

    Either way this is not good news in the fight against AGW.

  10. davidwayneosedach March 11, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    Ninety years of energy for China! What a find! They will surpass the US as the world’s number one economy and super power by the mid-2000’s!

    Think of all the applications for combustible ice!

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