Thursday, March 14, 2013

Stunning Fact: Japan Produces Gas From Oceanic Hydrates In A World First & Shakes Energy World

The march of technology may have just turned the energy world on its head.  The New York Times reports that Japan successfully produced gas from seabed hydrates. That's a world first with big implications!  A Japanese official also estimated that commercial production of oceanic hydrates may be possible in 5 years. 

If the Japanese can commercially produce oceanic hydrate gas within 5 years, the energy world will be turned upside down, since oceanic hydrates have enormous amounts of natural gas.  For example, Japan alone has about 273 trillion cubic feet of hydrate gas.  With that gas on line, Japan would say good-bye to LNG imports and possibly the 20% of its energy now coming from coal.

Commercially producing ocean hydrate gas would flood the globe with enormous amounts of gas that may well devastate investments in gas export facilities in the USA and elsewhere, since ocean hydrates are distributed around the globe.  Indeed, building a typical gas export facility takes about 5 years, exactly the period of time that it may take Japan to commercially perfect hydrate gas production.

The gas in ocean hydrates likely dwarfs shale gas reserves and so commercially producing ocean hydrate gas could cause gas to supplant both coal and oil in many countries around the world.  Such  an age of gas could also impact wind, solar, biomass, biofuels, and hydro, depending on national policies concerning renewables, and depending on whether large price declines continue in the solar and wind industries. 

The impact of gas hydrates on atmospheric concentrations of carbon emissions would depend on three big factors or questions.  Can the production of hydrate gas be done with little leakage? Would hydrate gas replace coal and oil or nuclear and renewable energy? And can carbon capture and storage technology be commercially deployed at gas-fired power plants and other major industrial users of natural gas?

All the implications of Japan's successful research gas production from ocean hydrates are not clear today.  But they are many and big.  Japan's technological success in producing gas from ocean hydrates is a huge story that may well transform the energy world.


  1. One thing this blog does not address is "What is an Ocean Hydrate"?

    1. ocean gas hydrates are a substance like ice that forms when methane and water combine. It takes certain pressure and temperature to form it. They contain massive amounts of methane.

  2. Concerned ScientistMarch 18, 2013 at 10:40 AM

    I'd take all this with a large grain of salt. It might be so expensive initially that it will not affect the market that soon.

    Gas hydrates form in a certain window of high pressure and low temperature. They are mainly found within a few thousand feet of relatively deep ocean. They are highly unstable - if the pressure drops significantly they will melt. And if the temperature rises they will melt. If they melt they release all their methane and that eventually would escape out into the atmosphere. One problem has always been that starting to produce them might cause the pressure to drop which would then lead to a melting episode and it could get away from you pretty quick. These are big obstacles to overcome. Plus you have to produce them in deep water which is expensive. While the day may come when they can be produced economically, 5 years is probably optimistic.

    1. You could be right, perhaps even probably right. But necessity is the mother of invention. Japan is desperate for energy, especially after Fukushima and closure of nuclear plants. And Japan mobilizes national resources to get certain things done. Japan seems to be doing that with hydrates.