If you are like my family, avid watchers of the new version of the nighttime soap opera, Dallas, you know that Christopher Ewing is trying to harvest natural gas from gas hydrates, an icy combination of water and methane under high pressure and low temperatures found at the bottom of the ocean. Well from television drama to reality, on Tuesday of this week Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation and Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology announced that they had extracted natural gas from gas hydrates found about 80 kilometers (50 miles) off the Atsumi Peninsula, directly south of Tokyo.
For Japan, a country that has little in the way of fossil fuel resources, the ability to mine gas hydrates to extract methane represents a major step in establishing energy self sufficiency. With total deposits within the territorial waters estimated to contain about a 100 years supply of natural gas, this is a significant technology breakthrough. Currently the team at the site are running a two week to demonstrate that they can continuously produce methane gas from tapping frozen hydrates on the seabed.
The significance of this effort by Japan cannot be undestimated. Worldwide gas hydrate reserves run to 10,000 trillion cubic feet. Compare that to U.S. shale reserves estimated at 827 trillion cubic feet and you can see the potential if we harness natural gas from hydrates frozen on the seabed.
How do gas hydrates form? On the seabed from methane seeps coming from cracks in the Earth's crust. Under the intense pressure and cold, the methane combines with water molecules to form ice that literally can burn (see image at the bottom of this article).
Other sources of gas hydrates lie in permafrost, an issue that climate scientists have frequently pointed to as a concern should rising temperatures melt the frozen Arctic leading to massive releases of methane, 21 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.
No one as of yet has developed a commercial extraction technology for getting natural gas out of permafrost. That's not because no one has tried. Back in 2002 a jointly funded venture between the same Japanese company involved in the current announcement, and Canada's government announced that they were able to extract methane from permafrost near Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. The problem, however, was net energy gained did not offset energy required to extract the methane.
So there is real science behind the storyline in Dallas. Will Christopher Ewing succeed? Will gas hydrates beat out oil and create a new fortune for Ewing Energy? And will we ever learn who shot JR again?
Essays and comments posted in World Future Society and THE FUTURIST magazine blog portion of this site are the intellectual property of the authors, who retain full responsibility for and rights to their content. For permission to publish, distribute copies, use excerpts, etc., please contact the author. The opinions expressed are those of the author. The World Future Society takes no stand on what the future will or should be like.
Free Email Newsletter
Sign up for Futurist Update, our free monthly email newsletter. Just type your email into the box below and click subscribe.
One common fallacy is that people are being replaced by machines. The reality is that machines don’t work without humans. A more accurate description is that a large number of people are being replaced by a smaller number of people using machines.
Futurists: BetaLaunch, THE FUTURIST magazine's invention and idea expo, is entering its third year and will be part of the opening night event at WorldFuture 2013. We'll be updating you soon on the BetaLaunch winners that will be showcasing their startups and inventions this July in Chicago. Right now, we would like to catch you up on one of our alumni, the Cyberhero League, an anti-bulling, pro-future game platform that teaches responsibility, sustainability, and civic-mindedness.
Over many centuries, attempts have been made to get food production out of the cities. Produce comes from the land and is transported into the cities. In most western cities, abattoirs have disappeared. Markets are still there, but no longer have a central role in our shopping.
Star Trek Into Darkness: Eye candy for the amygdala. Yes, this is another Hollywood blockbuster depicting a dystopian future with big explosions and small innovations. However, the first ten minutes are worth the price of the ticket. I was pleasantly surprised to see J.J. Abrams using the Ancient Aliens theory and a huge wink to author Zecharia Sitchin's work in the opening scene located on the fictional (depending on who you ask) world of Nibiru.
Spray-on skin. Lab-grown ears. Human tissue grown in a petri dish. We're going deep into sci-fi territory (and it is already happening).
“Extropy” is celebrating its first quarter of a century. The idea was formally introduced as a philosophy of the future in 1988, and many things have happened from the end of the 20th century to the beginning of the 21st century. A new millennium has been born and the philosophy of extropy is well-suited for these new times of accelerating change, full of challenges and opportunities.
One definition of resilience is “the ability to cope with shocks and keep functioning in a satisfying way”. Resilience is about the self organizing capacity of systems. This means the ability to bounce back after disaster, or the ability to transform if a bad stage has happened.