Is this the future of our energy needs? Stumbled across this article. Sounds interesting.

US in race to unlock new energy source

Green groups warn against moving methane hydrates from beneath seabed

More than a mile below the choppy Gulf of Mexico waters lies a vast, untapped source of energy. Locked in mysterious crystals, the sediment beneath the seabed holds enough natural gas to fuel America's energy-guzzling society for decades, or to bring about sufficient climate change to melt the planet's glaciers and cause catastrophic flooding, depending on whom you talk to.

No prizes for guessing the US government's preferred line. This week it will dispatch a drilling vessel to the region, on a mission to bring this virtually inexhaustible new supply of fossil fuel to power stations within a decade.

The ship will hunt for methane hydrates, a weird combination of gas and water produced in the crushing pressures deep within the earth - literally, ice that burns.

The stakes could not be higher: scientists reckon there could be more valuable carbon fuel stored in the vast methane hydrate deposits scattered under the world's seabed and Arctic permafrost than in all of the known reserves of coal, oil and gas put together.

"The amount of energy there is just too big to ignore," said Bahman Tohidi, head of the centre for gas hydrate research at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh. "It's not easy, but it's not something we can say we can't do so let's forget about it."


Ray Boswell, who heads the hydrate programme at the US department of energy's national energy technology laboratory, said the US was determined to be the first to mine the resource.

"Commercially viable production is definitely realistic within a decade. The world is investing in hydrates, and one reason for us to do this is to maintain our leadership position in this emerging technology."
More about Methane Hydrates here.

Methane hydrates

Methane hydrate isn’t a familiar term to most, but it is gaining popularity in the energy sector. In the realm of energy R&D, methane hydrates are being evaluated as a potential fuel for the future. Some believe there is enough methane in the form of hydrates—methane locked in ice—to supply energy for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years.

Lorie Langley, who is leading ORNL’s Gas Hydrate program for the Fossil Energy Program, believes ORNL can contribute significantly to DOE’s and Congress’s research agenda. Last month President Clinton signed the Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act, which authorizes approximately $50 million over five years to develop an understanding of the nature, behavior and abundance of this clean-burning energy resource.

Explains Langley, “Gas hydrates are clathrate compounds. A clathrate is simply a structure in which water molecules under certain conditions bond to form an ice-like cage that encapsulates a gas molecule, known as a guest molecule. When that guest is a methane molecule, you have methane hydrate.”

Methane hydrates, which form at low temperature and high pressure, are found in sea-floor sediments and the arctic permafrost. They can be scattered through several-hundred-meter depths and at various concentrations. The gas hydrates being evaluated by ORNL researchers are methane hydrates and carbon dioxide hydrates.

Although some research has been carried out in the past, little is known about the location, formation, decomposition, or actual quantities of methane hydrates. However, national and international research and exploration over the last 20 years by various governmental and industrial entities have resulted in general agreement that methane hydrates should be evaluated as a potential primary energy source for the future.