American ice

A press release arrived yesterday from the American Chemical Society that said, “Japanese scientists have reported the discovery of an additive that can speed up the formation of methane hydrates, literally ice that burns.”

Literally ice that burns?

I know what they mean, but it’s not literally ice that burns is it? That would be a mythical substance composed of flammable frozen water, surely?

Anyway, these not-literally-ice-that-burns materials have some interesting properties not least because they could act as a potential new energy resource to boulster apparently dwindling fossil fuel supplies. Methane hydrates are found in vast natural deposits beneath the seafloor in coastal areas of the United States and certain other parts of the world. Estimates suggest that known hydrate deposits contain enough natural gas to meet demand for centuries. Of course, the carbon-containing component of methane hydrates is one of the most potent greenhouse gases we know, and climatologists have serious concerns about the release of vast quantities into the atmosphere as frozen stores begin to melt as global temperatures rise.

So, an additive to speed up their formation might be useful in helping us sequester enormous volumes of greenhouse gases.

But, how does this sit with the idea of using the stored methane in natural reserves as an alternative to other natural gas sources? Burning this aqueous methane will release its carbon content just as readily as burning methane without the aq. We’ll be able to propel our vehicles and heating our homes, of course, but we’ll be adding just as much carbon to the atmosphere as we would otherwise do with fossil fuel sources. With the added problem of having to build energy-intensive manufacturing plants to synthesise the “additive” to help is produce methane hydrates for burial at sea.

It just doesn’t add up. Faced with a putatively worsening greenhouse trend and dwindling fuel supplies, shouldn’t we be looking for sustainable energy resources that neither add to our carbon emissions nor require us to find complex routes to lock them down?

I guess the methane hydrate factory could be powered by wind turbines and solar cells, but that’s not the point is it?

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