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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Fried ice is a delicacy; Fire Ice [methane hydrate] could be the answer to energy crisis

Can two diametrically opposite things co-exist….for example ‘Fire and Ice’.  In India,  not much emphasis is placed on research and we get to read much about Scientific researches and technology…… now that IPL is about to start tomorrow, we will read much less !

Most of us are addicted to lip-smacking range of ice creams.  There are varieties – milk, cream, flavour, fruits and other ingredients. Deep frying requires heat and oil and can you think of ‘fried ice cream’ ~ it is a dessert made from a breaded scoop of ice cream that is quickly deep-fried creating a warm, crispy shell around the still-cold ice cream.  The dessert is commonly made by taking a scoop of ice cream frozen well below the temperature at which ice cream is generally kept, possibly coating it and  rolling it in cornflakes or cookie crumbs, and briefly deep frying it. The extremely low temperature of the ice cream prevents it from melting while being fried.  Quite a delicacy….. human invention !

Miles away, Japan is running away with its research programmes ~ A flame ripples from a burner on the back of a deepwater drilling rig in the Pacific Ocean off the southern coast of Japan, heralding an energy breakthrough for a power-starved nation. Japan announced on March 12 that it had extracted natural gas at a depth of 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) from one of the most mysterious and vast reservoirs of fuel on Earth—methane hydrates; ~ it has announced a new invention in its energy plight, claiming it to be the first country to extract methane hydrate "fire ice" from its seabed. Officials say the plan is to have viable production technologies in place by 2018/19. The state-run Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (Jogmec) made the announcement, revealing that a year-long expedition to the watery depths had finally paid off.

"It is the world's first offshore experiment producing gas from methane hydrate," an economy, trade and industry ministry official said. The methane hydrate has been extracted from depths of about 300 metres below the seabed, with the team lowering the naturally high pressure present at those depths to separate the gas from its icy surrounds. The free gas was then piped to the surface. The successful extraction has massive potential for Japan. It's estimated that 1.1 trillion cubic metres of natural gas are trapped within the methane hydrate off Shikoku island.

To separate methane from the icy, solid clathrate that forms under the sea is to release an estimated 11-year's worth of gas supply for Japan, which has been struggling under the pressure of soaring energy prices since the 2011 Fukushima disaster. After the event, most of the nation's nuclear reactors were forced to shutdown until July 2012. Public support for the nuclear power sector plummeted in the interim, and the government made the announcement in September 2012 that it would shift to other fuel sources by 2040, closing all 50 functioning nuclear reactors. But what it intended on replacing that energy source with remained vague.

Now it is announced to be Methane clathrate, also called methane hydrate, hydromethane, methane ice, fire ice, natural gas hydrate, or gas hydrate, is a solid clathrate compound (more specifically, a clathrate hydrate) in which a large amount of methane is trapped within a crystal structure of water, forming a solid similar to ice. Originally thought to occur only in the outer regions of the Solar System where temperatures are low and water ice is common, significant deposits of methane clathrate have been found under sediments on the ocean floors of Earth.

Perhaps there some more countries in the race.  ‘RV Sonne’ registered in Bremen  (German for 'Sun') is a former fishing trawler converted into a research vessel, doing mostly geoscience-related work for a variety of commercial and scientific clients. Sonne was built by Rickmers Werft in 1969 as a stern trawler and was later converted for scientific exploration role.  It is stated that research on Sonne focus on deep-sea ores and gas hydrates. Furthermore, Sonne provides crucial data for the optimal positioning of seafloor seismometers, which are to be part of the  tsunami early warning system off Indonesia.

There is news that the research vessel is carrying German and Taiwanese scientists has set sail for waters off the island's southwestern coast over the weekend in search of methane hydrate, a potentially vast new energy source. They are also in search of the substance, the fossil fuel that consists of very densely-packed methane trapped in ice, is found beneath the seafloor on continental shelves and in the Arctic's permafrost. The 4700-tonne German ship, called the "Sonne" will undertake a 50-day expedition at a cost of around $3.98 million, three-quarters of which will be funded by Germany and the remainder by Taiwan. Taiwan is hoping that the indicated reserves in the area could supply the island for up to 50 years. Nuclear energy currently accounts for around 20 percent of the island's energy mix but has become increasingly controversial in recent years following Japan's atomic crisis.  Taiwan, like many other countries depends heavily on its costly oil imports mainly from Middle East and Africa

One year ago, on March 11, 2011, a devastating earthquake struck off the north-eastern shore of Honshu. The Tohoku quake and the subsequent Tsunami killed more than 15,000 people. Vessel Sonne and those on board were also involved earlier in investigating the traces that the earthquake left behind at the sea floor. There are Countries where research is considered of strategic importance and researchers given pride of place in the society

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
2nd April 2013.


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