Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Frozen Natural Gas is Ice That Burns

ScienceDaily (Apr. 6, 2009) — In a step toward using gas hydrates as a future energy source, researchers in New York are reporting the first identification of an optimal temperature and pressure range for maximizing production of natural gas from the icy hydrate material.

Marco Castaldi, Yue Zhou, and Tuncel Yegualp note that gas hydrates, also known as "ice that burns," are a frozen form of natural gas (methane). This material exists in vast deposits beneath the ocean floor and Arctic permafrost in the United States and other areas. Scientists believe that fuel from these frozen chunks, formed at cold temperatures and high pressures, may help fuel cars, heat homes, and power factories in the future. Although scientists have identified several different methods for extracting the fuel, including depressurization, researchers have not found an practical approach for producing the gas on an industrial scale.

To reach this goal, the researchers built what they believe to be the world's largest experimental reactor, filled with sand, water, and methane, to simulate the formation gas hydrates (at low temperatures and high pressure) and production of the gas. While depressurizing the hydrates to free the methane, they observed an optimal boost in gas production between a narrow range of temperatures and pressures. Maintaining gas production at these settings could be a key step in boosting production of methane at an industrial scale, the researchers suggest.

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