The United States Department of Energy announced a total of $2 million in funding to five research projects that will assess the energy potential, safety, and environmental aspects of methane hydrate exploration and development. Termed the "ice that burns," methane hydrates are crystalline solids that release a flammable gas when melted. They are considered the Earth's biggest potential source of hydrocarbon energy and could be a key element in meeting natural gas demand in the United States, which is expected to increase nearly 50 percent by 2025.
"These research projects will help us make maximum use of our domestic energy resources while maintaining high environmental standards," Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman said. "This research will help strengthen and expand our energy mix to fuel our growing economy."
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the Nation's methane hydrate resource could total as much as 200,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, providing energy to underpin the future hydrogen economy.
In the United States, hydrate deposits are found far beneath the seafloor in coastal waters and below the permafrost of Alaska's arctic north. If only one percent of that gas can be recovered, the nation would more than double its natural gas resources.
The total value of the projects is approximately $3.3 million, with university and science institute partners providing the remaining funds. The selected projects will examine the resource potential, recoverability, safety aspects, and climate change questions surrounding methane hydrates.
The projects are described below:
- Battelle Memorial Institute> (Richland, Wash.) Researchers will evaluate and contrast advanced concepts for the commercial production of gas hydrates against conventional methods that center on thermal stimulation and depressurization. In a second phase, researchers will assess enhancing gas hydrate production at a prospect site on Alaska's North Slope. (DOE share: $603,000; project duration: 24 months)
- Stanford University (Stanford, Calif.) Researchers will seek to improve the interpretation of seismic data to better identify and quantify methane hydrate resources by developing more-realistic models of sediments containing gas hydrates. Researchers will also seek to develop more efficient methods to characterize hydrate reservoirs, which will help exploration companies develop more systematic and coherent hydrate exploration strategies. (DOE share: $384,431; project duration: 24 months)
- Texas A&M University (College Station, Texas) This project will examine the stability of hydrate-bearing sediments and their effect on a variety of scenarios, including the placement of offshore platforms. Researchers will establish principles that will enable operators to predict and analyze the stability of hydrate-bearing media in the ocean subsurface. (DOE share: $975,000; project duration: 36 months)
University of Texas (Austin, Texas) Researchers will examine the use of advanced multi-component, ocean-bottom seismic (OBS) data to detect and characterize hydrate-bearing sediments in the deep oceans. Using existing seismic data, researchers will evaluate the diagnostic capabilities relative to cost for OBS and conventional seismic technologies. The work will improve technology to remotely assess hydrate resource potential and better determine the location of deepwater gas hydrate accumulations. (DOE share: $830,230; project duration: 36 months)
- Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (Woods Hole, Mass.) This project will attempt to better understand whether naturally-caused methane releases from hydrates affect the Earth's climate. The methodology will use core samples previously taken in the southeastern Bering Sea to test the hypothesis of hydrate dissociation driving global climate change over the relatively abrupt (in geologic time) span of a thousand years. (DOE share: $233,444; project duration 24 months)