Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A German consortium is looking for ways to exploit gas hydrates

Energy from ice

By Wolfgang Pomrehn

With complex platforms such as this, scientists from the seabed

On Friday, in Schleswig-Holstein state capital Kiel heralded the second phase of the project known as SUGAR, which will be several German institutes, energy companies and other enterprises embark on the search for new mineral energy sources at the bottom of the oceans. SUGAR is the abbreviation for the English-language project called "Submarine gas hydrate reservoir." In German, the project is a little more detail titled "Submarine gas hydrate deposits: exploration, extraction and transport," by which the project is already outlined in the significant.

It is about the exploitation of specific methane deposits, which are frozen in connection with water in some regions of the world's oceans in the seabed. Methane is by percentage of 85 to 98 percent and the main component of natural gas, an appropriate infrastructure for its use is so far available. The amounts at stake are enormous. According to project coordinator Klaus Wallmann from the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences (IFM-GEOMAR) is expected in methane ice at the bottom of the oceans and the permafrost of Siberia and North America in about nine times more to be saved, as is expected in the world all conventional gas reservoirs.

The thing has a big hook. The gas hydrates can not simply drill such as oil or natural gas fields. Methane is formed under high pressure and at low temperatures, together with a special water ice, in which each one methane molecule surrounded by a lattice of water molecules. The Kiel and its partners have worked in recent years including the development of appropriate techniques for exploring and surveying the gas hydrate. In the second phase of the project SUGAR want to search for suitable methods to free the methane from its icy prison. The researchers envision it, the methane from carbon dioxide to replace (CO2). CO2 from methane hydrate would say that, so Wallmann, even more stable than the original was. Are involved in the second phase project worth EUR 13 million in addition to scientific institutes, marine technology companies like Nautical ELAC of Kiel. Also on board are also BASF, Wintershall, RWE DEA and E.on.

The motives of the participating companies are clear. The prices for mineral commodities of all kinds have risen sharply in recent years and researchers can find, energy companies and mining companies for new deposits. Even the crisis in 2008 brought only a short break price crash. A few months later moved back to the values ​​and in the meantime to move the prices of ores and again, not least for the fossil fuels coal, oil and natural gas at record levels. The 159-liter barrel (bbl) of North Sea Brent crude oil costs, for example, despite renewed kriseln the economies on both sides of the Atlantic are still around 110 U.S. dollars. Even in the 1980s and 1990s the oil price as a result of economic shocks has declined much more durable and more.

The high level of developed countries, despite the crisis of energy costs is a clear indication that, in consequence of too little explored deposits, the demand supply can barely meet. In the future, will therefore be worth more and more complex projects and perhaps also the exploitation of gas hydrates. Accordingly, next year will be led by the world's first two field trials of Japanese and American consortia. In Kiel, it is hoped to be able to start 2015, the first field trial.

But what drives a geoscientist as Wallman, who has previously operated primarily climate research, to do so, to start a project? "We have long wondered whether we should open up the natural gas hydrates as a resource," said the chemist trained over agf, who directs the at IFM-GEOMAR Research Center Marine Geosystems. Ultimately, he and his staff decided on the project, "in the hope etwasf├╝r climate protection" to do. That sounds contradictory at first, because ultimately produced by the combustion of methane, the greenhouse gas CO2. But Wallman hopes for the conversion of methane into CO2 hydrates is several times the greenhouse gas in the seabed to be able to securely store, as produced by the combustion power generators of the released methane. Also could be a part of the gas hydrates can be destabilized by global warming and a portion of the methane escaping into the atmosphere. Since it is not only an energy carrier, but also a very effective greenhouse gas further, so that it would further strengthen the global climate change. CO2 hydrate would however also remained stable at slightly higher temperatures.

Essential questions are still open. So far, an economical method for reducing the pure music of the future. Nor is it clear yet where the CO2 is to come. Wallman hopes to capture from coal-fired power plants, but is also energy intensive and highly controversial in Germany.