China bets on ice fuel as future energy source

China has become the first country capable of extracting from the seabed “fuel ice,” a raw material that its scientists say may be the great source of energy of the future, yet others warn of its dangers.

The Chinese authorities are celebrating this first extraction, recently obtained on platforms of extraction of waters of the South China Sea near Hong Kong, at 1,266 meters of depth, as a great landmark of the country’s technological development.

For eight consecutive days in mid-May, 8,350 cubic meters per day were extracted from this possible source of energy, which according to China’s Land and Resources Minister Jiang Daming “could lead to an energy revolution.”

Li Jinfa, director of the geological exploration, Li Jinfa, has determined that China can have fuel reserves equivalent to 80,000 tons of oil, enough to meet the country’s energy needs for nearly 20 years.

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Fuel ice is a matter that combines molecules of water and natural gas and is found in deep sea water and also in frozen soils such as tundra.

“It is a very clean source of energy and is found in large quantities. If China is able to use it, it will help us a great deal, even if the problem is to develop the necessary technology,” said Lin Boqiang, director of Center for Energy Economics, Xiamen University.

Throughout the world, if energy extraction and extraction techniques are perfected – something that could take 10-30 years, according to Chinese predictions – there could be reserves to guarantee a thousand years of global energy consumption.

This is due to the existence of large reserves of ice fuel all over the planet, such as the large bag that stretches for 8,000 kilometers on the Pacific Ocean floor between Central America and Hawaii.

Discovered for the first time in the Soviet Union in the 1960s, this energy source has the appearance of ice, but when melted and depressurized, it generates water and natural gas. It is produced by the excretions of bacteria living in environments as difficult for life as abyssal depths or permafrost (only permanently frozen).

There are different types of ice, but what China was able to extract is methane hydrate, one of the most abundant.

China and Japan, two countries with high energy consumption and low in hydrocarbon sources, were the nations most interested in developing a possible commercial use of this energy source, although the Chinese, after 20 years of research, seems to lead the race.

However, there are many doubts and fears about this possible source of energy, for the possible environmental damage that its large-scale extraction could cause, as occurred with the recent energetic “revolution” driven by the United States with the use of “fracking” for the extraction of oil and gas.

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Methane is highly explosive and its extraction is very risky. Once obtained, it is a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide, which could contribute to global warming, which already affects the planet.

This could be mitigated, according to China, by the fact that the generation of energy by the combustion of methane hydrate produces 20% fewer pollutants than petroleum and 40% less than coal, the raw material that still accounts for two-thirds of the country’s energy consumption.

Nor is it known whether the cost of extraction will be low to the point of becoming a profitable energy source, or if operating on the large pockets on the seabed can generate adverse effects on this fragile ecosystem, as is pointed out in the case of fracking.

Li Jinfa has promised that China “will give priority to protecting the environment” in its studies on fuel ice, but pointed out that the doubts will not make the researchers retreat: there will be new investigations in new areas of the country and the search for other different combustible ice of methane hydrate.

There is also the possibility of large reserves of fuel ice far from Earth on other planets and asteroids, which could be behind Chinese interests in developing in the not so distant future space mining.

“We must first explore in a safe and environmentally friendly way. It is difficult for now, and without technology advanced enough there will be pollution,” warned Lin Boqiang.

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