Monday, June 10, 2013

"We May Live on a Natural Gas Machine"

Ground breaking (pardon the pun) if true (WSJ):

There's increasing doubt about whether all natural gas (which is 90% methane) comes from fermented fossil microbes. Some of it may be made by chemical processes deep within the earth. If so, the implications could be profound for the climate and energy debates. [...]

When the ocean floor is driven down deep into the molten mantle, in the so-called subduction zones where continents are barging their way over the oceanic crust, this carbonate gets heated and pressurized. In 2004, Henry Scott of Indiana University and his colleagues discovered that ideal conditions exist for this carbonate to lose its oxygen and gain hydrogen instead, making methane on a massive scale.

In effect, this would recycle the Earth's carbon dioxide by turning it back into the fuel from which it was made when burned or breathed. Maybe this explains why so much methane bubbles up through hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor. Moreover, a new paper by Vladimir Kutcherov of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm argues that this might also explain why vast quantities of hydrated methane (known as fire-ice) have been found under the seabed near the continental margins: Perhaps it has come up from the mantle. Recently the Japanese announced a successful pilot project to extract some of this methane as a source of energy.

Dr. Kutcherov thinks the evidence "confirms the presence of enormous, inexhaustible resources of hydrocarbons in our planet." If he is right—and America's new Deep Carbon Observatory aims to resolve the question in the next few years—natural gas may effectively never run out.

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