We earlier wrote about a research group that has put out apaper, inconjunction with the Pentagon (the world’s largest oilpurchaser), about how the U.S. can become a country that nolonger uses oil?or at least not as much of it. While weworry about the world oil shortage, which is raising oilprices dramatically and forcing us to trade with hostileArab countries, it turns out that the ocean floor is filledwith a fuel that could power the world for decades to come.We know there are abundant amounts of Helium-3, a nearlyperfect fuel, on the moon, but we haven’t yet figured outhow to get up there and mine it. Surely it would be easierto tap our ocean fuel reserves.
Stephen Leahy writes in wired.com that the natural gas ontrapped in the sediments of the ocean floor is methanehydrate, a form of natural gas. As much as 200,000 trillioncubic feet of it may exist underwater, which the Departmentof Energy wants to start mining by 2015. Scientists are nowtrying to figure out how to bring the frozen gas up to thesurface.
How did all that fuel get there? For millions of years,microbes have fed on organic matter in ocean sediments,releasing methane as a byproduct. In that cold,high-pressure, underwater environment, methane moleculesbecome trapped in ice and form methane hydrates. Whenthey’re brought up to the surface, the ice melts, releasingthe trapped methane. This methane-filled ice can literallybe ignited with a match.
The ocean’s stored methane is probably the result of warmerocean temperatures caused by global warming. Researchersdon’t understand why the oceans have warmed up so much morethan the land, although some scientists think it may be dueto underwater volcanic activity.
Art credit: http://www.freeimages.co.uk
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