Methane clathrate, also called methane hydrate or methane ice, is a solid form of water that contains a large amount of methane within its crystal structure (a clathrate hydrate). Originally thought to occur only in the outer regions of the Solar System where temperatures are low and water ice is common, significant deposits of methane clathrate have been found under sediments on the ocean floors of Earth.
Methane clathrates are common constituents of the shallow marine geosphere, and they occur both in deep sedimentary structures, and as outcrops on the ocean floor. Methane hydrates are believed to form by migration of gas from depth along geological faults, followed by precipitation, or crystallization, on contact of the rising gas stream with cold sea water. Methane clathrates are also present in deep Antarctic ice cores, and store a record of atmospheric methane concentrations, dating to 800,000 years ago. The ice-core methane clathrate record is a primary source of data for global warming research, along with oxygen and carbon dioxide.
While it is stable at a temperature of up to around 0°C, at higher pressures methane clathrates remain stable up to 18 °C. The average methane clathrate hydrate composition is 1 mole of methane for every 5.75 moles of water, though this is dependent on how many methane molecules "fit" into the various cage structures of the water lattice. The observed density is around 0.9 g/cm³. One liter of methane clathrate solid would therefore contain, on average, 168 liters of methane gas (at STP).
Methane forms a structure I hydrate with two dodecahedral (20 vertices thus 20 water molecules) and six tetradecahedral (24 water molecules) water cages per unit cell. The hydration value of 20 can be determined experimentally by MAS NMR. A methane clathrate spectrum recorded at 275 K and 3.1 MPa shows a peak for each cage type and a separate peak for gas phase methane. Recently, a clay-methane hydrate intercalate was synthesized in which a methane hydrate complex was introduced at the interlayer of a Na-rich montmorillonite clay. The upper temperature stability of this phase is similar to that of structure I hydrate.
Methane clathrates are restricted to the shallow lithosphere (i.e. < 2000 m depth). Furthermore, necessary conditions are found only either in polar continental sedimentary rocks where surface temperatures are less than 0 °C; or in oceanic sediment at water depths greater than 300 m where the bottom water temperature is around 2 °C. In addition, deep lakes may host gas hydrates as well, e.g. the freshwater Lake Baikal, Siberia. Continental deposits have been located in Siberia and Alaska in sandstone and siltstone beds at less than 800 m depth. Oceanic deposits seem to be widespread in the continental shelf (see Fig.) and can occur within the sediments at depth or close to the sediment-water interface. They may cap even larger deposits of gaseous methane.
These deposits are located within a mid-depth zone around 300-500 m thick in the sediments (the Gas Hydrate Stability Zone, or GHSZ) where they coexist with methane dissolved in the pore-waters. Above this zone methane is only present in its dissolved form at concentrations that decrease towards the sediment surface. Below it, methane is gaseous. At Blake Ridge on the Atlantic continental rise, the GHSZ started at 190 m depth and continued to 450 m, where it reached equilibrium with the gaseous phase. Measurements indicated that methane occupied 0-9% by volume in the GHSZ, and ~12% in the gaseous zone.
In the less common second type found near the sediment surface some samples have a higher proportion of longer-chain hydrocarbons (<99% methane) contained in a structure II clathrate. Methane is isotopically heavier (δ13C is -29 to -57 ‰) and is thought to have migrated upwards from deep sediments where methane was formed by thermal decomposition of organic matter. Examples of this type of deposit have been found in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caspian Sea.
Some deposits have characteristics intermediate between the microbially- and thermally-sourced types and are considered to be formed from a mixture of the two.
The methane in gas hydrates is dominantly generated by bacterial degradation of organic matter in low oxygen environments. Organic matter in the uppermost few centimetres of sediments is first attacked by aerobic bacteria, generating CO2, which escapes from the sediments into the water column. In this region of aerobic bacterial activity sulfates are reduced to sulfides. If the sedimentation rate is low (<1 cm/kyr), the organic carbon content is low (<1% ), and oxygen is abundant, aerobic bacteria use up all the organic matter in the sediments. But where sedimentation rates and the organic carbon content are high, the pore waters in the sediments are anoxic at depths of only a few cm, and methane is produced by anaerobic bacteria. This production of methane is a rather complicated process, requires the activity of several varieties of bacteria, a reducing environment (Eh -350 to -450 mV), and a pH between 6 and 8. In some regions (e.g., Gulf of Mexico) methane in clathrates may be at least partially derived from thermal degradation of organic matter, dominantly in petroleum. The methane in clathrates typically has a bacterial isotopic signature and highly variable δ13C (-40 to -100‰), with an approximate average of about -65 ‰ .Kvenvolden, 1993; Dickens et al., 1995; Below the zone of solid clathrates, large volumes of methane may occur as bubbles of free gas in the sediments.
The presence of clathrates at a given site can often be determined by observation of a "Bottom Simulating Reflector" (BSR), which is a seismic reflection at the sediment to clathrate stability zone interface caused by the unequal densities of normal sediments and those laced with clathrates.
These modern estimates are notably smaller than the 10,000 to 11,000 Gt C (2 m³) proposed by previous workers as a motivation considering clathrates as a fossil fuel resource (MacDonald 1990, Kvenvolden 1998). Lower abundances of clathrates do not rule out their economic potential, but a lower total volume and apparently low concentration at most sites does suggests that only a limited percentage of clathrates deposits may provide an economically viable resource.
In 2008, Canadian and Japanese researchers extracted a constant stream of natural gas from a test project at the Mallik gas hydrate field in the Mackenzie River delta. This was the second such drilling at Mallik: the first took place in 2002 and used heat to release methane. In the 2008 experiment, researchers were able to extract gas by lowering the pressure, without heating, requiring significantly less energy. The Mallik gas hydrate field was first discovered by Imperial Oil in 1971-1972.
A research and development project in Japan is aiming for commercial-scale extraction by 2016. In August 2006, China announced plans to spend 800 million yuan (US$100 million) over the next 10 years to study natural gas hydrates. A potentially economic reserve in the Gulf of Mexico may contain ~1010 m3 of gas. Bjørn Kvamme and Arne Graue at the Institute for Physics and technology at the University of Bergen has developed a method for injecting CO2 into hydrates and reversing the process; thereby extracting CH4 by direct exchange .
Once formed, hydrates can block pipeline and processing equipment. They are generally then removed by reducing the pressure, heating them, or dissolving them by chemical means (methanol is commonly used). Care must be taken to ensure that the removal of the hydrates is carefully controlled, because of the risk of massive increases in pressure as the methane is released, and the potential for the hydrate to let go with high velocity as it is exposed to a high pressure differential.
It is generally preferable to prevent hydrates from forming or blocking equipment. This is commonly achieved by removing water, or by the addition of ethylene glycol (MEG) or methanol, which act to depress the temperature at which hydrates will form. In recent years, development of other forms of hydrate inhibitors have been developed, such as Kinetic Hydrate Inhibitors (which dramatically slow the rate of hydrate formation) and anti-agglomerates, which do not prevent hydrates forming, but do prevent them sticking together to block equipment.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. Despite its short atmospheric half life of 7 years, methane has a global warming potential of 62 over 20 years and 21 over 100 years (IPCC, 1996; Berner and Berner, 1996; vanLoon and Duffy, 2000). The sudden release of large amounts of natural gas from methane clathrate deposits has been hypothesized as a cause of past and possibly future climate changes. Events possibly linked in this way are the Permian-Triassic extinction event, the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum.
Climate scientists such as James Hansen expect that methane clathrates in the permafrost regions will be released as a result of global warming, unleashing powerful feedback forces which may cause runaway climate change that cannot be controlled.
Recent research carried out in 2008 in the Siberian Arctic has shown millions of tons of methane being released with concentrations in some regions reaching up to 100 times above normal.
Since methane clathrates are stable at a higher temperature (−20 vs −162 °C) than LNG, there is some interest in converting natural gas into clathrates rather than liquifying it when transporting it by seagoing vessels. Accordingly, the production of NGH from NG at the terminal would require a smaller plant than LNG would.
The book Mother of Storms by John Barnes offers a fictional example of catastrophic climate change caused by methane clathrate release.
Clive Cussler's Fire Ice also mentions methane hydrate. It tells of how a Russian mining industrialist wants to detonate a bomb into three pockets off of the American coast creating large tsunamis. The intent was to swamp Boston, Charleston, and Miami.
In the anime Ergo Proxy, "the cascading release of methane hydrate" wipes out 85% of life on Earth. This suggests either an explosive event or the release of large quantities of methane from clathrates due to global warming.
In The Great Sea Battle, an episode of Zoids: Guardian Force, the Ultrasaurus was able to fend off an attack from the Death Stinger by using depth charges to ignite an undersea pocket of methane hydrate.
In Detective Conan: Jolly Roger in the Deep Azure, an island by the name of Yorioyajima was said to have sunk into the bottom of the sea 300 years ago following an earthquake, which had separated the methane and water molecules of the methane hydrate holding the island up, forming the sea ruin which the story revolves around.
In the anime Code Geass R2, the protagonist uses a methane hydrate deposit to fend off a naval attack by the Empire of Brittania, capsizing the entire fleet.
The Namco PS2 video game Death By Degrees revolves around an underground organization called KOMETA. Their intended super weapon was a satellite that could heat up the Methane Hydrate in the ocean (particularly in the Bermuda Triangle). The result is bubbling which causes ships to lose their buoyancy. The weapon thus has the power to destroy naval vehicles from afar, sinking them to the bottom of the sea.
Wipo Publishes Patent of Kawasaki Jukogyo for "Low-Concentration Methane Gas Oxidation System Using Gas Turbine Engine Waste Heat" (Japanese Inventors)
Apr 28, 2013; GENEVA, April 28 -- Publication No. WO/2013/058210 was published on April 25.Title of the invention: "LOW-CONCENTRATION METHANE...