Major obstacles stand in the way of ‘combustible ice’ becoming the new black gold, according to a leading industry academic.
Professor Paul de Leeuw, from Robert Gordon University, made the claim after China succeeded in collecting samples of flammable ice – or gas hydrate- this week.
The Chinese Government claim that the material is the best possible replacement for dwindling conventional global oil and gas reserves.
But Professor de Leeuw, of the Oil and Gas Institute, said there are major hurdles in the way before the gas commodity enjoys similar levels of activity.
He said: “Will it happen in time? It is possible, but there is a lot of work to be done to get it to be a commercially viable alternative to the existing gas and oil we have.”
China found the gas hydrate in the South China Sea in 2007, and announced their success this week in collecting samples after a decade of work.
The hydrate is made up of methane at high pressure and low temperatures, which is captured below the sea bed.
Prof. de Leeuw said: “The big issue is it’s very challenging to recover. It has huge environmental implications.
“You need to find a very clever recovery system because it’s cold and deep, it tends to be quite difficult to get after, and of course the moment the ice melts the gas bubbles come out and of course then you need to figure out how to capture it.
“If you let methane flow itself it will create massive greenhouse gases and all kinds of issues with global warming so you need to have a very clever mechanism to do it.”
Several countries around the world, including Japan, China and the United States have been working to develop technology to extract hydrates.
Despite the challenges, Prof. de Leeuw said: “The good news is that people are working to make something happen.
“It’s probably driven by the US, Japan, China at this point in time, so there are some big nations behind it trying to make it work. There’s a lot of money being invested.”
Estimates of worldwide reserves range from 280 trillion to 2,800 trillion cubic metres, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
By comparison, worldwide production of natural gas was 3.5 billion cubic metres in 2015, the most recent year available.