Two years after the Fukushima meltdown, most of Japan’s nuclear reactors remain shuttered, and that anniversary this week has sparked discussion about Japan’s energy sources. The country has depended almost exclusively on imported fossil fuels since the disaster. But in news announced today, Japan has become the first country to successfully extract methane from frozen reserves under the ocean floor, opening a new potential energy source for the country.
Methane is the primary component of natural gas but methane hydrate offers an even more concentrated source. One cubic foot of hydrate traps about 164 cubic feet of methane gas, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The methane in hydrate is frozen within an ice lattice, forming a sherbet-like substance.
To get the methane gas out, Japanese engineers used a depressurization method that turns methane hydrate into methane gas. Extraction began this morning, about 30 miles offshore of Japan’s main island and at a depth of around 1,000 feet below the seabed.