Friday, May 14, 2010

New Energy Source

When talking about energy, most of us would probably think about fossil fuel, and how they pollute the environment, and the fact that they are depleting is the reason why oil price soared to ridiculous level several years back.

Renewable energy such as solar energy and wind energy is limited, whereas nuclear energy is potentially dangerous and it produces harmful aftereffect. The Chernobyl incident in 1986 produced handicapped and retarded children, and thousands died as a result. Now the area is uninhabitable and became a restricted area.

Hence, what should we do? What solution do we have?

In the November 2009 edition of Discovery Magazine, there was an entry entitled "Frozen Power" which talked about a newly discovered source of energy that could power Earth for hundreds of years. It is methane hydrate.

Those who have been to camps would know what a solid fuel is, and this thing is almost similar to those. This thing was found by fishermen in Canadian water off Vancouver Island. It was a "hissing, fizzing ice" when they found it caught in the net, and they knew it wasn't ice because it was the middle of summer. They scooped a chunk and placed it in a plastic bag, only for the bag to explode like a balloon. The thing is emitting gas~~

So this thing called methane hydrate is a compound made up of molecules of methane, the primary component of natural gas,trapped in a cage-like structure of water molecules.

The red being water molecules, trapping the green which are methane molecules

It only forms under conditions of high pressure and low temperature, like those found under deep water ocean floors. The hydrate is so densely packed that it releases 164 times its original volume in methane when exposed to normal pressure, which explains why it blew up the fishermen's plastic bag. o.O

This is a big discovery as the methane could replace other fossil fuel as the primary source of energy for the next century. Scientists also suggested to inject liquid carbon dioxide into hydrate sediments such that the methane is released for use as energy while the carbon dioxide is stored so it can't contribute to global warming~

There is a catch though. As a greenhouse gas, methane packs 25 times the potential Earth-heating power of carbon dioxide. And the energy emitted by methane (39,820 KJ/m3) is lower compared to Propane (101,000 KJ/m3) and gasoline (47,300 KJ/KG) and hence we would need a lot of methane to provide the power equivalent to those provided by gasoline and petroleum, and this could lead to more greenhouse effect...

Nevertheless, the discovery of a new fossil fuel could help alleviate the already aggravating circumstances of our global economy. If this source turns out to be good, then perhaps we could well live into the next millennia.


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