Japan discovers subsea ‘fire ice’

Japan’s recent successful extraction of methane hydrate, known as "fire ice", from its seabed could secure the country’s future gas supply.

Japan’s recent successful extraction of methane hydrate, known as "fire ice", from its seabed could secure the country’s future gas supply.

The consortium drilling for the fossil fuel that looks like ice but is in fact a very densely-packed methane surrounded by water, are claiming this is a world first.

According to Australia Network News the discovery was made one kilometre below sea level.

When burnt the substance has a pale flame and leaves nothing behind but water.

The group behind the find is led by Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation, who began initial work in February 2012.

This week the companies started a two-week experimental production, an economy, trade and industry ministry official said.

"It is the world's first offshore experiment producing gas from methane hydrate," the official said, adding that the team successfully collected methane gas extracted from the half-frozen substance.

The government-led project will use high pressure to separate the methane from the solid compound.

Methane is the key component of natural gas.

It is estimated around 1.1 trillion cubic metres of natural gas lies in the ocean floor off the coast of Shikoku island, western Japan.

"We aim to establish methane hydrate production technologies for practical use by the fiscal 2018 year", a consortium official said.

Following the shut down of the country’s nuclear reactors in the wake of 2011’s tsunami nuclear crisis, Japan has gone in search of new energy supplies.

Over two years on and only two of the nation’s 50 reactors are operational, forcing Japan to buy expensive fossil-fuel energy alternatives.

Australian Mining has recently covered a number of developments in the subsea mining sphere and as the groundswell for subsea mining grows, new technology and seabed mining techniques are being developed.

Subsea mining has come into the fore in recent years, particularly in the Pacific, which has vast quantities of seabed mineral deposits.

While the economic costs seem prohibitive, there are rich pickings to found on the seabed.

Deep-sea drilling vessel "Chikyu" in the Pacific, off Aichi Prefecture, central Japan. Image: Reuters