China to tap combustible ice

China to tap combustible ice

Combustible ice is a kind of natural gas hydrate found in the tundra region in northwest China. "We do not need to drill very deep to get the flammable frozen compound from tundra here in Muli prefecture in Qinghai province," said Wen Huaijun, chief engineer of the project.

He said the team under the China National Administration of Coal Geology is carrying out research to make sure the exploitation of the frozen natural gas does not cause environmental problems.

The frozen compound is regarded as a potential source of alternative energy to coal and oil. One cubic metre of combustible ice can release 164 cubic metres of natural gas. The land resources ministry said on Friday the potential reserve of the natural gas hydrate in the tundra region is estimated 35 billion tonnes of oil equivalent.

China announced the first discovery of combustible ice under the bed of the South China Sea in May 2007.  Wen said the environmental threats from the use of the compound are enormous, as it releases carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.

"The plateau (Tundra) region is very sensitive to environmental changes. The biological conditions here are vulnerable. “Combustible ice usually exists under the seabed or tundra areas (two mediums having the strong pressure and low temperature necessary to its stability). It can be lit up like solid ethanol, which is why it has the name 'combustible ice',” he said. Wen said the project has been carried out in Muli Prefecture, 4,100 metres above the sea level, since 2004. 

"It will still take time and a huge amount of research to realise the dream of exploiting the resource, while ensuring the (safety of the) environment," he said.  Wang Jianbin, deputy director of the Qinghai Bureau of Land Resources, said at present the focus is to ascertain the locations of the deposits, and carry out a feasibility study to extract the resource.