Burning Ice

Japan's latest energy investment is apparently burning ice. Burning ice (methane clathrate hydrate in chemistry-speak) is natural gas trapped in a solid form. Japan is always looking for new energy resources, especially since the tsunami/Fukushima accident, so they're spending over $150 million to try mining burning ice.

The good thing about burning ice is that it is a plentiful resource with a lot of stored energy. We used to think it only formed in outer space, but there's actually an immense amount. Conservatively, there is twice as much carbon in burning ice as all other fossil fuels combined.

The bad thing, though, is that it could be really dangerous mining burning ice. This is exactly what caused BP so many headaches trying to end the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The sudden release of methane from burning ice might have triggered the earth's most severe extinction event. Methane is a far worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. In addition, the burning ice deposits seem to be doing a pretty important job of holding the sea floor stable.

Mining burning ice as a response to Fukushima seems ironic. It's just saying "Playing with knives is dangerous. Here, play with a gun instead."

Video of undergraduates burning ice they made.
Roald Hoffman's essay on methane and burning ice.