Morgantown, W.Va. — In a Congressionally mandated report released January 29, 2010, the National Research Council (NRC) concluded that the U.S. Department of Energy’s methane hydrate program had been “consistent and effective” in leading a broad-based science and technology development program to investigate naturally occurring gas hydrates.
NRC’s review of the program, which is administered by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) for the Office of Fossil Energy, compliments “the overall high caliber of the research, the breadth of investigations undertaken, the training of new, highly qualified personnel under the program’s auspices, and the successful collaboration between federal agencies conducting research on methane hydrate.” While research in several areas continues, the methane hydrate program has made advances in identification, drilling, and production of methane from hydrate for use as a possible energy source.
Methane hydrate, a naturally occurring solid form of methane and water, is found in Arctic permafrost areas and under the sea along most of the world’s continental margins. Hydrate deposits are a potentially enormous and untapped source of methane, the primary component of natural gas. With the possibility of augmenting current supplies of natural gas, which provides approximately one fourth of all energy consumed in the United States, methane hydrate could boost U.S. energy security by providing an important energy source to accommodate future natural gas demand. NETL’s promising research could lead to commercial production of methane from hydrate by 2025.
The NRC report particularly praised the overall quality of the methane hydrate program’s research, stating that “research progress, the positive impact the program is having on raising the profile of and interest in methane hydrate as a potential energy resource, and the rate at which the program is moving toward the goal of achieving production of methane from methane hydrate accumulations are all commendable.”
The methane hydrate program has revolved around investigating the fundamental science and technology required to assess and realize the potential for commercial development of methane from methane hydrate resources. New methods to remotely detect and characterize subsurface methane hydrate deposits have also been tested through the program’s research. Future research will investigate the most appropriate production technologies, environmental consequences, safe extraction of the methane hydrate, and the expected volumes of recoverable methane.
NRC’s report “Assessment of the Department of Energy’s Methane Hydrate Research and Development Program: Evaluating Methane Hydrate as a Future Energy Resource” is available at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12831, and a summary is available at http://dels.nas.edu/dels/rpt_briefs/methane_hydrates_brief_final.pdf.
NRC is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science, technology, and health policy advice as part of the National Academies. For more information, visit NRC’s site at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/NRC/index.htm.