China has launched all-out research efforts into industrial production of combustible ice, a potential game-changer in the fossil fuel industry already identified as occurring naturally in the East and South China seas.
With backing from the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, a laboratory held its opening ceremony in Beijing and has been approved by the Ministry of Science and Technology, domestic news website yicai.com reported on Wednesday.
China's combustible ice, a natural gas hydrate found in tundra or seabed areas, could amount to the equivalent of about 80 billion tons of fossil fuel, according to preliminary forecasting, China News Service reported, citing Li Jinfa, deputy head of the China Enterprise Reform and Development Society.
China's annual consumption of fossil fuels is about 600 million tons, meaning China theoretically has enough ice to last 133 years.
But Chinese scientists and engineers must solve nautical and chemical conundrums before any mass production can begin.
Scientists face issues and difficulties including identifying the best technique for mining, the high costs and environmental side-effects, Lin Qi, a research assistant at the research center for Marine Science of National Institute for South China Sea Studies, told the Global Times.
"To prevent any adverse effects, a complete security insurance and environment monitoring system should be set up before mass mining of combustible ice," Lin said.
Industrial production of combustible ice can be expected by 2030, southcn.com reported, citing Yang Shengxiong, chief engineer of Guangzhou Marine Geological Survey.
"The laboratory will play a role in integrating human resources with researching combustible ice," Lin said. Considering the massive reserves, China will support research and mining of combustible ice, Lin said. The ice is also a clean energy resource and an important substitute for fossil oil and natural gas, he noted.
Ice in China's seas contains methane. When melted or depressurized, it turns into water and natural gas.
The South China Sea is the location of most of China's combustible ice. There are 11 ore bodies containing 150 million tons of combustible ice in South China Sea's Shenhu region alone, Lin said.
"However, due to multiple disputes, research into combustible ice in the South China Sea region is limited," he said.
Newspaper headline: Scientists launch research effort into combustible ice