Sun, Mar 25, 2007 - Page 3 News List

Taiwan discovers frozen natural gas off southwest coast


Taiwan has found off its coast huge deposits of frozen natural gas, known as the "ice that burns" and billed as the energy source of the future, a newspaper said yesterday.

Taiwanese and Japanese researchers succeeded in extracting samples of methane hydrate from the ocean floor off Taiwan's southwest coast and will publish their report in May, the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times' sister newspaper) reported.

The team began its exploration two years ago, after US and Japanese scientists suspected methane hydrate deposits in the region through monitoring by satellite and scientific equipment.

Relying on a deep-sea remote-controlled research ship, the team recently extracted crystallized methane hydrate from a depth of 1,100m and recorded how it began to melt at 500m depth and vaporize at 400m depth.

Methane hydrate, in its original form, looks like whitish-yellow ice or ice cream. But at room temperature, it vaporizes and can be ignited.

"One unit of methane hydrate contains 170 units of natural gas. So the ocean floor is like a gas cylinder holding compressed methane hydrate in crystal form," Professor Yang Tsan-yao (楊燦堯) from the National Taiwan University and one of the team members was quoted as saying.

The team estimates that the southwest coast holds about 600 billion cubic metres of methane hydrate, enough to meet the country's energy needs for 60 years.

Several countries, including Japan, the US and Canada, have begun to explore methane hydrate -- also called the "greenhouse energy."

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