Department of Energy

New Methane Hydrate Research: Investing in Our Energy Future

August 31, 2012

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Methane hydrates are 3D ice-lattice structures with natural gas locked inside. If methane hydrate is either warmed or depressurized, it will release the trapped natural gas.

Methane hydrates are 3D ice-lattice structures with natural gas locked inside. If methane hydrate is either warmed or depressurized, it will release the trapped natural gas.

While many of us think of the Arctic as home to polar bears and year-round freezing temperatures, it is also home to a potentially huge source of natural gas called methane hydrates.  

Methane hydrates are 3D ice-lattice structures with natural gas locked inside, and they can be found under the Arctic permafrost and in ocean sediments along nearly every continental shelf in the world. The substance looks remarkably like white ice, but it does not behave like ice. If methane hydrate is either warmed or depressurized, it will release the trapped natural gas.

The Energy Department announced today an investment of nearly $5.6 million in 14 research projects designed to help us better understand the impacts of methane hydrates on our future energy supply. The projects will focus on field programs for deepwater hydrate characterization, the response of methane hydrate systems to changing climates, and advances in the understanding of gas-hydrate-bearing sediments. This new investment bolsters the decade-old methane hydrate research and development program led by the Energy Department in collaboration with other federal agencies, universities, industry, and international partners.  

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Department was instrumental in the early research and development of technologies that led to the breakthrough in shale gas production. As a result, Americans now have an abundant source of cleaner, cheaper natural gas.

Similar to the advancements made in shale gas, this research on methane hydrates could result in increased natural gas production, new jobs, and improved national security – and increase America’s energy independence.