Canadian Consulting Engineer

Canada’s permafrost holds massive energy resource

A panel of experts appointed by the Council of Canadian Academies has concluded that Canada is well positioned to b...

July 31, 2008   Canadian Consulting Engineer

A panel of experts appointed by the Council of Canadian Academies has concluded that Canada is well positioned to be a leader in producing natural gas from gas hydrate.
Canada has some of the world’s most favourable conditions for gas hydrate, which lies under the Arctic permafrost and on the margins of the continent. Canadian scientist and engineers have led efforts to explore for the substance, and in modelling and testing ways of extracting it. However, commercial production is not likely to happen for at least two decades.
Natural gas hydrates form under conditions of high pressure and low temperature when water combines with natural gas — largely methane — to form an ice-like solid substance. This occurs in regions of permafrost and in subsea floor sediments at the edges of continents.
Gas hydrates exist in abundance worldwide, with some estimates that they exceed all conventional gas resources, even exceeding the amounts of all coal, oil and natural gas combined. Scientists have known about gas hydrates for almost 200 years, but the oil industry only began to take an interest in the 1930s.
The ability to produce gas hydrate economically will depend on developing the means to extract the gas efficiently.
One concern is that once produced, gas from gas hydrate would lead to the emission of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, but when used as fuel, it would produce less carbon dioxide per unit of energy than coal or oil.
The expert panel appointed by the Council of Canadian Academies was a multi-disciplinary team composed of experts in geophysics, geology, chemistry, engineering, biology, economics, etc. The chair was Dr. John Grace, professor of chemical and biological engineering at the University of B.C. He is also the research chair in clean energy processes at the university.
Members of the Council of Canadian Academies include the Canadian Academy of Engineering. See www.scienceadvice.ca


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