“We’re jamming a tiny straw through over a mile of water through over a half a mile of rock in order to pull up 10 feet of ice,” said Peter Polito, an expedition research scientist representing The University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences (JSG).
Surrounded by scientific gear, he is standing on the bridge of the Helix Q4000, a semi-submersible deep-water drilling vessel. All around him are massive cranes and robust machinery, and just a bit further out, nothing but rolling waves are in sight.
Methane hydrates could be a bridge-fuel to a carbon-free society
It all seems like quite an enterprise — except the “ice” they are attempting to extract could revolutionize the future of energy.
This 2017 University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG) expedition was looking for methane hydrates, or methane gas trapped in ice. The substance is made up of water molecules that form a crystal lattice, which contains the densely trapped methane inside. Methane hydrates are abundant in nature, usually found beneath or inside permafrost and buried in sediments under the sea floor.
What’s most significant is that they hold more than 100 times the energy per unit of volume as methane found in the atmospheric pressure at sea level. Essentially, one liter of methane hydrate from the sea floor is 160 liters of methane on the surface.
UT Austin is actively conducting research on these mysterious cores and will be venturing to the Gulf of Mexico again in 2022 to retrieve more samples.