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Japans sea bed ice gas
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Japan has extracted natural "ice" gas from methane hydrates beneath the sea off its coasts in a technological coup, opening up a super-resource that could meet the country's gas needs for the next century and radically change the world's energy outlook.

The state-owned oil and gas company JOGMEC said an exploration ship had successfully drilled 300 metres below the seabed into deposits of methane hydrate, an ice-like solid that stores gas molecules but requires great skill to extract safely.

"Methane hydrates available within Japan's territorial waters may well be able to supply the nation's natural gas needs for a century," said the company, adding that the waters under exploration also contain large reserves of rare earth metals.

Government officials said it was the world's first off-shore experiment of its kind, though Japan been working closely with the Canadians. The US and China have their own probes underway.

The US Geological Survey said methane hydrates offer an "immense carbon reservoir", twice all other known fossil fuels on earth. However, it warned that the ecological impact is "very poorly understood".  

The immediate discoveries in Japan's Eastern Tankai Trough are thought to hold 40 trillion cubic feet of methane, equal to eleven years gas imports. The company described the gas as "burnable ice", saying the trick is free it from a crystaline cage of water molecules by lowering the pressure. Tokyo hopes to bring the gas to market on a commercial scale within five years.

The breakthrough comes after 17 years of research and several hundred million dollars of investment. It could be the answer to Japan's prayers, ending its reliance on expensive imports of fuel to meet almost all energy needs.

The country's trade surplus has vanished since the government shut down all but two of its 54 nuclear reactors after the Fukushima disaster in 2011 and switched to other fuels, mostly liquefied natural gas (LNG).

It imported a record 87m tonnes of LNG last year at roughly five times the cost of shale gas available to US chemical companies and key industries, putting Japanese firms at a huge disadvantage.

Japan's Institute of Energy Economics said methane hydrate could be the "game-changer" that restores Japan's flagging fortunes, acting as a catalyst for revival much like the shale revolution in the US.

The state oil group plans to drill as deep as 7,000 metres below the sea floor eventually, going out in seas with depth of up to 4,000 metres.

Environmentalists are deeply alarmed by new focus on ice gas, fearing that it will set off a fresh energy race in the fragile eco-systems of the oceans and may cause landslides on the seabed.

The risk of methane leakage into the atmosphere could be a major snag. The US Geological Survey says the gas has ten times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide.

Hydrogen from liquid fuel
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A new process for extracting hydrogen from a liquid fuel could sweep aside one obstacle to a "hydrogen economy".

Hydrogen produced from renewable resources is a promising source of clean energy, but the gas is difficult to handle and transport.

An international team has now published details of an efficient, low-temperature method for generating it from methanol.

This can then be used to produce electricity using a fuel cell.

The research has been outlined in the journal Nature.

Hydrogen has a high energy density and is clean - burning to leave only water vapour.

Proponents of a hydrogen economy want to produce the hydrogen with excess electricity from renewables such as wind power and solar energy.

But because it is a gas, hydrogen can only be transported and stored safely if it is liquefied or compressed, which takes a lot of energy.

Methanol contains 12.6% hydrogen and is a liquid at ambient temperature, enabling it to be used as a means of temporarily "storing" hydrogen until it is needed.

Current methods used to release the gas from methanol require high temperatures (above 200C) and high pressures, which limits the potential applications.

'Promising' method

The new approach described by Matthias Beller, from the University of Rostock, and colleagues uses a ruthenium-based catalyst, which can efficiently generate hydrogen from methanol at 65-95C and at ambient pressure.

The authors believe their system could combine the advantages of methanol as a hydrogen carrier and of proton-exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells for efficient energy production. PEMs are one of the most promising fuel cell technologies.

Prof John Loughhead, executive director of the UK Energy Research Centre, said the study was "a very interesting step, and could lead us to much easier and better performance systems for... storage and transport".

But he said that it would "need further development before we can say with certainty".

Prof Loughhead explained: "As methanol contains 12.6% hydrogen by weight, and is a liquid transportable like petrol, this promises to considerably out-perform other... storage systems which typically contain 4% by weight of hydrogen."

He added: "There are issues to resolve to get this into practical service, such as how long does the reaction take, can it respond to changing need, what control and containment systems will be needed, will buffer stores of pure hydrogen be needed, and thus how large, weighty, and expensive would a practical system be?"

More rubbish needed
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Sweden, birthplace of the Smörgåsbord, Eric Northman, and the world’s preferred solar-powered purveyor of flat-pack home furnishings, is in a bit of a pickle: the squeaky clean Scandinavian nation of more than 9.5 million has run out of garbage. The landfills have been tapped dry; the rubbish reserves depleted. And although this may seem like a positive — even enviable — predicament for a country to be facing, Sweden has been forced to import trash from neighboring countries, namely Norway. Yep, Sweden is so trash-strapped that officials are shipping it in — 80,000 tons of refuse annually, to be exact — from elsewhere.
You see, Swedes are big on recycling. So big in fact that only 4 percent of all waste generated in the country is landfilled.
Good for them! However, the population's remarkably pertinacious recycling habits are also a bit of a problem given that the country relies on waste to heat and to provide electricity to hundreds of thousands of homes through a longstanding waste-to-energy incineration program. So with citizens simply not generating enough burnable waste to power the incinerators, the country has been forced to look elsewhere for fuel. Says Catarina Ostlund, a senior advisor for the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency: “We have more capacity than the production of waste in Sweden and that is usable for incineration.”
Public Radio International has the whole story (hat tip to Ariel Schwartz at Co.Exist), a story that may seem implausible in a country like garbage-bloated America where overflowing landfills are anything but scarce.
As mentioned, the solution — a short-term one, according to Ostlund — has been to import (well, kind of import) waste from Norway. It’s kind of a great deal for the Swedes: Norway pays Sweden to take its excess waste, Sweden burns it for heat and electricity, and the ashes remaining from the incineration process, filled with highly polluting dioxins, are returned back to Norway and landfilled.
Ostlund suggests that Norway might not be the perfect partner for a trash import-export scheme, however. “I hope that we instead will get the waste from Italy or from Romania or Bulgaria or the Baltic countries because they landfill a lot in these countries," she tells PRI. "They don’t have any incineration plants or recycling plants, so they need to find a solution for their waste."
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