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Methane Hydrate Development in Japan


Half the carbon dioxide emission levels of petroleum or coal on combustion

One of the most promising candidates for an efficient natural resource to help in the fight against global climate change is available in large quantities under Japan’s territorial waters.
Methane hydrate—or burnable ice, as it is sometimes called—is found as crystalline solids, comprising a cage of water molecules, inside which a methane gas molecular is located.

Burning this methane gas produces energy. From around 1m³ of methane hydrate, approximately 150–170m³ of methane gas can be generated. Methane gas, in turn, has a much higher combustion efficiency than natural gases. Herein lies the key to the scale and efficiency of the energy we can glean from methane hydrate.

Methane hydrate is found mostly in sea beds where pressure is high and temperature low. Generally, it is found in large quantities in continental sloops facing ocean trenches. The Japanese archipelago is surrounded by such sloops, and as such is a rich source of methane hydrate. Estimates put the amount of methane hydrate available in the oceans surrounding Japan the equivalent, in energy terms, of one hundred years’ worth of natural gas consumption at present levels.

If the development of methane hydrate as a commercially viable natural resource continues along its current, promising, trajectory, then resources-less Japan will have found itself a bounty. Moreover, since the technology required to generate practically-usable methane gas from methane hydrate deep under seas is extremely high-level, Japan may also be able to export the technology it develops to exploit its natural methane hydrate reserves.