A Taiwanese research team has discovered "methane ice" in the southwest Taiwan waters for the first time ever. For now, there are two issues. First, mining technology for natural gas hydrates is not sufficient yet. Next, how to recover the methane ice with minimum impacts to eco-system and environment is important. Nevertheless, the newly extracted energy source is very exciting.
After 15 years of exploring and drilling, at around 3am on June 21, 2018, in offshore Southwest Taiwan, the united exploration team from Taiwan and France drilled and found natural gas hydrates (aka methane ice) for the first time ever. It has great potential for self-energy generation in Taiwan.
Professor Jing-Yi Lin from National Central University (NCU) led the "Seabed Stability Investigation Program from Potential Gas Hydrate Area in Offshore Southwest Taiwan" (subsidized by Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST)), in the Geothermal and Gas Hydrate Focus Center, under the Taiwan National Energy Program-Phase II (NEP-II).
The research team invited French marine research vessel Marion Dufresne to Taiwan for the three following goals. First, to collect long cores of natural gas hydrates from high priority drilling sites in offshore Southwest Taiwan. Second, to evaluate seafloor stability by sampling the cores. Third, to use the samples for the sediments' study of physical and geotechnical properties, and for recording reconstructions of ancient sediments’ collapses.
This voyage is coded EAGER. EAGER stands for Extreme events Archived in Geological Records. The entire research team consists of scientists from National Central University, the Central Geological Survey (CGS), National Taiwan University, Taiwan Ocean Research Institute (TORI), National Sun Yat-sen University, and National Tsing Hua University. Speaking of planning and carrying out the project, the team collaborates with scientists from France.
The jointed research team set off from Keelung on June 5. The first thing they did was to drill the turbidite terrane layers in the offshore East Taiwan, in order to conduct researches for relations between these layers and ancient earthquakes. Then the team arrived at offshore Southwest Taiwan on June 20.
In predawn hours on June 21, on a small submarine ridge (1,200 meters below sea level), near 22 degrees north latitude and 120 degrees east longitude, the team drilled for 25 meters long core and the corer was raised to the ship deck. Dr. Pai-Sen Yu from TORI opened the core sampler (locating in the end of piston corer). The clathrate form of natural gas hydrates was suddenly revealed. It was 3:52am on June 21.
After NEP-I and NEP-II, the MOST- and Ministry of Economic Affairs's CGS-subsidized-project results pointed out that there are great potential volume of natural gas hydrates in the offshore Southwest Taiwan.
This voyage's leader of Taiwanese team, Professor Shu-Kun Hsu from Department of Earth Sciences from NCU expressed that the finding above was expected, but was also a very amazing discovery. Dr. Hsu quoted his department's colleague Professor Andrew Tien-Shun Lin's evaluation: according to the past 19 years of geophysics and geochemistry researches in offshore Southwest Taiwan, with geological models and sedimentary models, this area's natural gas hydrates potential volume is estimated to be very huge.
Around 4 am on June 21, all the scientists on Marion Durfresne gathered on the narrow pathway outside of the marine laboratory, so as to watch the newly discovered ice crystals. The chief scientist, Dr. Shu-Kun Hsu ignited the dissociating natural gas hydrates with a lighter. The ice crystals released CH₄, and the CH₄ was burning with red fire. This fire illuminated Taiwanese new energy's future.
Then scientists were still doing their research missions on the sea. After the voyage was over, NEP-II office held a press conference in TORI on June 27. In the press conference, this office introduced the results of joint effort between Taiwan and France marine science researches, and the research outcomes of Taiwanese marine science community.
(Source: MOST; Photo credit: By Wusel007 (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)