UT gets huge grant to study potential game-changing global energy source

Oct 23, 2014
Austin Business Journal

Researchers at the University of Texas have received a $58 million grant to study a new source of energy that could provide roughly 250 years' worth of gas at present worldwide consumption rates

The grant, announced Tuesday by university officials, is one of the largest the school has ever received. It focuses on research surrounding methane hydrate, a form of methane created at low temperatures and high pressures and found underneath the seabed and below the Arctic permafrost

The grant comprises $41.2 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, with the balance being provided by industry and research partners

In its physical form, methane hydrate resembles white, powdery ice. But it's also flammable. Described in a video provided by UT, seen below this article, methane hydrate is essentially methane molecules trapped within a lattice of water molecules

The research is being conducted by UT's Institute for Geophysics at the Jackson School of Geosciences, and includes researches from Ohio State University, Columbia University, the Consortium for Ocean Leadership and the U.S. Geological Survey

UT's research will be focused on obtaining methane hydrate samples from the Gulf of Mexico, which could hold as much as 7,000 trillion cubic feet of methane in the sandy seafloor

For perspective, that's more than 250 times the amount of natural gas deposits in the United States as of 2013, according to university officials

So far, however, methane hydrate has been extremely difficult to harvest. Formed under high pressure, the methane evaporates as those pressures decrease or temperatures increase

"The technique is like taking a specimen inside a pressure cooker from thousands of feet below sea level, and bringing it to the surface without ever depressurizing the pressure cooker," said Carlos Santamarina, a methane hydrate expert working at the Georgia Institute of Technology

Researchers, in the face of technical challenges posed to extract and produce energy from natural methane hydrate reserves, compared it to the state of shale oil extraction in decades past

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