China Has A Plan To Harvest Flammable Ice From The Ocean

China is set to unveil its most advanced ocean-drilling ship, the Meng Xiang, in a groundbreaking mission to harvest energy-rich “flammable ice” from the ocean bed. This crystalline solid, known as gas hydrate, holds immense potential as a commercially viable energy source, although concerns about its environmental impact persist.

Gas hydrate, a solid resembling ice, forms under intense pressure and contains significant amounts of methane. With the Meng Xiang drillship capable of reaching depths of 11,000 meters, it outperforms the ocean’s deepest point in the Mariana Trench by a slight margin. The ship’s primary objective is to extract gas hydrate, a substance found scattered across large areas of the sea floor.

China’s interest in flammable ice has intensified since a successful 60-day trial extraction in 2017 and a promising trial in 2020. The South China Sea is believed to house significant reserves, sparking geopolitical tensions due to disputed sovereignty claims over the region.

While gas hydrate is considered a potential future fuel due to its abundance and energy intensity, environmental concerns have been raised. One cubic meter of gas hydrate releases 164 cubic meters of conventional natural gas, making it a potent energy source. However, the extraction process, if not conducted with advanced mining technologies, could lead to greenhouse gas leaks and increased ocean acidity, threatening marine life.

The Meng Xiang drillship is equipped with a state-of-the-art laboratory spanning 300 square meters, featuring nine sections dedicated to various scientific studies, including marine science, microorganisms, and magnetic fields in rocks. Boasting a gross tonnage of about 33,000 and an endurance of 15,000 nautical miles, the vessel was constructed under the Ministry of Natural Resources’ leadership, involving over 150 companies and institutions.

China, as the world’s largest oil and gas importer, is strategically positioning itself to enhance its maritime prowess through ventures like the Meng Xiang drillship. As the ship prepares for its mission, the world watches closely, balancing the potential benefits of flammable ice with the environmental risks associated with its extraction.

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