China to move ahead on 'combustible ice'

Updated: 2010-03-07 11:19
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BEIJING - China's western Qinghai province, containing major deposits of the country's "combustible ice," will see increased explorations for this emerging clean energy, Provincial Governor Luo Huining said on Saturday.

The plateau province plans to allow large energy companies along with researchers to tap this new source of energy while minimizing environmental threats, Luo said on the sidelines of the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature.

"Combustible ice," or natural gas hydrate, is mainly found in deep seas and atop plateaus. Approximately one cubic meter of "combustible ice" equals 164 cubic meters of regular natural gas.

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At a time of energy bottlenecks, the new energy resource has drawn interest from many countries. Additional attention has focused on the "ice" having a low proportion of impurities, resulting in it generating almost no pollutants when burned.

More than 100 countries around the world have found deposits of "combustible ice." The deposits in Qinghai province, home to one-quarter of China's total reserve on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, were discovered in September 2009.

"Combustible ice" reserves on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau are estimated to equal at least 35 billion tons of oil, which could supply energy to China for 90 years.

Luo said tapping this new energy resource should be given high priority in China's energy strategy.

Premier Wen Jiabao said, in his government work report on Friday, that China would work hard to develop low-carbon technologies, as well as new and renewable energy resources to actively respond to concerns about climate change.

"Qinghai has just started the exploration," Luo said. "The key problem is that we still do not have the correct technologies."

Luo expressed his hope that researchers could find  excavation techniques to avoid damaging the ecological system while extracting the "combustible ice."

Scientists noted that mining of the "ice" could cause geological disasters, such as slumping. Also, the release of large amounts of methane gas could further aggravate global warming.

Zhang Hongtao, chief engineer at the Ministry of Land and Resources, said China could begin using its "combustible ice" within 10 to 15 years.

"The biggest challenge is to protect the ecological system and bio-diversity," Zhang said.

Qiao Zhengxiao, also an NPC deputy, said China still lags behind some countries in terms of technology and equipment for exploring "combustible ice."

Countries including the United States and Japan have major plans to tap "ice" discovered within their own territories. Also, the Republic of Korea recently announced a program to invest $37 million to drill for "ice" discovered along its eastern coast beginning in April.