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Earth Power Technology

China To Tap Combustible Ice As New Energy Source 185

Posted by timothy
from the undra-the-tundra dept.
lilbridge writes "Huge reserves of "combustible ice" — frozen methane and water — have been discovered in the tundra of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in China. Estimates show that there is enough combustible ice to provide 90 years worth of energy for China. Burning the combustible ice may be a far better alternative than letting it just melt, releasing tons of methane into the air."
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China To Tap Combustible Ice As New Energy Source

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  • by thijsh (910751)
    Yeah, when hell freezes over...
  • by Phrogman (80473) on Friday March 12, 2010 @07:09AM (#31450196) Homepage

    90 Years worth of energy for the nation with the largest population in the world seems like sufficient cause for China to claim that Tibet is part of China and always has been etc, despite the fact that it has been independant for much of its history (although its also been occupied by one power or another for much of the rest of that history of course).

    If Tibet had its independence this would be a terrific resource for the country to take advantage of in modernizing itself. As it stands I am sure it will be used for Chinese benefit and not Tibetan.

    • by jonadab (583620) on Friday March 12, 2010 @08:23AM (#31450686) Homepage Journal
      No, you don't understand Chinese thinking.

      The combustible ice is merely a practical concern. As such, it's basically unimportant compared to the extremely vital matter of Never Losing Face Ever, which is probably the single most important core value in far-eastern culture. Not losing face is more important than life itself and *far* more important than minor things like a few petawatt-hours of energy.

      You have to understand, if Tibet hadn't always been part of China, that would imply that the "liberation" of Tibet in the mid-twentieth century was an aggressive action, not a peaceful one, and that the PROC government acted in bad faith (especially as regards the Seventeen Point thing). Admitting such a thing would be an unfathomable loss of face and an unconscionable disgrace to every Chinese person. It would be better for the entire nation to commit ritual suicide than to allow such a thing to be said.
      • by ljgshkg (1223086) on Friday March 12, 2010 @11:58AM (#31453096)
        Tibet became a province of China for a few hundred years. A hundred years ago, the people who destroyed the last dynasty of China and united the nation (the Nationalist Party which is the current ruling party of Taiwan, the Communist Party, and a bunch of democratic parties currently in mainland China) originally wanted to take the 18 original-Chinese provinces back from Manchu people (the ruling civilization of China's last dynasty), excluding Tibet etc.

        That's originally. But if you know Chinese history, China breaks up into some 2 to 10+ countries every 250-400 years after its first unity. And the final goal and hope of every scholar and power are to unite the country. In those countries, many are formed by non-Chinese civilizations, and somehow, they also share the same goal, unite China, including themselves. Now back to modern history. When Republic of China was still fighting to unite the country, Tibet decided to join Republic of China. It break away again when the communist party come in power. But being in China for a few hundred years, most Chinese already see it as part of the country (and China have a lot of civilizations living in their own place within China all the time, so we're also used to that). So basically, the communist party and even Republic of China see it as part of the country. It's more like "unite the country" instead of "invade it". Note that Republic of China (Taiwan) does not recognize the independence of Mongolia until a few years ago, under the very same reasoning, and many Chinese people who know how the history is still very angry about that. Because Chinese already see the Qing Dynasty area as "China". And the rule of Chinese based culture is, a country always have a chance to break up, but must finally be united.

        Anyway, the "liberation" (in Communist term) of Tibet had never been and will never be see as "invading" in China, so I don't think we'll ever see that as "lose face". It's never in Chinese question. Also, it IS a peaceful action. In fact, a very peaceful one. How did the government of the then Tibet and Dalai Lama remained safe after the communist's conquer? Because they were just forced out of the palace and power but were not hurt. It was a war to unite another piece of land in Chinese view, and this is probably as peaceful as it could have been.

        No, I'm not communist. No I'm not from mainland. But I know the common Chinese view better than you. Don't use western view when trying to interpret other culture's history. It simply doesn't work because people don't think the same way as you.
        • Don't use western view when trying to interpret other culture's history. It simply doesn't work because people don't think the same way as you.

          The view you described is not in any way unique to your culture - almost every empire in history used the pretext of "taking back what was taken from us", "re-unifying ancient ancestral lands" etc to justify its land grabs.

          USSR was a very typical example of that - e.g. the 1939 invasion of Poland is known as "liberation of western Ukraine and western Belarus" in Soviet historiography - and there are similar sentiments in Russia today.

        • Thanks for the interesting explanation. Unfortunately for China, in the West we see the People's Republic of China as invaders who are viciously oppressing the people of Tibet against their will. I imagine none of us give Mongolia a second's thought mind you.
          The differing attitudes between whats accepted as the truth in the PRC, and what we see as the truth in the west is going to continue to cause friction in cases like this.
          The same thing is true with regards to Taiwan. I think that the US and the PRC wil

    • No, you see. Tibet had all that explosive ice -- essentially weapons of mass destruction. And this threatened China, who didn't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud. So Shock and Awe was the only answer, an invasion that would only last a few weeks, and be paid for with the oil.

      Oh Sorry, were we talking about CHINA? I'm sure the Chinese feel that what happened to Tibet was fo their own good, just as most Americans think what happened in Iraq was for their own good. Amazing how propaganda can influenc

      • by operagost (62405)
        This is a particularly stupid OT troll, but I'd like to point out that no one is saying that 99% of Americans don't want health care reform. No one has even said that 99% of Americans oppose this health care bill. However, the majority of Americans do oppose the bill, yet want some other reform to lower costs.
      • The essence of the word reform is "to make better". The current legislation demonstrably makes thing much, much worse. Hence the current legislation is not reform.
  • So when was the concentration of methane in the atmosphere so high it caused this?

    • by bsDaemon (87307)
      Animals used to be bigger, thus bigger farts. duh!
    • by Eternauta3k (680157) on Friday March 12, 2010 @08:05AM (#31450552) Homepage Journal
      From wp [wikipedia.org]:

      Methane hydrates are believed to form by migration of gas from depth along geological faults, followed by precipitation, or crystallization, on contact of the rising gas stream with cold sea water

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jonadab (583620)
      > So when was the concentration of methane in the atmosphere so high it caused this?

      There may be other ways it could have happened.

      Just for example, if an insulative ice cap formed overtop a mass of biomatter (say, a bog) that was otherwise still warm enough to decompose, possibly with some water in between, you could end up with a mixture of methane and water ice forming below the ice cap as the whole thing cooled. A few thousand years later, melt off the top layer of ice, and you've got combustible ic
    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      It wasn't atmospheric methane that got sequestered this way, it was methane produced by decaying organic matter on the bottom of the ocean, then forced into a precipitate by low temperature and high pressure. Do you think oil deposits came from atmospheric hydrocarbons too?
  • by deboli (199358) on Friday March 12, 2010 @07:24AM (#31450270) Homepage

    While there are mostly advantages in using this as a fuel, it might be an ecologic disaster to strip-mine the tundra. The Tibet - Qinghai Plateau is between 3 and 4,000 m above sea level and the climate is harsh. Areas that have been strip mined will recover slowly and the little soil that was there and allowed the tundra to grow will be removed, leaving only rocks and sands behind. It might take centuries to recover and will make life for the nomadic herders and the indigenous animals (many of them endangered) difficult if not impossible.

  • Over a decade ago ago when first heard of using frozen undersea methane deposits as a fuel source they were referred to as Methane Hydrate. Now, almost everywhere refers to them as Methane Clathrates. Why the change?
  • Correct me if I'm wrong but If the CO2 is liberated twenty times faster (or more) than the methane would be liberated naturally, then there is not a win-win...
  • Another world (Score:3, Interesting)

    by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Friday March 12, 2010 @07:35AM (#31450326) Homepage
    The Tibetan Plateau [wikipedia.org]:

    It occupies an area of around 1,000 by 2,500 kilometers, and has an average elevation of over 4,500 meters.

    The plateau is a high-altitude arid steppe interspersed with mountain ranges and large brackish lakes. Annual precipitation ranges from 100 mm to 300 mm and falls mainly as hailstorms. The southern and eastern edges of the steppe have grasslands which can sustainably support populations of nomadic herdsmen, although frost occurs for six months of the year. Permafrost occurs over extensive parts of the plateau. Proceeding to the north and northwest, the plateau becomes progressively higher, colder and drier, until reaching the remote Changthang region in the northwestern part of the plateau. Here the average altitude exceeds 5,000 meters (16,500 feet) and year-round temperatures average -4C, dipping to -40C in winter. As a result of this extremely inhospitable environment, the Changthang region (together with the adjoining Kekexili region) is the least populated region in Asia, and the third least populated area in the world after Antarctica and northern Greenland.

    Wow, a Class L planet.

  • by wisebabo (638845) on Friday March 12, 2010 @07:44AM (#31450388) Journal

    People who follow my many rantings, I mean posts on Slashdot will not be surprised to know I am very happy that this seems to be a win-win scenario for reducing the amount of methane getting into the atmosphere, something I've been VERY concerned about (http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=1572576&cid=31371302&art_pos=7).

    Unfortunately I am afraid that this may be another excuse for China to subjugate the Tibetan people. While Chinese apologists may claim they are lifting them out of feudal poverty, I would think that is a choice that the Tibetan people should make for themselves. (Even though Americans and Europeans used "the White Man's burden" as an excuse for their colonial actions, that didn't make them right). The Dalai Lama has claimed many times that he only wants CULTURAL autonomy for Tibet, unfortunately it appears as if this is one thing the Chinese don't want; they want to make it another "Han" province. So they claim, the Dalai Lama really wants full independence despite the fact he has never advocated that and has, in fact, welcomed Chinese control over and development of Tibet.

    Being from Korea, a country that narrowly escaped having it's own cultural identity from being stamped out by colonial Japan makes me sensitive to Tibet's plight. My parent's were forced to learn Japanese, have Japanese names and were forbidden to learn Korean or Korean customs. (This is in addition to many documented atrocities like "sex slaves".). For almost fifty years the Japanese occupied Korea, only their defeat in WWII prevented them from succeeding in this cultural genocide. (I'm sure the Japanese said they were "civilizing" Korea). Unfortunately I doubt the U.S. or anyone else is going to come to Tibet's rescue; well at least if the Chinese are going to ravage Tibet, they might help save the environment. So let us acknowledge and shed a tear for Tibet's sacrifice for all mankind.

    While we're on the subject of China, here's an (outlandish) prediction. In twenty years they will have become the most powerful country in the world; they should just be passing the GDP of the U.S. and will have a population of about 1.5 billion (India will be the same size but much poorer). In the meantime, Russia's population should have FALLEN to less than a tenth of China's or about 125 million (or about the same number of excess males in China!). So, what about the Chinese making Russia a "deal", we'll buy eastern Siberia from you or, if you refuse our entirely reasonable price we'll just take it with our vastly more powerful military. Sure we might have a little nasty nuclear war but we'll survive (especially if we've developed effective missile defenses) and believe me you won't survive OUR attack. Remember, we have lots of cannon fodder, I mean conscripts who we can make die, I mean are willing to die for our country!

    Now eastern Siberia might not sound like much but, in twenty years with global warming, it could be a pretty "hot" property (sorry). With it's vast land area right next door to China proper and huge amounts of untapped natural resources it'll be just the thing they want. If they've figured out how to harvest methane from the thawing tundra for energy generation well, more "power" to them (sorry!).

    [On the other hand, if China and Russia went to war, (or were "tricked" into it by some other meddling superpower) it would QUICKLY solve the population problem as well as probably rid the earth of some excess heat due to Nuclear Winter!]

    • "and will have a population of about 1.5 billion"

      I thought I remember reading projections somewhere, which indicate that China's population is soon supposed to begin a pretty rapid decline, due to several decades of 'birth control' measures imposed by the government? Contributing even further to that, I had heard that there is a large imbalance in the population ratio between males and females, because, since parents were limited to one child, many of them chose to abort girls and 'try again' until they had

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by euyis (1521257)
        Yes.

        And even funnier such strict controls on birth are not applied on other ethnic groups - for example, Tibetans.
        Now, someone please tell me how do we (yes I'm ethnic Han) colonize some inhospitable place while the Han population is rapidly aging and declining?
        And who wants to move to somewhere that is cold, inhospitable, underdeveloped and filled with relatively unfriendly people?
        • by Tickety-boo (1206428) on Friday March 12, 2010 @09:14AM (#31451168)

          And who wants to move to somewhere that is cold, inhospitable, underdeveloped and filled with relatively unfriendly people?

          Leave Quebec out of this.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by wisebabo (638845)

          To answer the parent post: Yes, China's population WILL decline but it is still coasting upwards (all the people who were born before the "1 child" policy have yet to die). It is going to peak at about 1.5 billion around 2020 (and India's population will go soaring by it. Poor India). I did a little population research using (our friend) Mr. Google, if you doubt me it's your turn.

          Next, you are right, China will *then* rapidly age unless they remove/have removed the "1 child" policy. Of course the techno

      • Thing is: An expanding empire's population never declines. At least not until it stops expanding...
    • You said: "well at least if the Chinese are going to ravage Tibet, they might help save the environment. So let us acknowledge and shed a tear for Tibet's sacrifice for all mankind." Honestly, the first sentence should be in the past tense. Have you ever been there? Monasteries which held 10,000 monks reduced to 6. Yes, 6. Most other monasteries obliterated entirely. Massive Han Chinese "settlement" in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa means it is barely Tibetan anymore. Breaks on the limit on number of children
    • ...but this is one of many possibilities 20 years from now, and probably not a likely one.
      • by wisebabo (638845)

        Yeah, but remember 1) the absolutely gigantic amounts of MONEY the chinese will have at that point 2) the impressive military they will have accumulated (which will make everyone take them seriously) 3) their 1.5 Billion people who will each want to have a nice house with a white picket fence 4) their 100+ Million surplus of males in the prime of their lives (which will make them want to start wars, tame wilderness or maybe conquer space!).

        Match that with 1) declining Russian populations 2) declining Ru

    • by Reziac (43301) *

      This isn't something I'd considered before, but I think you are right about Siberia's future. How is today's defanged Russia going to defend those thousands of miles of open nothing-much? Nukes aimed at Beijing are probably their only real option (not exactly a quality outcome). The only realtime defense is that tundra becomes largely-impassable bog in summer, except by air, so on the ground it would be a winter war (and we all know how well THAT goes for invaders in Russia). As I understand it, the resourc

  • If there's enough of that stuff to power China for 90 years, I don't think tons of methane will do. Millions of even billions of tons of methane would be more like it.

    • Actually, since it's in China, they probably only have grams of it. Mg, Tg, Pg, perhaps, but grams nonetheless. Though I suppose they could be talking about metric tonnes, which would also be true.

      I do generally agree that it would be nice if they could get the estimate to within three orders of magnitude in the headline.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jonadab (583620)
      In English, the word "tons", without a numeric qualifier, does not refer to a specific amount. It just means "lots and lots". See also "trainloads", "a bargeload", "a buttload", "a metric ton", "a metric buttload", "a passel", "a whole passel", etc. These aren't specific literal amounts. They're just emphatic ways to say "a lot".

      Now, if we say "thirty tons", then that is a specific amount (thirty times two thousand pounds). Similarly, "three metric tons" is a specific amount. The number makes it liter
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Tim C (15259)

        In case anyone thinks he's joking, he's not [cambridge.org]. "Tons" means lots in the UK. (Though personally, I like "shedloads" or "shitloads" more)

  • Welcome our Chinese Ice Burning Overlords!

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "That's funny ..." -- Isaac Asimov

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