Can Methane be Part of the Solution?

Clarification and a partial solution to the energy crisis, global climate, world hunger, western and national security issues

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
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  • Methane is many times worse a threat, as a greenhouse gas, for radical abrupt disruptive global climate change, than is carbon dioxide.
  • Methane is already erupting, from our exposed melting permafrost lands in the Arctic, exposed by our Albedo Driver — and from lake bottoms and from the bottoms of our shallower seas (which warm faster than do the deeper parts of the ocean).
  • Methane is accumulated and poised, in hugely massive quantities, to erupt from our oceans as they warm, in a truly runaway greenhouse-effect chain reaction. Some scientists claim — and I haven’t yet been able to sort the good science from the not-so-good on this particular topic — that similar eruptions were what fried the planet on similar sudden-heat-up spike occasions many millions of years ago.
  • Methane ice litters the floor of every ocean, in quantities sufficient to provide the energy needs of the whole of civilization for centuries. Even just the Gulf of Mexico by itself:  enough methane ice lies on the bottom of the Gulf to power the American economy for centuries.

Does anyone get the sense that part of the problem might also be made into part of the solution?

Only part. Methane when burned does release, in addition to water vapor, carbon dioxide. IF — and that is a big ‘if’ — human affairs have already released enough CO2 into our atmosphere to measurably accelerate global warming, then switching civilization’s fuels from gasoline and coal to methane isn’t going to fix that part of the global warming problem. BUT:

Switching from oil and coal to methane would —

  • Use up some of the methane that would otherwise be going into the atmosphere to make matters much worse than they are, heading off that hugely major part of the problem.
  • Burn much cleaner than our present fuels.
  • End acid rain.
  • Allow us to grow corn as food again instead of as fuel ethanol, improving the world hunger situation.
  • Enable practically every civilized nation on Earth to tend its own energy needs instead of depending upon a few harshly authoritarian and notably unstable foreign countries for their survival requirements.
  • No more oil wars!!!!!!!

America could tend its national security needs and interests right offshore, instead of depending, ever so nicely, on Iraq, Iran, the Saudis, etc. Europe could pursue trade to its east more on an equal-partners basis. China could stop poisoning itself and others.

The partial solution doesn’t have to be inaugurated in the United States, so it doesn’t have to wait until January ‘09 to happen. Corporations, consortiums, foundations, states, any civilized nation, can put up major prizes for the necessary technologies, while states and nations or even provinces anywhere can put up major tax inducements for development and implementation of the technologies needed….

What technologies needed? We can gather methane now, whether from sea bottoms, lake beds, swamps, or melting permafrost. We’ve just not had occasion before to be very efficient at it. That — efficiency — and large-scale volume would be what the prizes and tax incentives would be mainly aimed at. Also, we’ve run engines on methane before — again, we’ve just not had much occasion to be efficient at it. That efficiency — and specific targets like coal-fired power plants, not only automobile engines — would be where the prizes and tax incentives would aim.

The proposed partial solution would also be only partial in another sense of that word. If we had the entire economy sucking away at methane the way it is at our vanishing oil reserves today, only part of the methane would go into that use instead of escaping into the atmosphere to heat the Earth. But it would at least be a part, heading off some of that heating effect.

And to improve on this aspect of the matter, a lot of the initial prizes and tax incentives could focus on the gathering of methane from where it is now exposed — marshes, lake bottoms, melting permafrost, and the shallowest seas where the warming is happening first in the oceans. Later we could then focus also on harvesting methane more economically from the bottoms of the deeper oceans, but initially we need to capture first what’s leaking into our atmosphere now.

Are “we” capable of enough clarity to figure this thing out?

Even though human survival may ultimately depend upon our making sensible decisions and choices now or in the very near future, perhaps no topic or issue has ever been so muddied, so politicized, so polarized, nor so obscured by conflicting claims and aspersions. Ad hominems strew the ground thickly enough you could walk on them from here to New Jersey without touching Earth. Anger burns from the tops of commentators and politicians and thought-refineries much like flares from many square miles of oil refineries, and what wafts away from those flares doesn’t improve the situation.

Fortunately, it doesn’t require all of us, working coolly and calmly together in some sort of wise consensus, to make useful things happen. Even individual corporations, wherever situated, or individual foundations, to say nothing of consortia created for the purpose; national governments other than America before ‘09, state and provincial governments, even county governments, for Pete’s sake!, can put up prizes to get us rolling on the technology.

The time for consensus and large-scale action is after the technology has emerged and it has become clearer what our options are.

Many county governments throughout the USA have extended special inducements, usually through taxes, to get corporations and their tax dollars to settle into those counties — preferably into industrial parks set aside for the purpose. This has been effective and productive, in thousands of instances. What if —

What if numerous counties, corporations and foundations were, without the contention of getting support from higher levels of government and larger bodies politic, to form consortia and/or mixed public and private corporations which would —

  1. Put up prizes for the most-needed methane technology,
  2. In return for a piece of the action on whatever developed on those various inventions after the prizes were awarded,
  3. While forming a vested interest in support of the advancement and development of the technology in question?

That’s just one of many possible ways to enable initially lesser groups and interests to start the needed technology advancing. Once the inventions were made and the initial prizes awarded, our options on this topic would be much clearer, one of which could very well be that of a whole-scale conversion of our economy (and/or that of other countries and regions) from petroleum and coal to methane.

If the above discussion makes sense to you — and you can check all the facts on methane which were cited — please pass this along to others. It’s not going to happen by itself. People have to know about this option before they can do anything about it.

“Japan cracks seabed ‘ice gas’ in dramatic leap for
global energy”

Three cheers for Japan! If their new technology pans out as an economical and safe way to extract methane ice from our warming seabeds before it escapes as gas into our atmosphere to cook the planet, this not only helps our global climate situation enormously, but solves our energy needs worldwide for thousands of years.

The Telegraph

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