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New energy source found in tundras
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China has confirmed the existence of gas hydrates, a potential energy resource, in western China tundras, becoming the world's third country to confirm its finding after United States and Canada.

The hydrates were found in the permanently frozen subsoil to the south of Qilian Mountain in Qinghai province.

Zhang Hongtao, chief engineer from the Ministry of Land and Resources, said on Friday that workers have successfully collected gas hydrate samples containing methane, ethane and carbon dioxide.

But commercial extraction is likely 10 to 15 years away as techniques to tap the gas are still under development, Zhang said.

China is the third largest country in the world in total permafrost area, with about 2.15 million square meters of permafrost. The potential gas hydrates in China's permafrost is equal to at least 35 billion tons of oil, scientists have estimated.

Gas hydrate, also called "flammable ice," is almost pure methane mixed with water turned to ice by low temperatures and high pressures in permafrost or under the sea. Gas hydrates exist in vast quantities around the world but so far isn't producible as an energy resource.

One cu m of gas hydrate could release at least 164 cu m of gas.

Hydrate formations exist under hundreds of meters of deep water in places like the Gulf of Mexico and closer to the surface in permafrost areas of the Arctic.

Chinese government officials said earlier in the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10) that more investments will be made in developing alternative energy resources including biomass fuel and liquefied coal like gas hydrate. China began its research on gas hydrate projects in the sea and permafrost in 1999. Chinese and German geologists worked together in 2004 in efforts to detect gas hydrates.

In May 2007, gas hydrate reserves equaling about 18.5 billion tons of oil was found on the north continental slope of the South China Sea, making China the fourth country in the world to detect the resource under sea.

The development of the new energy is expected to ease the country's dependence on oil and coal, Zhang said.

The Energy Development Report of China 2009 predicted that by 2020, nearly 65 percent of the oil consumed in China will have to be imported.

China aims to more than double its annual natural gas output to 160 billion cu m by 2015 and produce about 6 billion tons of oil in the next three decades or 200 million tons a year, the ministry said early this year.

(China Daily September 27, 2009)

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