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Energy Department solicits research into methane hydrates, or 'frozen gas,' as energy source

| Sunday, April 13, 2014, 5:33 p.m.

ANCHORAGE — The Department of Energy is soliciting for another round of research into methane hydrates, the potentially huge energy source of “frozen gas” that could step in for shortages of other fossil fuels.

The department is looking for research projects on the North Slope of Alaska that could explore how to economically extract the gas locked in ice far below the Earth's surface.

DOE is seeking researchers to document methane hydrate deposits in outer continental shelf waters of coastal states.

The DOE anticipates federal funding of $20 million over two years that could be leveraged into research costing $80 million, according to its “funding opportunity announcement.” The department could award money for both methane hydrate extraction research and for documentation or just one of those two research areas, according to the announcement.

A spokeswoman for the DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory, Shelley Martin, said the department could not comment on funding opportunities while they are open.

Methane is the main ingredient of natural gas. It comes from buried organic matter after it's ingested by bacteria or heated and cooked. The gas migrates upward, under high pressure and low temperature, and can combine with water to form methane hydrate.

The Department of Energy calls methane a clean-burning fuel and an important bridge to a time when non-carbon sources will supply more of the nation's energy supply. Since no one has figured out the extraction puzzle, it's uncertain exactly how it could be used.

Critics say burning methane will exacerbate the world's greenhouse gas problem and contribute to warming. Unburned methane released into the atmosphere is 20 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2 but not as long-lived.

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