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  • For decades, the fear of running out of oil  was one of the most recurrent forecasts and  

  • at the same time the one that generated the  most headlines, alarm and controversy. It was  

  • even a course subject or, at least, a  warning, even in schools. Do you remember?  

  • Perhaps this was largely because the  availability of usable energy sources in the past  

  • was much more limited than it is today. So much so that, as the bad omens were  

  • never fulfilled, the prophecies were  postponed again and again and again.  

  • One day the long-awaited end  of oil would be upon us!  

  • ("The world will run out of oil in 10  years." – U.S. Bureau of Mines, in 1914)  

  • ("The world will run out of oil in 13  years." – U.S. Department of the Interior,  

  • in 1939 and 1950) ("The world will run  

  • out of oil and other fossil fuels by 1990." –  Paul Ehrlich, The Limits to Growth, in 1972)  

  • ("The world will run out of oil in 2030, and  other fossil fuels in 2050." – Paul Ehrlich,  

  • Beyond the Limit (2002)) As you can see, not a single  

  • one nailed it. Of course, what all these  people never took into account was the  

  • technological evolution that human beings  would continue to nurture over the years.  

  • And we are not only talking about oil. The  fear of running out of an abundant energy  

  • source was a constant among journalistsanalysts and experts of all kinds.  

  • In fact, today when we talk about fossil fuelswhat we usually care most about is pollution,  

  • but the truth is that for years it was notquestion of environmental awareness but of fear,  

  • fear of running out of supplies. In any case, the point is that we are  

  • in the 21st century and, with the exception  of nuclear energy, the whole world seems to  

  • be moving towards a future without fossil  fuels. The whole world? No, not the whole  

  • world! Along the lines of Asterix's villagethere is one country populated by unyielding  

  • samurai that is resisting against all odds. In recent years, Japan has gone against the global  

  • trend. Not only has it not reduced its consumption  of fossil fuels, it has actually increased it.  

  • You see, 2011 was something of a turning point for  Japan. The earthquake and the subsequent tsunami  

  • with its devastating effects on the Fukushima  nuclear power plant changed the country's approach  

  • to energy. If up to that point the Japanese had  embraced nuclear power, suddenly things were  

  • different. They wanted to look for alternatives. The Fukushima incident resulted in many of the  

  • country's nuclear reactors being shut down,  a situation that continues to this day.  

  • Obviously all that power had to  be supplied in some other way.

  • Yes, with renewables but also, initiallywith oil and gas, lots and lots of gas

  • So much so that in 2016, primary energy sources  from fossil fuels came to account for more  

  • than 90% of all national consumption, In a country with as few usable natural  

  • resources as Japan, this meant that more  than 80% of its energy needs had to be  

  • covered by imports. Japan is one of the most  energy-dependent countries in the world.  

  • The thing is that it set off all the alarm  bells in Tokyo. And it was not just an  

  • environmental issue, but also and above allstrategic, economic and geopolitical issue.  

  • For a country like Japan to depend entirely on  the supply of fossil fuels of foreign origin  

  • and brought in by ship is a huge risk  to national security. Especially in an  

  • era when Xi Jinping has turned geopolitics  upside down in this region of the world.  

  • For years, Japanese politicians bet on nuclear  energy as the best way to gain autonomy. But  

  • what happens if you no longer want it or can  no longer count on it electorally? Let's just  

  • say that nuclear is not exactly the most  popular energy source in Japan right now.  

  • And precisely for this reason, the Japanese all  threw themselves into the development of renewable  

  • energies as if there were no tomorrowespecially solar energy. But of course,  

  • replacing nuclear energy is a tall order. So the question, the big question on our minds is,  

  • what is the solution that the Japanese have  put on the table? What exactly have they come  

  • up with? Do they have any original ideas?  

  • Well, although one of the theories may surprise  you, one of the solutions to this whole mess is  

  • to become something like the new gas sheiks. Yesto become major producers at all costs. But there  

  • is one problem: they don't have any gas. At least  not what we all know as conventional natural gas.  

  • And right here, at this point, the time has come  to unveil what could become one of Japan's great  

  • strategic gambles: methane hydrate. Have you ever heard of this compound?  

  • I guess most of you haven't, am I wrong? Well... pay attention because we are going  

  • to tell you what it consists of, how you can  take advantage of it and what exactly Japan  

  • has in mind for it. Listen up.  

  • (FLAMMABLE ICE)  

  • Yes, you heard it right. We haven't  gone crazy. There is an "ice" that  

  • if you hold a flame to it, it ignites. It is called methane hydrate and is found  

  • in enormous quantities all over the planetSpecifically under the ocean floor. And,  

  • take note, because it is precisely its location  that makes it one of the most desirable,  

  • but at the same time also one of the  most controversial raw materials.  

  • After all, not only are there unique and  fragile ecosystems on the ocean floor,  

  • but extracting raw materials from  the depths is a risky business.  

  • But to understand the importance of this resourcewe have to put environmental considerations  

  • aside for a moment and focus on its enormous  potential, which I think may surprise you.  

  • Why? Well, methane hydrate is the most  abundant source of carbon on Earth. It  

  • accounts for an estimated one-third of all the  carbon on the planet. And this is a huge deal,  

  • because estimates of global methane hydrate  reserves from the US Department of Energy  

  • suggest that its energy power could exceed  that of all other known fossil fuels.  

  • That is precisely why China is also  testing the extraction of this resource  

  • in the South China Sea. And indeed it is  something that Beijing could be taking into  

  • account when extending its maritime claims. However, we are talking about a compound  

  • that is highly unstable, highly flammable  and particularly sensitive to pressure and  

  • temperature. These characteristics mean  that its extraction is far from being as  

  • simple as traditional mining, that is diggingcollecting and transporting it to the mainland.  

  • So why are we talking about Japan and not other  countries when we refer to this flammable ice?  

  • Well, take a close look at this map for a better  understanding. Each of the green dots refers to  

  • known deposits of methane hydrate in the world. As you can see, the highest known concentration  

  • of this raw material is located  precisely around Japan.  

  • The Japanese coastline is literally dotted with  deposits of this compound. This is largely due  

  • to the confluence of tectonic plates and the  huge sedimentary deposits off its coast.  

  • So it's not so bad! At least there's  something good about being one of the  

  • most seismic-prone areas of the planet! Right?  

  • Well, you see, in this case the trade-off is that  Japan is one of the countries with the largest  

  • reserves of methane hydrate on the planet. To give you an idea, the Japanese government  

  • estimates that there are at least 24.7 trillion  cubic feet, that's 7 trillion cubic meters of  

  • methane hydrate in offshore deposits in  its territory. That could be enough to  

  • meet Japan's entire gas consumption for almost  a century. And there could be much more hydrate

  • Precisely for this reason there is little  doubt that methane hydrate extraction could  

  • guarantee energy supply for a very, very  long time. Obviously not only in Japan.  

  • But... let's take a minute, because it's not  that simple. The problem is that we still don't  

  • know very well how to take advantage of itin particular how to extract and process it.  

  • Well, today there are two ways to do itOne, let's call it conventional, and another,  

  • let's say a little more revolutionarywhich is what Japan is trying to develop.  

  • The traditional way is to extract this resource by  drilling into the seabed at depths of about 3,200  

  • feet, that's around 1,000 meters. Keep in mind  that the deposits are not in the water itself,  

  • but are located several hundred feet below the  seabed, which implies additional complexity  

  • and such high costs that, at presentthis option is not commercially viable.  

  • And then there is the more revolutionary  way, which is what Japan is working on.  

  • Companies like Modec and Mitsubishi  Shipbuilding are developing extraction  

  • vessels that are capable of safely extracting  methane hydrate deposits closer to shore.  

  • This would be done by "puncturing" the seabed  until reaching the reservoir, and letting the  

  • methane hydrate rise to the extractor vesselwhich in turn could rely on other auxiliary  

  • vessels to transport it to shore or even store  it and transform it into methane gas in situ.  

  • Seems simple, doesn't it? Well, the truth is that it is not  

  • at all. The technical complexity comes above allas we mentioned before, because of the instability  

  • of this resource and also because of the risk of  contamination, since, if it is not done properly,  

  • high quantities of methane could be released  into the sea and then into the atmosphere.  

  • And obviously, this is not good either near or  far from the coast, but near is even worse.  

  • What's more, beyond the risks, the  extraction itself is technically  

  • complicated. Let's say that during  the drilling process there is a risk  

  • of sand or anything else entering  the reservoir through the borehole,  

  • and that could destabilize the methane hydrate  to the point of rendering it unusable.  

  • Anyway, that's what they're working on. The goal  is to get gas, gas and more gas, and make it as  

  • cheap as possible for the Japanese. But let's not miss a key detail here:  

  • Japan aspires to become a hydrogen-producing  powerhouse, producing hydrogen precisely  

  • from the gas extracted from methane hydrate  deposits. A kind of "Little Red Henapproach.  

  • And as we covered recently in a video  about hydrogenwhich by the way,  

  • I'll link for you in the description  – the implications could be enormous.  

  • But wait a minute, so long as we are talking  about methane hydrate, what on earth is hydrogen  

  • doing here? Listen up.  

  • (JAPAN'S SPRINGBOARD TO HYDROGEN?) Well, as we told you in the hydrogen video,  

  • this fuel can be produced in several different  ways. The most common is to produce it using coal,  

  • natural gas or, more recentlyrenewable energies as well.  

  • Well, here is the key to Japan's  energy intentions: to extract  

  • methane hydrate and use it to produce hydrogen. To give you an idea, one cubic meter of methane  

  • hydrate can produce approximately 160 cubic meters  of methane gas, which can then also be converted  

  • into hydrogen. In this way, countries with  large methane hydrate deposits, such as Japan,  

  • could move very quickly to hydrogen and use it  as a clean fuel that is not dependent on imports

  • In fact, hydrogen is an increasingly important  pillar of the Japanese government's energy  

  • strategy, which hopes to boost hydrogen  consumption to over 20 million tons by  

  • 2050. A relatively high targetespecially if  we take into account that per unit weight the  

  • energy output of hydrogen is three times  that of gasolinebut one that will only  

  • be possible to achieve if production  costs can be substantially reduced.  

  • Thus, the Japanese government's plan is to reduce  the cost of hydrogen production from 100 to 20 yen  

  • per cubic meter. That is, from 91 to 18 centsAnd to achieve that goal, among other things,  

  • the country needs a very competitive energy  supply. Potentially methane hydrate.  

  • Not only that, but producing hydrogen from  methane hydrate gas would be cleaner than from  

  • other sources, as methane hydrate emits 30% less  carbon dioxide when burned than coal or oil does

  • The question is, will it be possible to  harness methane hydrate on a commercial scale,  

  • and will it be economically viableAnd then another question to ask is...  

  • will the take off of hydrogen  accelerate thanks to methane hydrate?  

  • (Japan eyes undersea 'fire ice' as source  of clean-burning hydrogen - Nikkei Asia)  

  • As you can see, this is the energy  revolution that Japan is trying to enter.  

  • A strategy that would then be complemented  by carbon capture technologies. In this way,  

  • Japan could achieve enormous energy autonomy. But will it ever be feasible? That is not clear,  

  • but for the record, in 2017, the Land  of the Rising Sun did manage to extract  

  • methane hydrate for 24 days without  any technical incident through its  

  • experimental project in the Nankai pit. Not only that, the government believes it  

  • will be able to get commercial methane  hydrate projects off the ground between  

  • 2023 and 2027. Or at least that is what  its latest Strategic Energy Plan says.  

  • So do you think that we should take advantage  of the gas that is "dormant" in methane hydrate  

  • deposits on a massive scale? Or do you  think that this type of extraction should  

  • not be carried out under any circumstances  due to the environmental risks involved?  

  • Leave us your opinion belowin the comments. And as always,  

  • if you found this video interesting, don't  forget to like and subscribe to Visualpolitik.  

  • Once again, thank you for being thereTake care