TOKYO -- Japan will step up its search for methane hydrate in fiscal 2015, expanding both seabed and drilling surveys toward a goal of commercializing the energy source as early as 2023.
Seabed exploration will be carried out in two more areas near Hokkaido, raising the total to eight. And samples will be drilled for in more than 10 locations within the Sea of Japan, including areas off the country's central and western regions.
The government included methane hydrate development in an economic stimulus package approved by the cabinet Dec. 27. It will select specific areas for extraction and plans to allocate just under 2 billion yen ($16.4 million) to the effort in the fiscal 2014 supplementary budget.
Methane hydrate, often called flammable ice, can be found both near the surface of the ocean floor and buried deeper down. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry successfully extracted the latter type in the Pacific Ocean off Aichi Prefecture in March 2013, but many limiting factors remain in terms of technology and cost.
The ministry has announced that it successfully obtained samples Dec. 25 from three locations near the surface of the Sea of Japan's floor. This type of methane hydrate is expected to be cheaper to extract than that deeper down.
Japan could make significant progress in developing methane hydrate if it can get a better sense of how much the nation actually has. It aims to develop low-cost extraction techniques in fiscal 2015 and onward, and the ministry has launched a joint project with the U.S. state of Alaska to refine mining methods there.
Japan supplies only 5% of its own energy. But some estimates suggest that the country may have methane hydrate reserves equivalent to a century's worth of liquefied natural gas within its exclusive economic zone. The government plans to speed up methane hydrate development to boost Japan's energy independence, in the way that the U.S. turned into a net energy exporter on the shale gas boom.