Recent surveys indicate that hydrogen-rich methane hydrates, found in undersea basins, are enormous energy resources. The geoacoustic properties of hydrate-containing sea floor sediments must be characterized for naval operations. Methane hydrates also present a potentially formidable environmental hazard. The unintentional release of the methane--a potent greenhouse gas--sequestered in these solids, either through offshore oil recovery or outgassing induced by ocean warming, could affect global climate and the local marine environment.

HNEI's methane hydrate research is being pursued in partnership with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. Funding support is coming from the Hawaii Energy and Environmental Technologies (HEET) and Asia Pacific Research Initiative for Sustainable Energy Systems (APRISES) Initiatives. This partnership offers extensive technical resources and expertise that is being applied in complementary laboratory and field studies on a host of science and engineering topics.

The long-term goal of the HNEI methane hydrate research program is to develop environmentally benign technologies to utilize the enormous energy potential of methane hydrate deposits. A secondary goal is to understand the role these natural hydrates play in the carbon cycle and the impact that resource exploitation and large outgassing events could have on the marine environment and global climate.

Research is focusing on the evaluation of methane hydrates as an in situ energy source for naval and other subsea applications. Laboratory and engineering investigations of hydrate destabilization phenomena (to release methane for subsequent energy conversion steps) and benthic fuel cells are underway.

International research and development collaboration has always been an important component of HNEI's activities. Toward this end, significant effort is being expended to establish international research partnerships on methane hydrates. Scientists and engineers from government agencies, universities, and companies in the United States, Korea, Japan, Norway, and Chile have agreed to work together with HNEI and the Naval Research Laboratory.